Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why Art Shouldn't Speak For Itself

I’ve always been told that art should speak for itself.

That our job is to do the work, the work’s job is to speak for the work, and any attempt to make grand claims about what the work is, what it’s supposed to do or what people should think about it, is bad form.
And yet, every time I go to an art museum, watch a documentary or see an interview with one of my heroes, all I want is for the artist to speak. To me, artist statements are more interesting than the art itself. That’s what inspires me. That’s what gives me permission to try something new.

Yes, I pay attention to the work, but I what I obsess over is the thinking behind the work. As the consumer, I want the back story. I want a detailed description of the landscape that sustained the artist when her spirit was tired and sagging. I want to know who the artist had to become in order to finish it.

What’s interesting is, now that most artists are operating on some permutation of free, res ipsa loquitur might not cut it anymore. If we just sit back and let the work speak for itself, where’s the value to the fans? As Seth says, when the cost of delivering the thing itself is so cheap, there isn’t a bright line between exposing the work and delivering the work.

That’s why Kevin Smith has spent tens of thousands of hours in the past twenty years – on stage, on camera, on air and on ink – answering questions, telling stories and sharing secrets behind his work. He’s not trying to perfect the audience experience; he’s trying to extend it. It’s the second bite of the apple. And his fans couldn’t get that if he simply let the work speak for itself.

Today’s audience no longer buys what we sell, they buy the story we tell. They buy the humble beginnings that first ignited the work, the process we endured to create the work and the resistance we overcame to sign, seal and ship the work.

Just because the work is done, doesn’t mean our mouths should close.

What have you declined this week?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Writing, Publishing, Performing, Consulting

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