Two words: A self discovery in defining your practice
As a practicing artist, you will – almost constantly – be asked questions such as:
“So what is your work about?”
“What kind of artist are you?”
“What is it that you paint?”
“Could you tell me about your practice?”
“What themes do you use in your work?”
“Can you talk to me about what inspires you?”
Now if you’re getting questions like this from colleagues, friends, potential buyers, galleries, tutors, family, the general public or Piers Morgan, first of all… GREAT! Someone is interested in your work. Hopefully it isn’t the latter, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. Second of all: Try not to panic. Even after a Bachelors in Fine Art, where you are constantly asked to define, discuss or elaborate on your work, these kind of questions still strike the fear of god in to me. Because let’s face it, talking about your work is hard. It’s incredibly difficult to sound passionate without sounding cocky, to sound well-read and relevant without sounding definitive, to tell someone exactly what you want your work to say without telling them that that is ALL your work says. After all, art is subjective, and while you may paint delicate still life flowers to discuss fragility and nature, someone else might see this as a narrative on structure and decay!
So, where do you start when it comes to defining your practice? Whilst this is something I have considered before, earlier this week I came across a wonderful concept, shared by a fellow artist and originating from the Studio 32 podcast, which not only made me think about my own definitions and descriptions in a whole new way, but also made me reconsider the way I see other people’s work.
So here it is, are you ready?
Define your work in two words.
Two words to tell the world everything they need to know about your entire body of work. Two words to explain the 17,000 books and essays you read that inspired the concepts and notions behind your work. Two words to encompass the 600 artists you count as the favourite influences to your process. Two words to embody the blood, sweat and tears that pour onto canvas when you paint.
OF COURSE NOT!
So, why?! I hear you ask, would I share this insurmountable task with you? Because guess what… it works! Not as justtwo words to define your practice forever, but two words to get you started, and two words than complement them, and two words to follow that. And before you know it, you’ve written a whole 431 words on your own practice! Easy right?
One thing I also found this incredibly good for, was seeing others’ practice in a new light. Giving yourself this limit of definition allows you to really pinpoint what it is that intrigues you about other artists’ work. So, of course, I tried this with a few of my favourite artists, and I thought I would share with you the result…
Pablo Picasso: Deconstructed faces. Cubist figuration.
Claude Monet: Gentle Waterlilies. Calming expressionism.
Celia Hempton: Playful intimacy. Delicate bodies.
Olafur Eliasson: Light and shape. Experience and colour.
Tracey Emin: Emotion and experience. Raw figuration.
Andrew Salgado: Bold portraiture. Intriguing figures.
Damien Hirst: Value and structure. Bodies beheld.
I could go on but you get the idea. So what words spring to mind when I think of my own practice? What two words define my work?
Figure and reception.
Nudity and trickery.
While I don’t feel that any of these pairs describes the entirety of my practice, I found this exercise really helpful in pinpointing how certain phrases show different key themes in my work, how pairing certain words showed links between physicality, process, aesthetic and concept, which ultimately tells me that I am potentially achieving what I want to achieve within my practice! Now don’t get me wrong, the next time I have to send an artist statement to a gallery or potential buyer, I won’t be limiting myself to merely two words, however I may revisit this list to highlight 5 or 6 key aspects of my work to describe, rather than gabbling on endlessly!