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The New Studio Visit / I

Studio visits are a commonplace practice in art education. According to Svensson and Eström’s1 study, they are considered by the majority of art students to be one of the most important experiences during their studies. However, given the structural importance of the studio visit in contemporary art, there is surprinsingly very little critical work on the Studio Visit.

The New Studio Visit offers three alternative models for handling the traditional form of the studio visit. The method of disseminating them, and thus offering them as possible models for others to use, is done via 2-day workshops.

The Three Models are:
1 The Spectator Studio Visit
2 The Structured Studio Visit
3 The Personal Studio Visit

The following text is based on the results of 2-day workshops in 2012 and 2013 at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK).
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Dr. Ann-Mari Edström’s, Ph.D. thesis “Learning in Visual Art Practice” consists of four articles. In article III “Art Students Making Use of Studio Conversations2 she explores how student-artists use the studio visit, and what qualities they develop by doing so.

In her analysis she situates five aspects: A) Who to talk to. B) When to talk. C) Expanding the student-artist’s options concerning ways of doing something. D) Testing the artistic expression, in order to see how others receive the artwork (How am I communicating?) E) The context of the student’s work, relating to the artwork in a wider context. (Where am I communicating?)

In Edström’s study, the student-artists in aspect D, are interested in the discrepancy between how they themselves look upon their artwork, and how others experience it. Inviting someone in to interpret the artwork is a way for the students to gain access to this discrepancy, and work on it if they wish.

In aspect E, student-artists use the studio visit as a form of ‘reality-check’. The visiting artist can give (theoretical) references, locate the work in the wider (art) context or practical-professional context, or refer to the closest and related traditions to the student’s work.

In the Spectator Studio Visit model, aspects D and E are specifically extracted from the traditionally practiced studio visit. The Spectator Studio Visit is a mix of uttering the formal aspect of the presented work and interpretation of it by the visiting artist, while the visited artist keeps silent.

The visited artist can choose this model when s/he wants to know what their work communicates and where the work locates itself in the wider (art) context. The moment when an artist may choose this model, is most likely to be when their work has reached its final form, when the work is installed, during an exhibition, or other forms of presentation. For a full description see APPENDIX, MODEL 1: The Spectator Studio Visit.

When the Spectator Studio Visit model was practiced in the workshops, it was said during discussion, that in this model the role of the visiting artist took on a performative dimension:
P.S.: “One comes into a scene and one has to talk for half an hour as the visiting artist in the Spectator Studio Visit model. And that is very performative really. Everything that has something to do with roles is performative.”

There was also discussion on “who” the visiting artist is:
M.S.: “Well, it was working, but for instance, a traditional painter. I’m not interested in traditional painting, so I would have difficulties in accepting what this person would say because he or she has such a different perspective on art. And in that sense, the person I was talking to J.D. We have a similar approach. A little bit conceptual, reflecting, working with all sorts of media and space also. That was really interesting.”

P.S.: “Because when a person comes and looks at my work. And doesn’t have a clue what it is about, and starts to talk about something completely different. Then I think; does my work really not function or is it that the person really doesn’t have a clue about aesthetics?

J.D.: “Would the hierarchy really change if you were showing your work to Anselm Kiefer? Would you feel more vulnerable because he’s someone who is very widely acknowledged, or would you feel special because he is paying special attention? Or if I was Anselm Kiefer, would I feel extra vulnerable?”

There was one divergent opinion regarding the moment to use the Spectator Studio Visit model:
P.S.: “This model is exactly right when I have a problem with the artwork. When I am there and think: “Oh god, oh god, how do I continue this idea?” Or when I am not secure in something then I think this model is perfect. Because when the work is ready and I like it and think that is a good project then I sort of don’t care what others think. But when I don’t know exactly where to go, then it is really good to hear what the others think.”

However she said:
P.S.: “Because when you create an exhibition later you cannot talk with every visitor. And it is very important that when people see your work, they understand what it is about and can express their opinion.”

The presentation of the work was discussed:
B.B. “I don’t like showing my documentary on a computer.”

K.B. “I don’t think that PowerPoint is the best way to present my environmental installation.”

J.D. “I think PowerPoint trains people very badly. I think because it trains us to think that our intentions and our motivations are actually communicated along with the work when they’re really not.”

Some participants pointed out that it depends on what it is that you want to get out of the studio visit:
P.S.: “Depending on what the artist wants to know. While perhaps there are artists who want to know if their paintings in a pdf on the computer function the same as they would in non-virtual space.“

J.D.: “It’s also related to the emphasis on the event over the object in contemporary art, so the emphasis on the opening rather than the exhibition, this causes everything to become part of an event as opposed to seeing what the status of the object is for a long time, because if you had brought in a single painting then the details of whether or not it’s satisfying or not are unavoidable on a kind of a material level, whether or not it’s nice to look at. I think looking at the screen skips some of that process.”

