Should Artists Talk About Their Work?

Aug. 16, 2008
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Is it a mistake for an artist to talk about his work - to allow the viewer to pierce the sumptuous veil of illusion and gaze into the mundanities of his workaday existence? Can it really do any harm to hear him groping for high-minded phrases, trawl through years of idealism chased by disillusion in search of that ever-elusive element named artistic inspiration?


 Fred Stonehouse doesn’t seem to think so, perhaps because he ably avoids the pitfall common to many artists engaged in a public forums: coming off as a know-it-all who clearly doesn’t know it all. During a talk he gave about his work at the Lemon Lounge on Friday he seemed entirely in his element: wrapping the audience in his everyday affability like a warm woolly cardigan, charming us with his self-deprecating humor laced with just enough artistic arrogance to ensure he didn’t appear entirely common; entirely grounded on the level of mere mortals. There was even a bit of professional rivalry thrown in and some titillating insights into the slippery world of art dealers.


However, his attempt to relay the essence of his work, to explain the inexplicable, inevitably failed. I felt like physically shooing away his explanations like a swarm of itinerant flies clouding the larger, more seductive picture: My own idea of what his work means. His eerie depictions of plastic-featured, shaven heads, the post-apocalyptic mutation of his landscapes and figures, the noisy, broken down din of churning grammaphones and the tinny wail of one-man-bands combined with the solitary wind whistling through deserted circus tents and floating banners that emanates from his work– all of this defies, nay, refutes explanation. Hearing him speak of his work offered little enlightenment beyond the fact that he is human and like all humans is complex enough to be somewhat flummoxed by his own creations.


Perhaps that’s the real meat of it. When an artist can come out and say what few of us are able to admit without feeling studid– that some things have to be felt rather than explained - who can find fault with that?


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