Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Introductory thoughts on the studio

Guest blogger:
Philip von Zweck

“If I was an artist and I was in the studio then, whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.”
- Bruce Nauman

I imagine this is where all books and exhibitions based around ‘the studio’ are going to start, so perhaps this blog project should start there too.  I keep Nauman’s statement in mind because of the total freedom it grants the artist while still keeping a separation between art and life. Being an artist doesn’t make everything art, and the studio is not a magical zone which transforms anything into an art object - it’s more of a combination. I think he is referring to the studio as a physical space, but for me and for many others it is not a place; it is a focus, a type of engagement. For example, a lot of Nauman’s work is not complete when it leaves his studio. Fabrication and installation are crucial aspects, places where significant decisions must be made. So in those instances the foundry, neon shop, or the exhibition site become folded – temporarily – into his larger working space because a studio isn’t merely a room or a building. It is an extension of the artist’s thought, physical reach, and process.

For years my studio practice was predominantly separated from the fabrication of work; by the time it came time for the work to be made it could be done by almost anyone with knowledge specific to the material/process and capable of following instructions. My studio wasn’t a physical space; if anything it was a lap top containing notes, plans, proposals, research, and so on. This allowed me to work on projects wherever I was. The work was fully realized at a relatively late stage, when it was made or produced sometimes by myself, and sometimes by others. I think this type of studio practice is somewhat similar to that of an architect or an orchestral composer but also has close correlation to contemporary business practices.

Recently I made a show of paintings. With that project I set out to restructure my practice, to remove that separation between conceiving/planning and fabrication. I wanted to make decisions while making the work. Not to know - in some instances – what the painting would look like until it was done, until somehow it felt resolved.  It was a tremendously rewarding project; it involved a different kind of pleasure, or play, bringing physicality back into making work. Like going skateboarding instead of playing chess.

Since I haven’t had a studio space for five years, the work for that show was made in my apartment. The separation between working and not working - that having a separate studio space was required -  once seemed to me to be a problem, but now seems to me to be an asset. I view going to the studio as a way to demarcate production time. The studio as a physical location works to reinforce the mental condition of the studio by bracketing the world, to limit external distractions from the mode of production and by limiting the compulsion to work from times when one is not in the studio. Granted this is an oversimplification, but I’ve exceeded my space for this post, suffice to say, I have developed a case of studio envy.

Philip von Zweck was born in Florida and raised in Louisiana; he moved to Chicago on his 18th birthday.  He has been a vegetarian for 20 years and producer of the weekly radio program Something Else on WLUW for 14. In September, he had his first solo painting show at three-walls.


  1. Ummm. What's the point of a studio practice blog with someone posting about not having a studio? Why insult professional artists who actually make art? Gag me with a paint brush.

    Paul, I concur: where else but the Chicago Art World could such utterly inane speciousness, towering in its sheer stupidity, be served up with a straight face? But enough here. This blog demands and shall have a complete response/dissection via sharks over at -pending.

  3. Hello Paul,
    I wrote for this blog because I was asked to and I believe that invitation came because of the content of my recent artist talk at three-walls.

    Studio Chicago being a yearlong conversation, I wanted to put out a couple of thoughts that could be expanded upon or rejected by future bloggers. If the focus is on ‘the studio’ and that is supposed to somehow be more specific than just having the focus be ‘art in Chicago’, what is actually being included or left out? What doesn’t fit into a topic as broad as ‘the studio’? This all depends on how one frames or defines ‘the studio.’ I presume that the Sullivan Gallery, the MCA and others have a definition or definitions they are working around, but they may not be the same, and in any case I don’t know what they are. So I wanted to work towards a foundation for the discussion. What counts as a studio; what effect does it have; and does one need to have a studio to have a studio practice? I can only try to answer that through my own experience as an artist. So I ask your question back to you: what's the point of a studio practice blog with someone posting about not having a studio?

    Mine is just one of the 50+ posts to come over the next year from 50+ bloggers many of whom, such as Chicago Aldermen, historians and critics do not have studios either; although unlike them, I have had one, and would like to again. I imagine most of the posts will be uninspiring (the 500 word limit makes it difficult to say very much) but what I trust will happen is that the accumulation will be interesting or useful in some manner. If it leads to, for example, a studio cheap enough that I can afford to rent it, some good will have come indeed.

    In the mean time I suggest you contact Studio Chicago and ask to write so your thoughts can be more fully part of that accumulation.

    Philip von Zweck

  4. ...."has close correlation to contemporary business practices."

  5. I regret writing "I imagine most of the posts will be uninspiring." That was a poor choice of words. While the 500 word limit is difficult to work in, I expect many thoughtful and inspiring things will be posted over the next year.

