...some kind of nutter.
Alison Flood wrote a nice piece about Unbinding the Book for the Guardian in which she mentioned my work. The article contained a link to this blog which allows me to complete the loop by linking to the article. A couple of the other projects were described and they sound very cool indeed. A book that turns black as you read it and another that creates a radio circuit were both written up.
Down in the comments section below the article, a comment left by “opticus” contained this: “…it is so important that we know that these people are artists otherwise we might mistake them for some kind of nutter.” Personally I’m charmed that someone has taken the time to determine that my mental health might be a bit dodgy, but it also raised the question in my mind of how long has it been that artists have been considered nutters.
I think that performing artists have been considered to be on the fringe for a very long time. “Show people” has been a perjorative in English for decades and looking back through history references to performing artists as shady characters or people of low reputation has been going on for centuries, if not thousands of years. Visual artists on the other hand did not seem to have that same level of negative connotation attached to them. They were either in the service of religion or the ruling classes and once the middle classes began to arise they became, as they have ever been, the playthings of the rich.
For hundreds and thousands of years visual artists either produced decorative works or sought to produce work that reproduced in some way visual reality. Sculpture pretty much had mastered realism by the time of the Romans. Painting took a bit longer until the introduction of realistic perspective allowed painters to depict reality in a manner that appeared accurate to the eye. By the 1830s or so, the visual arts had reached a level where the accurate depiction of reality was a commonplace. Then began the photographic era and by the late 19th century much of what painters and illustrators had done for a very long time was possible to be produced by mechanical means.
The Impressionists and Post Impressionists began to push against the boundaries of direct reproduction and were often greeted with derision by the general public. By the time the 20th century began and distortion and abstraction began to creep in to painting and sculpture the artist began to be viewed a bit differently. They were no longer the decorators, portraitists, landscape artists and illustrators whose work was understandable and recognizable. They became people who experimented widely with what they were depicting in their work but also began to push the boundaries of what was considered to be visual art. It was about this time that visual artists began to be considered to be a bit off if you will. As soon as you moved into work which daubed paint in a manner that produced unrecognizable forms or stuck pieces of material together in abstract and visually chaotic, ways people began to question the artistic merit of the work and even whether or not it took artistic talent of all to produce what they were seeing. And once Duchamp opened the door to ready mades and “it’s art because I say .it’s art and I’m an artist”, then people began to devalue the entire idea of someone who called themselves an artist. Thanks for that one, Marcel.
The further addition of kinetic art, situationist art, performance art, conceptual art, and all the other forms that have evolved since the end of World War II led to the public’s ability, and for that matter desire, to determine what’s going on in the art world being left behind. And thus we indeed need to be clearly labeled as artists because anyone who would want to make a book that turned black as you read it, or contained in its structure a radio broadcasting its content to no one, or someone who just thinks that making a book out of drawers full of clothes make some kind of sense is probably indeed “some kind of nutter.”