Art World: Outsider/Insider, Part One


I have always had an ambivalent relationship with the visual Art World. Even though my mother is a painter, with an MFA in art, and I was a Studio Art major in college and grew up in New York City, getting to go to some of the finest museums and galleries in the world and I have dedicated to my life to the study, practice and teaching of the arts, there was a clear moment when I decided that I would not become a professional visual artist in the traditional sense. I knew, somehow, that I did not want to make art to sell in museums or galleries. I have had a few pieces in shows here and there, but really, it has not been my goal. This project ZOELAB is the most I’ve put myself out there as an artist in my life.

The art world, with its erudite sleekness and exclusivity, is both a real and conceptual place to which I have felt intuitively I don’t belong. And yet, there is a paradox. Because I also feel a connection to the art world, I understand its language, but yet something has been missing. I love to go to museums and galleries. I love to read art criticism (or used to) and have heady discussions with artists about aesthetics and contexts. Many of my friends are artists who are entrenched in the art world. And yet, since I was a small child, art has always meant something else to me, more personal, less categorizable, something in the realm beyond judgment. I felt that art belonged in a different context than a museum or gallery, and yet I loved visiting those very places. And even if I can participate in the culture around art with which I am so familiar, it somehow does not include me. Perhaps it is because art and commodity don’t go together for me. Perhaps it is because even though I love visiting museums, they still feel like places of restriction and institution. Perhaps this is also because I have not yet found the right medium.  That is... until now.

I have dabbled with the idea of performance art. I can get excited about conceptual art. I have taken a lifetime’s worth of photographs, and yet, I have no interest in putting them in galleries. But, there is one art movement that is gaining more and more recognition that genuinely calls to me. It is an art movement that is accepted in the art world, and yet, by its definition, is difficult to commodify. It does not have a clear title, but is often referred to as social practice or participatory art. From Wikipedia: “Participatory art is an approach to making art in which the audience is engaged directly in the creative process, allowing them to become co-authors, editors, and observers of the work. Therefore, this type of art is incomplete without the viewers physical interaction. Its intent is to challenge the dominant form of making art in the West, in which a small class of professional artists make the art while the public takes on the role of passive observer or consumer, i.e., buying the work of the professionals in the marketplace... It may also be categorized under terms including relational artsocial practicecommunity art, and new genre public art. Folk and tribal art are also considered to be "participatory art" in that many or all of the members of the society participate in the making of art. While a painter uses pigment and canvas, and a sculptor wood or metal, the social practice artist often creates a scenario in which the audience is invited to participate. Although the results may be documented with photography, video, or otherwise, the artwork is really the interactions that emerge from the audience's engagement with the artist and the situation."  Here is a quote I found by Andy Horwitz on the site culturebot from his essay on social practice in the context of performance. “...the emergence of social practice as a trend speaks to two fundamental shifts in American culture: one, a broad re-thinking of the role of the arts in society and two, a rejection of corporate capitalism’s demand that citizenship is predicated on being a consumer, not a creator or empowered participant in civic life.” When I first heard about “participatory art” something in me awakened and I knew I had discovered an art form for me. I love its emphasis on altruism and its stance against commodification. Also, I am interested in playing with outsider forms that question the institutional form.

To be continued...