  6. Too much B.S.

    Quoting you: "This all depends on how one frames or defines ‘the studio.’"

    Quoting Bill Clinton: ""It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

    Semantic drivel and stupid rhetorical questions are counterproductive.

    There is a lot of quality art in Chicago, made by quality artists - that needs exposure nationally and internationally.

    So far, this blog is undermining the good that needs to be done - that can be done - that must be done if this City, and it's artists are going to get the respect they deserve.

    Philip, there is absolutely zero point in having someone without a studio post on a studio-centric blog - any more than some white fool should post on an African-American blog about how he has Black envy because he once walked through a Black neighborhood and liked it.

  7. Hello Paul;

    “There is a lot of quality art in Chicago, made by quality artists - that needs exposure nationally and internationally.” I could not agree with you more, unfortunately that isn’t the purpose of Studio Chicago.

    Cleary your opinion that there is zero point in having myself or anyone else who doesn’t have a studio write for the Studio Chicago blog is at odds with Studio Chicago. I didn’t volunteer to write for this blog, I was invited to do so by Studio Chicago.

    In regard to what I wrote, I was responding to and trying to start a conversation about some of the questions put forward in the Studio Chicago Program Focus and Goals:
    · How and why does the studio matter to art and artists today?
    · What is the artist’s studio today?


    If these aren’t things you’re interested in then perhaps Studio Chicago is not what you’re looking for.

    Either way my week is up, I hope you like the next blogger better.
    All my best,
    Philip von Zweck

  8. Phillip:

    Re: your 1st paragraph: If the purpose of Any Art Blog is not to promote or assist art or artists it shouldn't exist. My suspicion is that your interpretation is flat out wrong.

    Re: your 2nd paragraph: I understand you were invited. That was a mistake - and you should have had the foresight to decline.

    Re: your 3rd paragraph. I don't read the 'about section' the same way you do. And though you cite what you think the questions are, you don't even speculate on the answers.

    Re: your 4th paragraph: If these are matters you don't comprehend You are the one who should not be participating.

    And finally, you last comment: Some of us care about the Chicago art scene on a daily basis. I am relieved that your one week is up.

  9. Paul, This obsessive Jihad against everything you guys don't agree with is pathetic.


  10. Hi Guys,

    I'm jealous of Philip for rousing such an active comment section, when my blog post must have just fallen flat. Be that as it may, let me take a moment to explain the background on Studio Chicago and the blog, and to request that we all try to create a useful dialogue and not one that devolves into personal insults or reprimands. Especially in these first weeks, the blog and its comments will be setting the tone for the year to come, and it would be a shame to alienate folks from the discussion by getting all catty right away.

    Studio Chicago is a collaboration between 6-ish art world "institutions" who are all interested in examining the artist's studio, in slightly different ways and for slightly different reasons. When we realized we were all working on projects related to the idea of "studio", we decided to collaborate on the topic, in part, because that would create a forum for an even larger conversation than any of us could muster on our own. We created this website to be a platform for many people -- artists and "art-curious" -- to participate in a range of ways, from the simple (commenting on a blog) to the complex (proposing a featured event). I hope that the open-endedness of the project is evident and invites participation in ways we have not even anticipated. I also hope that over the course of the year we as a community will be able to come up with a concrete analysis of and effective advocacy for what artists need to strengthen their practice and the community in Chicago.

    Each of the core partners is inviting their own guest bloggers to post, and we are rotating through them. We (DCA) haven't invited all of ours yet, and Threewalls started by inviting Philip, which coincided with his show there.. His is one of many voices that we will hear from over the year, and I appreciate his willingness to pave the way for those to come.

    Wesley, Paul, and all, please keep on commenting, propose a featured program if you'd like, post pics of your studio, and let me know if you'd like to be a guest blogger. More importantly,let's talk about what Chicago needs for its artists to become more visible, vibrant, successful, compelling, etc. This is an unusual opportunity that will be richer with multiple voices and perspectives.

    all the best,
    Barbara K.

  11. Box Score,

    I don't see my attitude (or Wesley's) as obsessive or pathetic. I find it appropriate, but I appreciate the opportunity to reconsider.

    What I do find tiresome is the slew of Chicago artists who do not stand up for themselves. I suspect they find the risk too great, retribution too likely and the non-existent support of the Dept. of Public Art theoretically jeopardized.

    As a result, they are marginalized. They and we and art in Chicago suffer.

    What is in fact needed is that a whole lot more people stand up a take a stance. I really don't care about what. Just stand up a be accountable.

    So, Box Score, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, but I really want to know, What do you stand for?


    Could you expand on what you mean by a featured event or a featured program? Thank you.

