Thursday, October 06, 2016

A work of art speaks for itself -?

Ceremonial cover, artist, maker unknown (image from here)
In my previous post I have not identified the individual pieces which I snapped in the Anthony Shaw Collection installation.  While amongst them I had no need to know who had created them.  They spoke for themselves, sometimes in loud singular voices, sometimes in dialogue or general conversation with their companions.  They were alive with their own personalities, their own information; their own communications linking with elements in my observing and moving amongst them.
The other morning I read a powerful article by Deborah Orr in the Guardian newspaper about the 'unmasking' of the writer Elena Ferrante.  I so agree with what Orr says therein, in general too about folks, women, not being allowed to be private.  Why is it that if your work is much admired, bought and enjoyed by many, made famous, ... that you too must be made famous, poked, prodded, examined if that is not what you want? 
I admit that I am curious about the making of work - including motivation, experience, inspiration contributing to the making - my curiosity stretches to wanting to know how what I have received from the work compares with the maker's intentions.   But answers to my questions are not necessary for a good piece of work to speak for itself.  Although the skills which made it are of legitimate interest for comment and examination (Deborah Orr herself has done so herself here and here, for example in relation to the work of Elena Ferrante), is it essential that we know everything about everybody who makes art?
I sometimes think that pieces of art are 'ticked off' as the work of the famous X or Y without being looked at closely for themselves.  It is often advantageous to know about the maker of a piece one admires - maybe even more advantageous to know about the maker of a piece one does not admire (?) - but that perhaps one should leave off too much knowledge about the maker before making a personal acquaintance with the work itself, if it is the work which demanded attention.

I would be interested to know what you think.


  1. I too was struck by Orr's powerful article and her insight into the violation of Ferrante's private life, particularly since there is increasingly very little that I agree with or like about the Guardian's reporting. She wrote very powerfully about the need to separate the work from its creator, but also about the scrutiny, often very negative, that women in public life have to face which these days also involves abuse from internet trolls: as she correctly says it's a real violation of both the person and the artist.

    I have to admit though that knowing about the artist/author does sometimes affect the way I view their work. Picasso is a good example: even though I admire and love his work, what I know about his attitude to women has influenced, in ways that I cannot clearly define, the way I view his work sometimes. Another example is the work of a contemporary writer whose novels I used to read avidly. Her boasting in the press about how she was the 'only true and original writer' of the late 20th century' has made me much less enthusiastic about reading her recent novels even though I do know in my heart that I should allow the work to speak for itself.

    My last paragraph does in no way undermine any of the points in Orr's article, it's just an observation about the way I sometimes feel.

    I also agree with your observation that sometimes the work of famous artists is admired without being looked at closely.

    1. I believe that especially in the case of great art the creative maker should be separated from the remaining everyday person. I remember hearing (while ironing!) Bridget Riley in an interview explaining why she decided not to have relationships so that she could concentrate on her work. She did not trust herself to be able to dedicate enough time and emotional energy to her work otherwise.
      I don't know who your author is, but one of my all time favourites is Patricia Highsmith, and what an unreliable friend she was according to biographies. But as it is her writing I admire and not her personality/character, I simply read about her behaviour with curiosity.

      I do understand the pause for thought, however - especially in examples like Eric Gill, say.