Thursday, April 28, 2011

No (Art) Apologies Necessary

Since I bought a button that says "Never apologize for your art," I've been thinking about why people use an apology as a preface. I don't always read the preface in a book, I don't always read the wall text in an art gallery or museum. Sometimes I just want the work to speak for itself. If context or comment will help me understand the work, clarifying what I'm seeing so I won't be confused, I'm grateful. But I'm not as interested in a preface or commentary when it is being used as an apology.

I've heard people apologize for the sexual or violent content of their work, as if suddenly their classroom is filled with upper class gentlefolk from the 19th century. If the work has a message and it's coming from a deep place, then the work is the work. No need to apologize.

The real versus imaginary apology comes up periodically. Someone will want you to know that their story actually happened, or that this is a real picture of their house. What if it isn't? Does the work stand on its own? Is it compelling even without knowing it is true? Why not test it? Say nothing, then evaluate the response. The response will probably be more authentic.

The most common apology seems to be the "I'm not a (fill in blank: writer, artist, etc.)" with the understanding that therefore if the work doesn't seem "good enough" then there's a reason. Has the person done his/her best? Worked hard? That's irrelevant. Does the work speak? Does it move the audience? People with decades of training and practice are likely to be able to express themselves well, but at times they can and do make mediocre pieces. Beginners without training and with little practice can and do have the ability to make articulate, moving works. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It's a case-by-case situation.

We may feel we must distance ourselves from our work in order to protect ourselves. (I know, I've done it.) When you have completed a piece or a draft or mock up of a piece you have to let it go.  Instead of speaking a preface, try listening carefully from that distance as if you, too, were looking from the outside in. You are not your work.

Once Said a Stoic: Epictetus, 2003


ronnie said...

hear! hear!

and don't you find that more often than not an arty statement that directs an audience how to think and feel about a work shuts out the authentic audience response....

the less said the better I think..

Judith Hoffman said...

Thought provoking post.

Sometimes when I have an impulse to apologize, or qualify in some way, I realize I'm not really happy with the work. Then, of course, it shouldn't even be leaving my studio.