Talking Art World Talk

April 12th, 2008 § 2 comments

At least one person is thrilled that we are moving to New York, and that would be Gregory. I always feel rather disconcerted when talking to him, I choose my words and meanings very vaguely, I think this is why we have such miscommunication. We spent a good amount of time talking about life in general this week, my future prospects I suppose he would call them, he told me if he were a “lovely, talented young photographer” he would want to live in Sunnyside Queens. He asked about my thesis and wanted to know what artists I was including. Laughing, I told him a lot of old, dead men, and then qualified it with, they might not all be dead. He shook his head and said that I need to be looking at women, young women.

It was a point I had never thought of before. Not only do I have to put myself within a medium specific category, and in line with its given history, but I also have to consider a gendered history of that medium. I don’t tend to think of myself as a woman in the context of “art”, only within the context of the world. I never realized photography was masculine, or rather I never considered it more masculine than anything else—most professions are, even ballet is ruled by men. They get all the freedom it offers, they break all technical rules, they are the directors, choreographers, and teachers. From Volk’s point of view I can see that it is very important that I follow in line, and break specifically with, a tradition that is suitable to me as a person, and that my sensibilities as an artist and my aesthetic of making should follow accordingly. He often comments that I am very strange, but when I ask why he never really says. What he sees, who he sees, must look very incongruous with what he thinks he ought to. When I started thinking about it I wondered if “people” is the place where women have made a their own tradition in photography, and that is why Gregory thinks I should move away from objects, landscape, etc. and photograph people. When I think about the women photographers I know and am interested in, they all photograph people in some manner or other.

Are there any great women photographers who walk around talking images of their surroundings? (The Bayman would know if only he could keep from misreading the sentence) Is the idea of wander itself masculine? I am rather inclined to think it is. I am interested in people, as I claim in my thesis, but I am interested in the things we do I don’t understand, and I don’t understand the way we live. It is obvious that we are miserable, but why do we continue to be? It is a mystery, and perhaps because I am at that age where I have to take a place within society, that is my focus. I have always, since I was a teenager, documented my surroundings, have always dealt with personal narratives, but now that I think about it I wonder why. All of the photo teachers that had an influence on my work and ideas were men. Working on my thesis I was looking at the artists I talked about, their images, and remembered why I don’t look at art all the time that I really like, it is discouraging in the best way. I am so intrigued by the world they documented. I don’t want to be an Anna Gaskell, how do I get out of it?

Looking at my work he thinks it is old fashioned, forced, part of a tradition that preceded me by some fifty years, and perhaps he is right. Although he would say, “where is the new voice of Alissa Davis”, and he would really say it just like that, I wonder if it comes down to rejecting the tradition of images-maker’s I love, and picking ones that are a better fit. If I were doing something that referenced female photographers of the same time I wonder if he would find such a problem, I imagine he would say it was a good place to start. It was a good meeting, however, he pointed out some differences in images I had not thought about before, distinctions that actually made sense. It is always nice when people make sense in their critiques, unfortunately this does not happen often. I know he has great hopes for me, but I am not so sure I feel as hopeful about meeting those as he does.

§ 2 Responses to Talking Art World Talk"

  • a guzman says:

    See, it is outbursts like this that makes my mom think you are hyperactive. I was supposed to be getting ready to go down to school, (the Giclee is alive again) but I am going to have to answer the long rant of RC-D. I will try to rant back in the same order you ranted.

    Yes of course it is my fault that I don’t know, although I did know several of the people on your list, much about female photographers who wander around looking at landscape of sorts. But the point was that I never really thought about looking and there are many reasons for this, some better than others.

    I am interested in people and their interactions with culture, which is why I love film so much, I am interested in stories and situations that show this. Virginia Woolf’s descriptions of London come to mind, I watch films that depend on the place in which they were shot, why I like Wenders. His movies are as much about place as they are about people. I don’t like portraits because I don’t care what people look like, I want to see what they do. I want to compare what they do to what they have done before. A sense of place anchors their actions in a necessary way for me.

