Monday, August 2, 2010

The Art Studio Phenomena

W. Keith Brown
Art Educator / Scholar / Writer
Stockyard Institute

It is my belief that artists crave traditional art studio spaces (lofts in Montmartre and Lower Manhattan) because they have been taught what success is by the art establishment (historians, popular art world culture, and society). It is from the teachings, writings, and examples of success spoon-fed by the art establishment that young artists are forced to become overly competitive and slightly insecure (see Bravo’s latest ambition, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist). Young artists are seemingly encouraged to live out terribly na├»ve and sometimes destructive alterna-life-styles in the name of becoming whatever concoction of art history they find romantic. In this model, a successful artist is not complete without great monetary wealth and her/his large overly expensive one-person art studio space located within a gritty urban center. My position is this, if artists never had access to art world narratives there would be no reason to have a citywide exhibition in Chicago on the art studio. The artist studio would have nothing to compare itself to, thus no extreme relevance. Artist could make with pure freedom instead of financial insecurity (see folk artists in Louisiana who just make things without money or ego).


Depending on what you were exposed to as a young artist or how you developed throughout your art education, at some point, somebody explained or illustrated a workspace designated specifically and exclusively for art making. Chances are, just knowing about this changed the way you viewed art practice. The first thought that focuses the mind is how you would engage such a space. If you had so many square feet to dedicate to making art how would that look and how much work would you be able to produce if given that opportunity. It is very exciting to think about such possibilities. As domestic creatures, we enjoy division, classification, and separation of spaces. Art studio appeals to this fascination of dividing rooms into areas specific for certain activities (i.e. the sewing room, the garage, the basement, the home office, and the playroom).


The art studio model we fantasize about today is the one developed and used from the 1500’s through the 1900’s. If you studied visual art in college, you were exposed to this particular model of art studio. This is the model that likely stirred your imagination and cemented your quest for space. In the undergraduate art history courses, you likely had a professor who was devoted to two decades out of the forty she/he was required to teach. Whatever the time explored in your experience, undoubtedly, your passionate professor shared with you countless stories of rebellion, bohemianism, and spaces for making art. There is something extremely useful and fascinating about that knowledge, but the over exaggeration and enthusiasm for the way things used to be clouds the way things are today and the context in which we exist.


The way artists work today is just as socially and culturally relevant as those working in large loft spaces in bohemian centers worldwide centuries, decades, and years ago. We need not measure our successes on material commodities such as real estate and party invitations. While the art establishment perpetuates outdated production models and “ideal” studio environments, we should question their positions and ask that they speak more on relevant economies and conditions for art production.



Art studio has a certain feeling about it; a place to work and process ideas is extremely important, however, work takes place at many different sites. The studio concept is a fixed location, a space, but it no longer requires paying rent or purchasing a property. A lot of work can be on the go. This is also true for certain cities such as New York. We no longer have to live in New York to show work there. We have the internet, we no longer have to pack our bags, go into debt while sleeping in an overpriced Brooklyn shoebox. The new media artists have shown us that as long as you have a recording device, laptop, and software you can edit and create anywhere you please.

Our culture is extremely mobile; utilizing wireless servers and 3G networks, we can stay electronically connected almost all of the time. Some days it is hard to escape your work due to its transportability, which then generates an entirely new discussion about technology. Many people outside the realms of art often bring laptops to bookstores and coffee shops, they spend hours doing work, studying, and/or reading. These public shared spaces are altering work, leisure, and our everyday interactions. A cultural movement of migratory labor practices is underway and it up to artists to provide cultural understanding and continued dialogue.

W. Keith Brown is a Chicago-based art educator, researcher, and writer. Aside from being an art history teacher at ChiArts, Brown is also a member of the artist-pedagogical collective, Stockyard Institute, founder of the Critical Visual Art Education (CVAE) Club, art critic for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art’s Chicago division, contributor to Proximity Magazine, and editor for the Illinois Art Education Association (IAEA). 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog by W. Keith Brown do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those organizations with whom he associates.


Image Credit: Courtesy of Jerome Hausman via Hans Namuth



1 comment:

  1. Are you putting down the need for such spaces? Why? From Virginia Woolf on the need is not so much a fashion statement as it is a place to confront ones work and shape the next. Would you deny the woodworker his shop? Like any craftsman we have tools and that requires...storage! Plain and simple.

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