Friday, May 8, 2015

Deborah Roberts: Art & Social Trauma and the role of Black artists

Deborah Roberts: Art & Social Trauma and the role of Black artists: What does it mean to be a Black artist in the age of social consciousness? The protests, the unrest and the BlackLivesMatter movement is swe...

Art & Social Trauma and the role of Black artists

What does it mean to be a Black artist in the age of social consciousness? The protests, the unrest and the BlackLivesMatter movement is sweeping the nation causing a shift in the national consciousness and shining a light on the disparity of privilege and mass incarceration. Thousands of people are marching in the streets demanding that America, a country built on the premise of civil liberty speak out valiantly that justice and accountability must be afforded to all its citizens equally.
 As an artist and a human being I'm drawn to the visceral affect of the faces I have seen on TV and in protests marches. I am mortified when I see some of the news media demonize and cast protesters as sub-human and not people who are angry, desperate and unable to breathe under the oppression of a system setup for them to live in the margins of society. While we are familiar with this narrative it's important that the images that are thrust in front of us are not just media driven. Is it the responsibility of Black artists and artists of color to respond to social unrest and trauma? Should our artistic practice be in service to the community? I believe so. We know that during the sixties, Black artists were out front illustrating and painting the Black experience.
The notion of how Blacks are viewed is a deeply personal one for me and It should come as no surprise that my work is addressing the latest social trauma polarizing the nation. I've heard many Black artist say, "Why can't I just be an artist?" or  Why do I have to be a Black artist? Some push against it, while others embrace it. A few Black artists have claimed, "It's unfair, this is not asked of white artists!"  It is a pressure they feel is not put on any other group. I don't feel that pressure, but thats me.
Whether, political or romantic Black art is based in our history, the communities we grow up in and our faith, it's inextricably linked to the long history of cruelty and notions of otherness.  The Black experience is complicated, vast, deeply rich and deserves many voices.
Blacks have a shared history, but should this shared history create generations of artists positing the same societal message of Black trauma? Our futures are tied to this country and if only one homogenized narrative is allowed to exist then we as artists are forever placed in a very tight monolithic box unable to breathe

Check out this wonderful article on the Whitney Museum anti-lynching images.
Painting by Barbara Jones Hogu of Chicago and AFRICOBA

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Who's art is it anyway?

Recently, I had a long discussion with another artist about artist assistants. She believed that if assistants were doing most of the labor then the final work was a "collaborative" piece. What became obvious after a twenty-five minute (let's agree to disagree) discussion is that this is a major topic within the art world. Apprenticeships or artist assistants has been going on since the 14th century with little fan fare or disapproval. However, today most people are complaining that artists like Damien Hirst, Khinde Wiley and others are having studio assistants preform all the hard labor when it comes to producing their works. How do you generate mass amounts of work without help when you have garnered the attention of the art world, which can be short-lived and fickle? Is this fair?
The notion of assistants will never really be resolved because some artists are going to champion the idea and others are going to view it as cheating. I think it is not fair to criticize artists for getting help with some of the exhausting tasks of building stretchers, priming, gessoing, and laying out preliminary under paintings. (if thats what they are doing) And what about artists who use projectors to get human like portraits? Should artist take advantage of whatever is out there to make their practice better?
In my artistic practice sometimes I get stuck cutting out large amounts of paper over long periods of time. Having clean lines is very important to the final look of the piece and if I could afford to pay someone to do this I would. Contributions from assistants allow artist time to work on the business of being an artist which doesn't get talk about much. The art-world is horribly unbalance, only a few of us are ever given the chance to exhibit in major institutions and blue chip galleries. And if you are lucky enough to have the art world at your feet you should use whatever at your finger tips to get the work out there! It's a resource and if it is good for your practice use them. Clearly, it will not be straighten out in my blog! But remember artist assistants are interwoven within the history of art and art makers. And while, I personally don't know if Wiley and others are not doing their own paintings, I can at least hope they're paying their assistants well, because chances are they are just undiscovered young artists waiting for their own chance to shine!
Check out the debate here: