NOTE: This is a sampling of my classwork written in response to mandatory readings.
"Anish Kapoor As A Contingent Author Or In Art Criticism, 1980 To the Present"
by Alpesh Kantilal Patel, PhD
Written by Meg Kaplan-Noach, December 2014
As I write this abstract (for my professor, who is also the author of the essay in which I am meant to respond to), I am aware that I want to express myself honestly and forthrightly– without appearing patronizing, subjective, or ass-kissing! For me, Alpesh Patel's Anish Kapoor provides a constructive and highly resonant message: that as a critic or curator or academic, when approaching an artwork or artist (any type or medium), it is best to disclaim any personal identifications or biases as early as possible in the scholarship. This is in order to address the author's point-of-view or eye. This is meant to reduce the "instability of the theory." For example, Dr. Patel illuminates his thesis and nearly simultaneously underscores his personhood in respect to the upcoming theories:
"Of primary interest in what follows is that the implicit underpinning of a conventional art history of artworks of artists of South Asian decent is a coherent and legible artist or 'author' to reveal the slipperiness rather than stability and knowability of the authors, I hone in on the criticisms of the artworks of Anish Kapoor and draw on theories of authorship and discourse...to explore the shifting manner in which critics have identified Kapoor...[The] failure to locate Kapoor in any final or fixed way suggests a subtle but important shift in how art historians and critics should write the histories of works by artists with complex genealogies such as his...In my case, the driving impetus behind writing this essay is to acknowledge how my experiences of the tensions in identifying as both South Asian and queer function in relation to the histories of art I write." (Patel, 3-4)
In this way, an author of a scholarly work can more suitably position him or herself to address the concerns of their subject-author. This method underscores the attempt to avoid what Patel describes as a "negative critique" (5). In addition to learning more about Kapoor, I have also received a valuable strategy for application in my own future scholarly practices.
"Identity and the Visual: New Critical Modes in Visual Arts Discourse OR Whose Identity? Whose Art History? Looking at Courbet's Origin of the World"
by Amelia Jones
Written by Meg Kaplan-Noach, December 2014
While writing this response to Amelia Jones' lecture– I am tempted to start first with her closing statements because they are so clearly strident, introspective, and spot-on. She is exclaiming that viewers necessarily (and unavoidably) project identity-meaning onto objects as they-we-I view them. These meanings are in addition to the signifiers that the authors place-leave behind in the works. Referencing Gustave Courbet's painting Origin of the World, Jones states (with the visual tool of a series of circles) that:
"...the identity circulating in relation to [the painting]...is not only reciprocal and in process, it is also profoundly alienated...[Within] a series of circles, each one slightly decentered in relation to the others. Courbet, the female model or imagined body, the depiction of this body, the viewers of this picture...myself...and you here today, at least you as viewers of a simulation of the work). We all overlap affecting one another but never coinciding. Our identities may appear to congeal in a momentary flash in relation to the identities of the others, but like meaning, it never does coalesce except in our imaginary projections of self and other...the effectiveness of Courbet's painting lies in the fact that, by presenting a female sex that looks back at us without eyes, it refuses to resolve the question of what subject– what identity– is a stake in the making and viewing of works of art. The Origin of the World points to the final impossibility of positing identity in any but the most provisional of ways– whether in relation to representations or people. Both are flesh of the world. Both are implicated in me, I in them, as I attempt to make meaning of the world around me." (Jones, 14)
But of course, those are her concluding statements, and the essay (lecture) contained other resonant passages to me. For example, I couldn't help but notice that early on Jones makes the point of identifying herself, her practice in relation to her existent reputation, and an acknowledgement of a built-in bias. She says:
"in terms of the implication of the interpreter, it is worth noting that I myself have become somewhat notorious, if within the modest circles of my art world and academic audiences, for insistently exhibiting and discussing such aggressively overt depictions of naked and sexualized bodies, male and female. I have come, one could say, identified with such imagery. Hence, it is perhaps fitting for me to open this brief discussion of the intersecting fields of art history and identity by presenting one of the most infamous cunt images in the history of Western art. The overlapping performance of my art historical identity with the problem of identity as it circulates in relation to this picture will I hope, provide a useful intervention into the question of 'art history and identity'...emphasizing the implication of the interpreter's particular identifications in those he extrapolates from the work of art...Whose identity is at issue in such acts of looking and studying? Whose art history is implied by the identities that take shape in the sex acts? How are these identities determined?" (3-4)
It is clear to me that Jones feels, and ultimately defends, the notion that identity (the author's, the subject's, the viewer's, etc.) is unavoidably intertwined with the experience of viewing the artwork. As well as the particular reading of the artwork that any individual will have...thus, I suppose an artwork can never really be static or fixed.
"Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire" by Judith Butler
Written by Meg Kaplan-Noach, December 2014
I want to jump right into Judith Butler's discussion of feminist identity immediately because I remember feeling winded at my own complete ignorance as a young feminist. I was floored because somehow (I now no longer understand how it happened) I was made to understand that the feminist movement (in its original form) did not necessarily represent the experiences of poor, urban women of color, for example. I just never considered for any one second ever that feminism wasn't every woman's revolution! But– once I heard this revelation– I instantly learned it, remembered it, and have since tried to be sensitive to the ideas that labels-banners-manifestoes-ideologies cannot ever truly cover everyone at the same time. It is impossible. We all have so many different identities in addition to being women. This was life-changing!
Butler articulates this problem in feminism and explains why universal identity is so problematic in this case. She begins by identifying that the "political assumption" for a universal feminism doesn't consider the myriad differences of cultural contexts throughout the world. She illuminates:
"...[The] notion that the oppression of women has some singular form discernable in the universal or hegemonic structure of patriarchy has been widely criticized in recent years for its failure to account for the workings of gender oppression in the concrete cultural context in which it exists...that form of feminist theorizing has come under criticism for its efforts to colonize and appropriate non-Western cultures to support highly Western notions of oppression, but because they tend as well to construct a 'Third World' or even an 'Orient' in which gender oppression is subtly explained as symptomatic of an essential, non-Western barbarism. The urgency of feminism to establish a universal status for patriarchy in order to strengthen the appearance of feminism's own claims to be representative has occasionally motivated the shortcut to a categorical or fictive universality of the structure of domination, held to produce women's common subjugated experience." (Butler, 6-7)
Butler then identifies real questions surrounding even the idea of a universal or commonality within the 'framework of women"– are there any ways in which women are "bonded?" She further elucidates by suggesting that the
"...presumed universality and unity of the subject of feminism is effectively undermined by the constraints of the representational discourse in which it functions...the premature insistence on a stable subject of feminism, understood as a seamless category of women, inevitably generates multiple refusals to accept the category. [Editor: No Shit!] These domains of exclusion reveal the coercive and regulatory consequences of that construction, even when the construction has been elaborated for emancipatory purposes...the fragmentation within feminism and the paradoxical opposition to feminism from 'women' whom feminism claims to represent suggest the necessary limits of identity politics...By conforming to a requirement of representational politics that feminism articulate, a stable subject, feminism thus opens itself to charges of gross misrepresentation." (7-8)
These ideas, once heard – had long-lasting meaning to me. To read a theoretical piece so many years later, simply strengthens my awareness of identity, cultural contexts, and political and ideological constraints for an all-encompassing feminism.
"Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" by Linda Nochlin
Written by Meg Kaplan-Noach, December 2014
It was great revisiting Linda Nochlin's awesome essay (this is the third time I have read it)! While reading, I was trying to understand why, for me, this essay is still so resonant. It is more than the fact that I have ALWAYS identified myself as a feminist (BIG LETTERS FOR BIG PERSONAL VALUES/ETHICS). My mother was/is a first wave feminist and raised my sister and I as such– but the feelings go much deeper than this. It came to me that the messages and the arguments ring completely true for me because of my own personal experiences and life choices as a young art student.