    All this is to say that I never have looked to art for the answers. Art is just other artist’s catalog of thoughts, the reason I look at photographers at all is because photography deals with places and things I can recognize. Not that I don’t like art, I do, I like looking and experiencing it, but I have always been much more interested in art than in artists. Images (or artworks) catch my attention regardless of gender or time, and when interested enough I read about the artist. Zoe Leonard was on the cover of Artform last month, I liked the collection-like image and bought the mag so I could read about it. I like to pull my sources form places outside of art, I would say I spend more time looking at filmmakers and reading than I do looking for photographers who wander because I don’t really see that as my main interest. It seems, for me, the byproduct of other questions. The type of images I make have been made in my head all my life, from the same distance, with the same questions, my art gives these ideas a form I can look at and show others.

    Of course this is stupid, I am using photography within a context, a history, etc. and yes I should know more. I am all about knowing ones art history but I admit I have put my energies into solving problems, in a way, rather than looking at art. I also tend to remember the work of the artist but not the name, which is not so good when name dropping is all that seems to matter. So I would say to Gregory that I don’t care about women photographers because I don’t think that is important, and he would laugh in my face because from his point of view it is all that is important. And I would say to you I don’t know women who wander because I never thought that was important, and from your point of view I imagine you would tell me that it was. I did make a list of the artists you listed and I will look them up just so I can tell both of you, yeah, I know. Although Gregory would not care if I knew if I did not change accordingly.

    There is more that is disturbing to me than a small dose of sexism in Gregory’s thought, and yes, I see it very clearly, I saw it in NYC with the VCU artists he has set up in the art world, he seems to have a weakness for nice, young girls for lack of better words. You know how in Down and Out Orwell talks about the good thing about poverty is that it takes away the fear of being poor? He says something about once it has happened you find that you can still live, that it is not the most horrible thing to exist in the world, etc. That is how I feel about Gregory and what he represents. A part of me is horrified by him, in honesty I dread our meetings, instinct recoils away from his gaze, but a part of me is comforted by the fact that here sits the nameless faces of the art world, and it is not that bad. There is still personal choice, there is still acceptance or rejection of his rules, but there is no argument. You take Gregory or you leave him, you don’t argue because he will never concede. If you won’t listen 100 others will, if you don’t play 1,000 others will. The simplicity of it is reassuring, but the digesting is horrible. The reality that this is how it is, how it will always be in my life, makes me want to go far away and grow strawberries.

    Yes I realize there are other options, hundreds of them, but I was talking in the post about Gregory and his option, of which there is only one. Take him out of his world and he is not a bad person, he is smart and engaged, but then you can’t really take him out of his world. He believes it too much because it has made him what he gets to be.

    What I was interested in and thus why I wrote the post was that it never even dawned on me before the reason he told me these things. I see the logic all around me, the painters upstairs who treat me like a retarded cousin, the fact that were I a man I would be the hot artist on the craft floor, but I never thought about it in terms of my work. I suppose my art is the only place where I really can say no (or something else) to all the rules of my world I detest. I listen only to what I am interested in when it comes to my work, I make what I like regardless of novelty or fashion, I change as I see fit. It was this fact that surprised me.

    The “new” thing in the art world I find not really new. It means doing what a whole bunch of other people have already done, therefore it is already acceptable, and change it oh so slightly.

    There is nothing frightening about being me, I have been me for 23 years and I am still alive, but there is much to be found frightening about having to find a new voice. What Gregory means is finding a voice that would be his voice for me, you think I should just be myself, and I am not sure what I think. At a certain point I will accept the fact that there is no question, but I am not really ready to do that yet. Being oneself comes with a lot of ramifications.

    Now I am going to school.

