There is a connection between the way a society understands the role of the artist in that society and the way the artist feels about herself. After all, that artist is brought up in that society and she is creating in that society. She will have internalized the perceptions of the place of the artist even as she grows into seeing herself as holding that place. I believe those perceptions influence the artist’s relationship to her own practice and her sense of what is possible and desirable in it.
If that artist moves herself out of her society and relocates to a new society, her perceptions will change. If she is open to it, she may be uniquely sensitive to the relationship between her new society and the artist in it. This sensitivity will create both an opportunity for her to communicate with her new society about what she sees and for them to critique her understanding. Together, the artist and her new society will develop a deeper understanding of the role of the artist within that society and what about that role needs to be protected and challenged. She will also have the opportunity to look at her understanding of her own place in society and how that affects her sense of self and possibility.
This is the situation in which I find myself. Since moving to the UK I have had the opportunity to hear many artists talk about their practice. This idea of the artist’s studio engagement being a practice is not common in the States. Artists in the States tend to talk about their work. The difference between a relationship to your work and to your practice seems very significant to me. An artist’s discussion of work seems focused on the objects that are created, be they sculpture, writing or dance. An artist’s discussion of practice seems focused on the ideas that may or may not find expression in works of art. A societal acceptance of the artist’s discussion of practice, as opposed to product, is the result of a shared belief (shared between society and artist) in the importance of ideas. This is not to say that artists or society are not interested in creating objects. It has more to do with an unapologetic engagement with ideas and the public acknowledgment of the important role that engagement plays in society.
Of course artists in the States think. However, the language we have adopted to talk about our thinking is the language of business. If work is the acknowledged goal than the artist’s studio becomes a place of production. What happens in her studio becomes a commodity. If a society equates value with the production of things, that value will influence the artist’s own relationship to her work. Her success will be measured by what she makes and not by her dedicated engagement to ideas. It is difficult to commodify thinking.
– Bristol, November 2011