Wishing I was shy again, and Embarrassing Myself Publicly
Rachel Louise Schneider
Recently I have been thinking quite a bit about personal work. I have heard many of my peers express that they are concerned about their motivation, want to make work that they are personally invested in, want to make work that is more ‘them’, more vulnerable, more honest, more personal.
Personal work is difficult. It requires a considerable amount of psychological investment. It can be exhausting for the artist, opening themselves up to criticism, which is not only directed towards the piece in presented, but the concepts, and therefore the experiences, memories, emotions, and history. It is not the craftsmanship we are criticizing here, so open those wounds and pour the salt right on in.
So you make a personal work and you have finished, or you have a deadline, or something happened that made you take a leap and decide to show someone this secret fragment of yourself that comes in the form of artful creation.
And then you hit a giant brick wall. And it comes in the form of the audience’s response. Why do I care about this? How am I supposed to connect to your personal work? Should I care about this? Was this piece only for you?
It shows a lot about both the artist and the viewer. The artist gets sick of it because they are being honest, vulnerable and available through the artwork and instead they came off sappy or romantic or cute or maternal, or whatever. Maybe viewer is getting lazy. Maybe if someone isn’t willing to come halfway with the piece it isn’t absolutely an indicator that the piece is a failure.
THIS PART IS IMPORTANT:
God forbid the audience can admit that they are sick of existential, contemporary, ironic, meta, minimalist, man-goofing-off-in-the-woods shit and are just starving for something that they can truly grasp at because they have lived a life filled with experiences up until now.
If I make a personal work, my story is not for you. I want you to take the fragment that I gave about my own experience, memory, dead grandparents, ex-boyfriends or whatever, and come to terms with the fact that you will never understand it. My aim is not for you to understand it. My aim is that you will find something in yourself to connect with and understand.
If you are the viewer and it truly irks you that I had to delve into my sappy sentimental self to make a work that I was invested in, consider how you might rather take some time to be uninterested in someone’s seriously misguided sappy story than waste your time bullshitting over someone’s cranked out project. Like I said its not about the story. It is about what you can bring to it. It is not about my dead grandparents, or my long lost brother, or my relationship with my mother. It is about something you experienced, one of your memories, a relationship you have, maybe its not even something as significant as that but rather a small idea or feeling that it can trigger.
One realizes that making personal work asks for something from the viewer. And who can rely on them, so why attempt it at all?
Well the thing is, some people need to make personal work. Some people need that emotional connection, that specified experience, that vulnerable memory to create a piece of artwork.
Without a personal investment in my own studio process (and by personal investment I’m referring the sappy sort of thought process where memories of my family and loved ones drive my work) I would not be making work at all.
Not everyone is driven by these (sometimes) inaccessible concepts, but those of us who are, we realize that it is a fine line to walk – determining how much information to give the viewer, without turning them off with too much. We want you to have room to explore, want you to think for yourself, want to keep enough of the personal story to ourselves, but please consider being willing to say, “hey this work is being vulnerable and honest here, maybe I as a viewer could try that too,” and then see where it takes you. Don’t be so jaded yet. We will all make the mistakes of amateurs.