In 1978 or '79 when I was eighteen or nineteen, and a freshman in art school, Lucy Lippard visited and lectured us. I had never heard of her, nor was I really prepared for the life-changing talk that she would give the student body and faculty that day! (That's when I first learned about Eva Hesse– who has remained one of the singular most influential artists for me.) But I also heard things voiced out loud that definitely explained so many conflicting feelings about myself as a young woman, an artist, and a feminist. I heard that other women artists struggled with choices of family and their studio careers (often making choices that had lifetime impacts); that juggling their children and their focused studio practices seemed to be so difficult– almost impossible. So I chose my own career over becoming a mother myself...(to be honest– this just underscored the sense that I always had that being a wife was limiting and compromising, and that I doubted I could be a good mother). So when Nochlin states:
"One thing...is clear: for a womanto opt for a career at all, much less for a career in art, required a certain amount of unconventionality, both in the past and at present; whether or not the woman artist rebels against or finds strength in the attitude of her family, she must in any case have a good strong streak of rebellion in her to make her way in the world of art at all, rather than submitting to the socially approved role of wife and mother, the only role to which every social institution consigns her automatically. It is only by adopting, however covertly, the 'masculine' attributes of singlemindedness, concentration, tenaciousness, and absorption in ideas and craftsmanship for their own sake, that women have succeeded, and continue to succeed, in the world of art." (Nochlin, 169-70)
Linda Nochlin may as well have been writing about me– or perhaps directly to me– for this seems to both sum up and justify my life's choices in a neat little package.
Writing Contemporary Art: A Seminar for Artists, Curators, and Historians Dawn Chan, Instructor
My New Drawing or My Artist's Block
Meg Kaplan-Noach, 4.20.15
I have told this story– well, the long, ongoing, backstory of this story– a bunch of times during the past ten years, each time amending it because some new disparaging crap had piled-on. Now the story is so longwinded that it probably could be a novel. But there is a problem here besides honesty or length: simply stated, the story is sad. So for me, the person who owns it, there is the fear of not enough candor or alternatively, of completely dunking the reader too much into the whole dark and wet magillah. I don't want it to read like a melodrama leaving all of us slimy and uncomfortable.
Knowing that, perhaps a form of stream-of-consciousness should be utilized here. To just say what is most truthful and pertinent and relatable and straightforward– trying to keep it in some sense of order. For no matter what, the story ends now, in these days, with my current drawing still in progress. Although I started it in 2013, I also admit that prior to then I was so deeply depressed and blocked that I had neither drawn nor painted anything worthy of mention since 2009.
Despite justifications for this lack of dedication, I still feel guilty and embarrassed about it. These feelings originated long ago because an artist friend said to me, after I complained about a lack of inspiration during an artistic dry-spell: "Every day that you don't make art is a wasted day!" My rational mind understands that this is complete bullshit; but my irrational-creative-artist's mind feels there is veracity in there. Nevertheless, it became a deeply ingrained self-truth simply because I am an artist. Real serious artists work on their work. Poseurs don't.
I have always believed that artmaking is my vocation and have considered myself an artist since I was a little girl. Art is not my hobby; I have sacrificed and suffered for it since I was in my teens. I didn't agonize for my art on purpose to somehow align myself with some strange and misguided sense of this-is-what-artists-do sort of thing. No, from my junior year in high school, I knew I wanted to go to a private art school for my college training. This caused a great deal of conflict with my parents who wished me to attend a state university for art. These are my earliest memories of struggling for art– and they have exponentially increased in occurrence as well as complexity, ever since.
As I was reflecting on the myriad day-to-day struggles of artists, mundane and significant– for this paper, I came across a TED talk from back in 2009. The speaker was the author of the novel and motion picture, Eat Pray Love, and I have watched it three times already. It is so resonant to me– I only wish I could have seen it back then because it coincides with the start of the darkest days of my life. Who knows...perhaps my suffering would have been mitigated. In Your Elusive Creative Genius, Elizabeth Gilbert speaks plainly yet eloquently about the vulnerabilities, fears, and pressures connected to being a creative person:
"...when I was a teenager, when I first started telling people that I wanted to be a writer, I was met with...[a]fear-based reaction. And people would say, 'Aren't you afraid you're never going to have any success? Aren't you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you? Aren't you afraid that you're going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing's ever going to come of it?'...the short answer to all those questions is, 'Yes.' Yes, I'm afraid of all those things. And I always have been....But when it comes to writing, the thing that I've been sort of thinking about lately, and wondering about lately, is why? You know, is it rational? Is it logical that anybody should be expected to be afraid of the work that they feel they were put on this Earth to do?"i
Regarding my years long art-clog, I really do know what working everyday in the studio feels like. I also know what working only a little while in the studio everyday feels like. But this freakin' mindfuck, was neither! It was a dark, soul-draining nothingness. What lived in it was the maddening essence of intention, desire, and frustration. Similar to a long and untenable bout of insomnia– like needing sleep, I wanted to draw, but I just couldn't bear it. I troubled about stuff like: how to find the studio time and what subjects to explore, to terrible-mortifying-self-doubts of ability. And of course, soul searching questions about my role in the world like: was I an artist or narcissist? All these musings shape-shifted around me for years. But the practical outcome was that since there was no work: there was nothing to exhibit, so naturally my professional career suffered as well. I simply fell off the art-scene radar, poof!
