Monday, September 27, 2010

In and Out of the Studio

Two professors at The Art Institute of Chicago have published a new book, The Studio Reader, a compendium of essays by different artists and theorists concerning both the physical and conceptual space where art is made it. What's so interesting about the text is how it undresses so many popular notions about what and where a studio is. Cultural imagination has long been dominated by images of the studio as a illusive and esoteric, if not magical, space where the isolated artist spends sleepless nights facing down the muses. Countless photographs in contemporary catalogs share this idea, be they of Francis Bacon's mare's nest London, or Jackson Pollock's cramped barn in East Hampton, or Bruce Nauman's ranch in New Mexico. Most working artists have different ideas about their studio: yes, it is a place where lightning is said to occasionally strike, but it is also a place where coffee is brewed, the paper is read, the dog takes a nap. What does the studio mean to you, and where is it? For some the studio is a free-standing garage, for others a converted store front, for some the kitchen table. Where is your place of practice?

One of the most testing transitions experienced by recent art-school grads is getting kicked out of their academic studios - usually nice, clean, white cubicles with large shared areas, prefabricated for artistic purposes - and learning to rough it in the real world. How quickly issues of northern light, high ceilings, and powerful ventilation system become forsaken for cheap square-footage and a wall or two. Many artists make this space out of a desk and an empty wall in their bedroom, others find a warehouse. In an essay Robert Storr provides a few ideas:
The bottom line is that artists work where they can and how they can. Accordingly the announcement "I am going to the studio" can mean going to: the living room, a bedroom, the attic, an attached or free-standing garage, a coach house in the back of a grand old house, a storefront downstairs or down the block from your apartment, the floor of a warehouse, the sublet corner of a floor of a warehouse, the classroom of a vacant school that has been turned over to artists by enlightened city officials, a room in an office building on its way to becoming a neighborhood that light industry has left for good, a cubical in a subdivided factory so toxic as a result of the previous manufacturing of goods or storage of materials that no one has figured out how to clean it up even if the site were razed, which no one is going to pay for unless enlightened city officials force them to or a very rich or very gullible client shows up with a plan to gentrify the whole area with or without telling future tenants that they will forever be inhaling noxious fumes and drinking water infused with carcinogens."
Of course, there are other possibilities. The point Storr is trying to make here is that artists frequently make big sacrifices in order to have a affordable space to work in.

There also exist a growing number of artists see their practice as post-studio (a term popularized by John Baldessari's famous CalArts course), where production can take place anywhere inside of the world it is responding to. Walead Beshty's studio, for example, often becomes his next trip to the post-office or the airport. There has been some criticism, or at least concern, of this method; that it does not have the same stabilizing effect of an isolated studio or that it is too prone to external pressures and changes in the art market. Can a studio this fundamentally malleable retain the necessary stability for artistic integrity?

Consider this an open invitation to discuss your own studio, where and what it is and how you spend your time there. I'm always especially interested in how artists spend time in their studio when they're not making work: sitting, reading, eating, drinking, spending exorbitant abouts of time on facebook, et cetera. What is it, and what do you do there?

Chris Willcox
Contributing Editor


Kristin Forbes-Mullane said...

my studio is an extra room in my house... funny how this room can fill up so fast with artwork and other random peices of inspiration. When I'm not painting in there, you guessed it, hours spent on the internet. Its my favorite room in the house (well, after my bed of course).

Stephan said...

Thanks! I have read the "Reader" and it's great. There is also a great essay on Bruce Nauman's studio practice and how it came to inform his career in the book, "The Fall of the Studio"

Anonymous said...

My studio is an attached two car garage. Working at home can be a real challenge at times as there are so many distractions. I've found that I am generally more productive when I am renting out a place and can geographically separate my private life from my artistic life, but at the moment this is outside the budget. Not to say working at home is not without it's benefits: something I really enjoy is being able to run into the studio and pait for ten minutes while I wait for a pot of water to boil, or the laundry to finish, etc.

Jason Mehl said...

I think we can all agree that a studio is the place where the coffee is brewed!

My "studio" is simply my 10' x 14' living space. No frills, I sleep on the floor amongst my sculptural debris. Looking forward to a new shared workspace in the next few weeks though. I can't wait to separate my sleeping space from my workspace.

Anonymous said...

After over 20 years of working towards it, painting in every kind of environment you can imagine, I finally have purchased my dream studio/building! It's almost 200 years old, with tin ceilings and huge floor to ceiling windows! I'm renovating it now and will start working in it next week. I think I'll sit in it, read in it, sleep in it, eat in it, watch movies via projector in it, cry, laugh and sing in it, dance with my son in it and, every day, WORK IN IT. Its just another space that is an extension of me with very specific materials that I might not find anywhere else in my personal environment. I need it to big and have lots of light because my work can be big and my eyesight is horrible. It does give me isolation without distraction if I need it and that seems to be the hardest thing to find if you don't have a "studio space".