Back to Basics: Why ask why? – AA Report- Day 121
Balancing a day job with my art practice has always been a challenge. I believe every artist who has a day job has to maintain a balance between the two. Fortunately for me I’ve been able to find ways of connecting my
work to this residency. The fact that I work in an art gallery might make this easier and I feel very lucky for this reason. It makes the balance more manageable.
This summer there was an exhibition at the gallery based on an artwork by Marcel Duchamp. Working on this exhibition provided the opportunity for me to re-read up on Duchamp – an artist known for giving up making art to play chess. How appropriate.
I’ve always been interested in Marcel Duchamp. To me, he’s the perfect example of an older era artist whose working method was very contemporary for his time. I studied him in art school. One of my favourite works by him is The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923. I love that it is aesthetically beautiful but at the same time very weird and abstract, and I enjoy how difficult its meaning is to decipher and that he took his time creating it….8 years.
As an individual Duchamp was very much an intellectual and someone who pushed the boundaries of what it means to be an artist. The founder of conceptual art and installation, it seems to me he was someone who lived and breathed his art practice and I suspect who also lived as if there was no separation between art and life. I can’t say whether I think Duchamp was a good person, I learned this summer about the prevalence of misogyny within the Surrealist movement (a movement he was very much involved in), however, I do believe he was a good artist and there are many ways his working method resonates with me.
When I first started this residency, back in May and even before then, I was really focusing on asking myself the question “Why?”. Why did I want and need to go on this residency? Why was I turned off from making art? There is reasoning behind this question, but what I’ve come to believe lately is that it is not always necessary to ask it.
Duchamp once said: Artist’s often do things without knowing why they do them (…), I never ask myself why. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9842887/Marcel-Duchamp-His-influence-is-still-everywhere-in- contemporary-art.html). I like this statement because it gives artist’s permission to be unsure. It was drilled into me in art school early on that artist’s should be able to answer the question why. That an artist owes this to their audience. I have a problem with this notion that everything must be explained or understood. As an artist and as a viewer I don’t think whether you know or don’t know makes something more or less relevant. Artists should allow themselves the freedom to make (or not make) without asking why. There is merit in simply doing because there isn’t always an immeditate answer, and there might not be an answer at all, which is okay. Besides, even if there is an answer it might not make sense to everyone. Our obsession with asking why is like saying that everything must be logical in order for it to make sense. If this were true a lot of great art wouldn’t be made and I wouldn’t be on this residency writing this because when I think about it it was actually completely illogical for me to stop making art when I did. I’d just finished a painting series and had plenty of more ideas but something inside me told me to take a step away.
Duchamp (like me) was a painter but he got bored with painting so moved onto other ways of making/not-making. His ideas opened doors for generations of artists, allowing them to break away from traditional notions of what an artist/art is. Speaking from personal experience I know that it’s easy for artists and non-artists to forget or maybe some do not even know that it’s okay to step away from something if it’s no longer fun. When something’s not broke you don’t fix it but what Duchamp’s legacy has shown us is that it’s okay to reinvent the wheel, no pun intended.
(Back to Basics: Why ask why? – A(rt)A(nonymous) Report- Day 121)
Marcel Duchamp playing chess, 1952 and The Bride Stipped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even,1915-23