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What Kind of Artist Are You?

What Kind of Artist Are You?

Amy Wilson

It seems to me that there are two different kinds of artists in the world: Those who are quick to describe what kind of artist they are (”I’m a post-Marxist, Conceptual, feminist painter whose work is a inquiry into the notion of the organic…” ok, whatever) and those who just want to shrug and avoid the question all together by saying something along the lines of, “Well, I just make stuff.”

Neither answer is especially satisfying. Chances are the person who asked you “What kind of artist are you?” was doing so either just to be friendly or to genuinely gain some sort of understanding of your work. And neither the “I’m ______” answer (which sounds so calculating and cold) or the “I dunno” answer (which sounds like false naivete) really gets you any closer to understanding who or what you are.

I think it’s important that artists can articulate to themselves who they are in the studio. That said, the kind of over-articulation that can occur when someone has a laundry list of adjectives ready to describe their work can act more like a barrier to the outside world than an explanation. It can also serve to shut down the kind of dialog artists need to have with themselves while they’re working. If you believe that you’re a formalist painter, what happens if you wake up in the middle of the night with the burning desire to make a conceptual installation? Well, if you’ve told the whole world over and over that you’re a formalist painter, chances are you roll over and go back to bed, in the process letting an interesting idea go… because you’re simply “not that kind of artist.”

I bring all this up because this Friday, when I was working on my print, we had NPR on. One of the shows was talking about this idea of “the new sincerity” (in particular, as expressed in the movie Juno). Having not seen the movie, I barely paid attention. But that evening, there was an email from a friend of mine pointing out that she, too, had heard the program and that she “realized” that, “That’s you!” (er, that would be me that she’s talking about).

And I get it – I get why she would say that, I get why she would think it. And there is some truth to it. There does exist this funny sort of generation gap (funny because I’ve wound up on the “wrong” side of it) between older artists seeped in irony and younger artists who are making work that does seem more sincere, honest, or true. Much of the work I see at school that gets ripped apart by the older professors, dismissed as kitsch or as “too feminine” falls into this category of Gen Y, “sincere” artwork. The students don’t understand where the anger is coming from.

I don’t know how I feel about all this, how I feel about my place in it, if I think that my work is more or less sincere than other Gen Xers, and so on. I’m really confused by it all.

Good lord. So who’s going to play me in the Wes Anderson movie?

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