  • ok, name ten female brasilian writers…can’t? now does that mean they don’t exist or that here in north america it is deemed by those who write about literature not important.

    translate this to art. who wrote the histories we read? even photography for the longest time depended on either newhall or gernsheim – which most didn’t read – to get their history and supposedly there is only one woman in newhall.

    but but but who is to blame for your ignorance? well you are but also those of us who complain that you know no ….fill in the blanks and in this case if you use photographers the person who said that you should be looking at women,, young women give any suggestions. it seems to me that when you were on the school field trip to new york galleries you were led to the areas of the already sanctified.

    it is our fault to an extent as we don’t bring them up in classes, but it is your fault for not being curious enough to find out. the person who made the more women comment is an idiot as at least in photography there have been strong women in the medium. it isn’t a utopia one would wish for considering the amount of women in art schools but it makes real art look like a gentlemen’s club. for the most part they did what supposedly what he feels only men do. wandering girl snappers, jesse tarbox beales, francis benjamin johnston two forerunners in muckraking. lisette model, berenice abbott, imogen cunningham, margaret bourke white, dorothea lange, helen leavitt flor gorduño, mariana yampolsky, martine frank, susan lipper,fay godwin, ruth thorne-thompson, linda connor lois connor dayanita singh, zoë leonard had enough? i can do the same for women travel writers both 19th and 20th century.

    then there is the simplistic categorising arbus wandered but photographed people – does that count. women photograph people, what about hc-b, chris killip, shelby lee adams, nick nixon, bert teunissen, emmitt gowin? even the dead landscape californian photographers made portraits regularly.

    i come to find that in throwing this doubt on you, he is simply masking his ignorance. you have to prove him wrong he doesn’t have to prove himself correct.

    furthermore to-day landscapes are out – so i am told – again i find many people working in this anachronistic manner – so why would a female photographer wanted to be sanctified work in an outdated genre?

    there are so many things wrong with the argument presented to you i am all over the place – as you can see. the main problem are art schools, art schools that attempt to place you in the pantheon can only fail as we cannot teach the future as we cannot predict it, we cannot only teach the recent trend. now if the contemporary logic is that art has to be new what good is teaching something that should be outdated by the time you are ready to go up for artistic saint hood – i see this as the problem at the wgas we are good as what is happening now and having students mimic but this is not setting trends but riding an already crested wave.

    it is your fault as if you are interested in something you should be finding out about everybody who works that way. the names brought up are in my library not because they have to be there so that i can teach, they are there because i am interested in the same thing and i look at everyone – that i can afford and find – that works in similar ways. it can only broaden my understanding. i want to see how everyone approaches the subject but also want to see trends – is there a difference between flâneurs and flâneuses and how specific is it.

    it is silly to think that you can find a young famous artists of any type. you can probably find young notorious artists but in my romantic idea of art it is a marathon not a sprint i want to see what comes next. i have many books – more and more – of young(er) people but find that a lot of them were good but since there was only one i saw what was being said not who said it and how that view is developing. there are people who when something of theirs appears i buy without thought as i am interested in what they are doing but there are a lot that i am still waiting for a lot of second books/shows etc. anna gaskell is a good point where is she now?

    then i am surprised that you didn’t pick up on the inherent sexism in his comment. not the one about ‘lovely, talented young photographer…’ but implying that to be a woman photographer one has to give up landscapes and photograph people, it seems that you should be defining who women are in the arts rather than having it define you. it seems he wants to shoehorn you into a stereotypes and thus men again will be free to do anything whereas women will be some sort of subset.

    i will not address the obvious flaw that people and – their subset, artists – only do one thing so doing either landscapes or people shows an ignorance if only this person looked at work.

    finally – yes finally – there is this thing about newness that – as you know – pisses me off to no end. until very recently – writers used the same words as shakespeare and in fact he still used more than we do. we didn’t feel the need to make new ones – until the art world came up with all these noun verbs – the referencing – and built in oxymorons – deconstruct. writers don’t seem upset with the idea of hackneyed subject, verb, modifier, object that has been going on forever, and in fact some languages allow for more creativity those with cases allow a freedom of sequencing in a sentence. even those who use it freely still use it. but in the art world it is this slavish devotion to newness, is it the idea of the newness of the idea. is an good idea well restated, which, in truth, is all anyone does, better or worse than a woolly idea repackaged as new.

    i think that the “new voice of alissa davis” will come by being alissa davis – a frightening thought – rather than by finding a voice that she can use. the ‘better fit’ implies that something to fit.

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