In the Spectator Studio Visit model, the visited artist keeps silence except for the introduction of him/herself and the work with merely one sentence. For example: “Hello, my name is Kim Engelen, and I work as a lens-based performance artist.” This verbal introduction of the work with just one sentence was questioned:

On the one hand was said:
P.S.: “I wouldn’t set specific rules for this. I believe it is important that every artist decides: What do I want to know from the others? I could decide for example that I would like to give the title and my name and that is it, if I want to know if the work functions with the title. Or someone else wants to say the context: “I am a painter or a performer.”
In what context the works is presented. And then each can decide what information they give and with a particular purpose.”

And on the other hand:
P.S.: “However I did like this model
with my works, because the visiting artist said it didn’t work and had noticed this immediately. She said some things I did not expect, for example, initially, she only talked about the drawings and did not read the letters until later. For me, the letters are the most important element, and so I noticed, because of the visiting artist’s reaction, that I must present my work differently.”

Different things happened in the workshop during the Spectator Studio Visit model, depending on the role of the artist:
1) Some participants in the role of the visiting artist, expressed that they would have actually liked more time.
2) One participant in the role of the visiting artist, stopped after fifteen minutes.
3) In the role of the visited artist, all participants said that they were eager to hear what the visiting artist said about their work.

J.D.: “Some of the feedback, even on the video part, was super-helpful. To get a sense of how things look in that quick take is also very helpful, because it’s easier for people to give feedback on intention than on materiality.”

M.S.: “I think I would go more into detail. For instance, I would maybe try to reflect: Why do you do it like this? Why does it have to be this colour? Why is it this text? Why have you placed it there? In the end, it’s all in the details. That’s what I believe. Now it was just a rough first impression.”

P.S.: “It could have lasted longer than thirty minutes and also more visitors could tell stuff about my work. For me, I heard everything; I couldn’t stop listening what the other person was saying. However, when I was the visiting artist and had to talk for thirty minutes, then for me it was too long. Because I didn’t know the work and I had little information in order to understand what it was about. I couldn’t do it.”

M.S.: “Now, it was very intense and interesting, half an hour to listen to this flow of words and reflections and other relations […] it’s definitely very interesting. You coming from another, I wouldn’t say another culture, but another context, this work is reflecting certain cultural contexts, it’s very interesting. Useful.”

THE NEW STUDIO VISIT

In the New Studio Visit both artists (the visiting and the visited) agree beforehand which of the models will be chosen and thus in what manner the studio visit takes place. The visited artist is the one who chooses the model since s/he is the one who invites the other artist, or another willing visitor, to aid him/her in the process of development. Making it clear that it is actually the artist him/herself that is, or at best should be, self-directing.

APPENDIX A, MODEL 1
THE SPECTATOR STUDIO VISIT

In the Spectator Studio Visit model the visited artist keeps silent. S/he is merely a present, non-reactionary body. The visited artist can make notes if s/he wants and if s/he doesn’t need to perform or has to activate the work somehow. The visited artist introduces him/herself and the work with one sentence. For example: “Hello, my name is Kim Engelen, and I work as a lens-based performance artist.”

The visiting artist states what s/he sees, by verbally describing it. That is, what is aesthetically/technically presented: colour; text; elements; structure; pattern; size; amount; length; style; person(s); sound; smell; and so on. This has to be spun out as wide is possible: the technique and medium that has been chosen; the style; time; the way the work is presented; the relation with the work to the location; and so on. The visiting artist may give some rational, conceptual and/or emotional reactions. S/he may give some associations that s/he sees or experiences, since all this is a way for the artist to witness how a singular spectator sees, interprets, and examines his/her work.

The visited artist can choose this model when s/he wants to know what the work communicates, where the work locates itself in the wider (art) context, and how the visiting artist interprets, examines, and assesses the work. The moment when the visited artist may choose this model is most likely to be during the installation of the work and/or during an exhibition in one way or the other.

1. Lennart Svensson & Ann-Mari Edström, “The Function of Art Students’ Use of Studio Conversations in Relation to their Artwork,” International Journal of Education & the Arts, 12, no.5 (2011) http://www.ijea.org/v12n5/ (accessed May 7, 2013).
2. Ann-Mari Edström, “Art Students Making Use of Studio Conversations,” Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education 7, no.1 (2008)

Image: Pablo picasso and Brigitte Bardot by Jerome Brierre/RDA/Getty Images