The most distressing thing was that I began to wonder if I had ever really been an artist at all. And If I wasn't, then what and who was I? I could not think of what or who I should be instead...which caused me greater confusion and depression. Beyond enduring the block itself, I was having the secondary crisis of identity. This may seem trite, but the dark disappointment I felt about my life then remains palpable even a year on. It is searing to recall and speak of– to leave in the air.
Let me flesh out this story a little bit and focus solely on my inability to gain acceptance into graduate school for a painting MFA. For me, the Masters of Fine Art degree as an academic milestone– or goal– had always meant many things, perhaps idealistically: the seeming entrée to many artistic opportunities; the proof of talent realized; the legitimized studio time nourishing an adult body of work; the attendant bonding and networking privileging the MFA student for post-graduation; and on-and-on. And so, in 2002, when I was in my forties, I finally graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa from art school. I had concurrently obtained my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and a Bachelor's in Art History (both Magna cum Laude). I had assumed that I would naturally, at some point in the near future, enter and begin my MFA studies. Well, this did not happen, no matter how hard I tried. I continued applying over several years to different graduate schools. Just like indiscreetly listing one's lovers, I will not tell the sum of my attempts– it is too heart wrenching. But it cannot surprise anyone that this kind of repeated rejection can be super-brutal to manage under the best of circumstances.
Here is another passage from Gilbert's TED talk. She refers to some of the dark truths and assumptions that surround creative people:
"...what is it specifically about creative ventures that seems to make us really nervous about each other's mental health in a way that other careers don't do, you know?...We writers, we kind of do have that reputation, and not just writers, but creative people across all genres, it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable...we don't even blink...we've heard for so long and somehow we've completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end will always ultimately lead to anguish. And the question I want to ask everybody here today is are you guys all cool with that idea?"ii
During those upsetting and confusing times I felt very discouraged, and seriously questioned my artistic abilities, but I still continued drawing. First my good friend let me share her MFA studio; sometimes the Graduate Painting Professor would come in and discuss my work with me. Then later, I repurposed the extra bedroom in my apartment into a studio. My drawings then were larger than ever– floor-to-ceiling– and required standing on a stepped wooden box to reach everywhere. For those two years I had some unremarkable odd jobs, but finally landed an entry-level curatorial position in a museum, with only my undergraduate degrees and assorted curatorial experience, in tow. The desire and need for a graduate degree didn't dissipate, if anything, the museum environment made me even more restless about it. Professionally I knew it was unavoidable, and personally...well, everyone had one...dime a dozen...and I wanted one too– I felt pointy without it.
Emotionally, these were crazy times, but I was still art making and exhibiting some. My practice necessarily slowed because of my full-time job at the museum. Bit-by-bit I began to give up on my dream, second guessing and doubting my abilities– somehow thinking it would be less painful if I just kept-on-keeping-on in the museum. Whenever the subject of graduate school came up, my supervisor would state that she absolutely would not support my endeavors if I returned to school. After four years of working constantly in conditions that resembled scorched earth and glass ceiling, I finally developed two permanent health conditions that adversely affected my life. Desperate to leave the museum I began looking at any and all options.
