Friday, July 10, 2015

The Question of Failure

Outside (2007)
I find that Sculpture magazine nearly always provides much food for thought.  This current issue is no exception. The thought which has provoked this post is a question and answer session between interviewer Joshua Reiman (himself an artist) and sculptor Charles Ray.

It was this question and answer which sent my mind off:

JR: Can you talk a bit about failure?  I often think that this where the best lessons come from when making sculpture.  What was your ultimate failure in making your work?

CR: I suppose one could say that failure comes when the question is answered.  Questions engage us.  Answers have a nasty tendency to be disproved.  Quality is in the question, not the answer.

What an interesting answer which itself poses questions.  Is it really an answer to the questions asked by JR?  Does it matter - because the response is of so much more value.  The value I see as largely two-fold. 
First the importance of question, quality of question, and the quality of the work as question.  I have found that the difference in definition between ultimately-temporary-pleasure-giving art and penetrating-under-the-skin art has been that the latter leaves questions in my mind.  Some of these questions are answered in subsequent viewings, or between viewings; but seeing the best works again raises more questions.
Second is the examination of a desire for answers.  Scientists understand that answers are an interim: goals which provide pausing places where subsequent questions can be devised.  The pleasure, frisson, stimulus, incentive, inspiration - the answer - which a work of art gives must be there in order to become a quality encounter with question.
Fascinatingly also the response about failure is that it's put firmly on the shoulders of the artist rather than becoming a burden on the work.  Artists need to ask better questions - of themselves, of the viewers, of the work.

Coincidentally, in the same issue of the magazine there is a notification of an exhibition of 30 of Louise Bourgeois' Cells at the Haus der Kunst gallery in Munich, Germany - on until 2 August (here are interesting films).  Oh, to waft myself there!  I find of all LB's work the Cells affect me most viscerally; powerfully raising so many questions.


  1. Some interesting thoughts and questions here, Olga, and an equally interesting print - I love it.

  2. You are right. He does not go where the interviewer is trying to lead him but goes off on a much more interesting thought process. Need to mull but initially think what you say about the penetrating under the skin art is just what pulls me to it again & again and what he says about answers being the failure may be true.

  3. Sheila, I do love encounters which set my thoughts off meandering.