I became aware that my alma mater had initiated a post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Museum Studies, and it became my intention to take the course full-time while simultaneously preparing my MFA application there. I resigned from my position at the museum. While I completed the Certificate in 2009, I was not accepted to the graduate studio program. Not being accepted to the MFA program was devastating. How to describe the visceral pain and grief that I experienced? I just could not reconcile that I wasn't good enough to be accepted as a student-artist. My mentor-professor also then encouraged me to apply to the MFA program at the private university in town. He assured me that my work was up to snuff, and helped vet my reinvigorated portfolio for the application.
Meanwhile, I graduated sooner than I had originally planned with the Certificate but without a job, right into the perfect storm of the impending national economic meltdown. I had medicines to buy, along with the other attendant financial pressures like anyone else, but I hoped I would get into school. I soon learned that my second application was also not accepted, and I was terrified. I remember after that, being afraid all the time, of everything, and I mean everything!
I spent two years looking for work, and during that time I was only granted two interviews. I cannot express what happened to me mentally... I felt that all that had gone wrong was art's fault, and yet, I couldn't have known that this was only the beginning of my trials. I believed that I truly must not be an artist, and then I also had no idea who I was at all. I weep now at the anguish I felt. Not having this necessary credential adversely affected my ability to further my career– hell; it completely prevented me from gaining any type of art related job! Simply put I was finally employed (very gratefully) in two soul-draining, non-art, just-get-by jobs– working for the next two years more than sixty-hours a week to make ends meet.
There is so much more– between those years and now–I could not attend art events because I couldn't set my bitter anguish with art aside, and I did try. I couldn't make art of any kind whatsoever, since I was choking. Nothing about myself or the life I was leading made any sense to me– I was not who I thought I was, and I wasn't doing what I thought I should be. My close artist friends gained their MFAs and advanced their careers exponentially. I was sincerely happy for them, but I also felt somewhat envious, which only compounded my shame. Always an enthusiastic conversationalist–I couldn't conduct even the most basic small talk with anyone anywhere about anything. Even at non-art things...for all verbal roads led to: So what do you do? or: So what have you been upto?...which then caused me to cry. There is nothing more mortifying, and this happened to me a lot...over the entire five years!!! I began begging-off at the last minute from get-togethers and invites– which was crushing because I also desperately wanted to be with everyone– and be myself again. A sad consensus was formed by my family and friends and therapist– who all finally told me to stop going to all art events because they made me cry for a week afterwards. It was then that I had to admit, that I just couldn't be immersed in art in any way. It was just too much. Art hurt.
And so it was until I was laid off from one of my dreadful jobs in Spring 2013– which was a mixed omen. Surprisingly able to shrug-off a teeny smidge of the never-ending-psychic-slime, I got some clarity. Not much, but enough. Although I was mentally exhausted, I found myself keen enough to venture a drawing...my first since 2009. It was deliberately significantly smaller because I feared my ability to fill it up. I also had to work in a different place, a squeezed-in spot in my living-room near the sliding glass door to my back porch– but I was so thrilled I was buzzing! I even had a little momentum, and sincerely thought that all might finally be well for me.
But soon after begun, I found myself in trouble with a grim legal disaster. Since I just wasn't equipped for anymore of anything, this screwed me up all over again– in some ways much worse than before. Worrying, and legal-battling finally drained me of the very last of my resilience and stamina. My therapist kept telling me that all I had to do was to maintain. Yeah, me and Sisyphus– we just keep trying. What's the definition of insanity again?!?
Well things started to right themselves about ten months ago. First I tasted relief: the mind-bending-buzz-killing-legal-crap went my way, then went away, vindicating me. I could feel that a little bit of my psyche was restored. I still could not draw, but at least I wasn't drowning. A brand new MFA-track at my alma mater materialized! I interviewed, applied and was accepted. :)))!
I started drawing again, a little– and I have simply determined that working now-and-then is way more satisfying than wanting-to-work-but-can't. I know it is only a start, like: adult-baby-steps-n-stuff, but it means everything to me. I have caught my breath again– I am even beginning to recognize myself a teeny-tiny-bit again. I can chitchat about nearly whatever. Who knows? I may make it after all. I had a juicy, fifteen-minutes of drawing yesterday. I am pleased.