    Obviously, this blog has raised the cockles of a couple of folks. That's good, and it may not make it appropriate fodder for 'the art-curious.'

    Also, I intend to remain outspoken. I believe this is a propitious time for art and artists in Chicago. We have a moment, maybe a year to 18 months, to do something significant, before the window closes. I refuse to believe that bad art and mealymouthed conversations serve that agenda.

    I want to see constructive posts that have a purpose and move the topic forward. I have tired of the surfeit of inane quasi-art sites that dumb down ad nauseum and I'm going to call on the local ones to raise their standards, their goals and their purpose. There is work to be done.


  12. Hi Paul,

    The "Get Involved" section of the website has an outline of the program goals and how to submit a featured program. The three key quesitons we're asking programs to address are:

    ■How and why does the studio matter to art and artists today?
    ■What is the artist’s studio today?
    ■What infrastructures are needed to sustain thriving art practice, and what role does the artist studio play within this infrastructure?

    In addition, here is another form of invitation to participate, perhaps clearer, that we began sending out last week:

    Dear Chicago Arts Colleague:

    I am writing to invite you to participate in Studio Chicago, a year-long collaborative project that explores the places where art is made in Chicago through exhibitions, conversations, talks, publications, tours, research, and more.

    Studio Chicago’s core partners are the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Columbia College Chicago, Gallery400 at UIC,
    Hyde Park Art Center, Museum of Contemporary Art, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and threewalls. From now until
    October 2010, we are teaming up to showcase programs and create dialogue about the spaces where artists work in Chicago, with concepts ranging from the "studio as muse," "virtual studios," "street as studio," and "gallery as studio."

    Studio Chicago encourages broad participation from Chicago's many art communities -- individual artists, informal groups, schools, businesses, patrons, art space providers, and various kinds of organizations – as audience and as presenters. There are several ways to get involved:

    1. Propose a Featured Program

    2. Write a “Studio Story”

    3. Participate in the Studio Chicago blog

    4. Contribute to the Studio Chicago photo archive on flickr

    5. Fan us on Facebook

    6. Post a related event to the SC Calendar

    7. Sign up for monthly enewsletter

    8. Check out the many Studio Chicago programs this year and actively share your insights, knowledge and questions

    Learn more about featured exhibitions and programs and get more details about how to participate on Pass the word to others who might be interested as well. If you have specific questions, please contact me or Esther Kang, our Studio Chicago intern, at

    Best Regards,
    Barbara Koenen

    I'm sorry I can't make the links to the 8 ways to get involved live right now -- I have to run to a meeting. But you get the idea and can probably find the links on your own on the Studio Chicago website.


  13. hey Phillip,

    I really loved your thoughtful post. As a performance installation artist whose practice has become increasingly invested in sculpture over the past 2 years, I have just acquired a studio this past August.

    I feel very lucky to have a studio, but the process of adjusting my creative process from creating plans, drawings, interactions and site specific solutions that are only fabricated/rehearsed/defined shortly before a project and in the context of a site and audience to having a space for ongoing scheduled material investigation for its own sake (with the meter running) has been profoundly disorienting for me. It's actually given me a crisis of faith and turned me into a deer in the headlights creatively for the better part of the past 3 months.

    Hearing you articulate nuances around creative process as relates to space, interaction and public work have been hugely helpful to me. I've been thinking about your skateboarder vs/ chess-player metaphor since I read your post last week. Super helpful and totally resonates!

    Thank you,


  14. It is curious to me that within just a few short weeks of the Studio Chicago lauanch, the definition of studio is already being called into question. Certainly there are many artists and artisans who still maintain and work in a defined, architectural space that is "the studio," but just as many artists don't have the luxury of space or simply, don't make work that requires a finite location for its production. "My laptop ate my studio" isn't really the issue, since the production of art has for many years, in places much farther away than Chicago, taken place in locations not traditionally deemed "studio:" online, on the street, in book form, in the landscape, etc. Needless to say, the widening of a definition doesn't necessarily foreclose on the initial one and artists siting "the studio" in ever-shifting locations, does not render the "traditional" sites for production null or void, or even threatened. Rather, it might be worth considering the multitude of reasons why artists don't have dedicated space for the production of art. What are the economics of art practice, especially for the emerging artist?

    On a recent trip to Kansas City, (Shannon) was struck by the projects artists were engaged in there - due to access to SPACE, cheaply and safely, it was notable that artists were working big! Perhaps it is too simple a conclusion, and I'm not intending to make one, but when my colleague at Charlotte Street Foundation traveled to Chicago to conduct studio visits, she noted the opposite. She was meeting artists primarily in their homes or at coffee shops. Looking at work, both documentation and in progress, on laptops was not unusual. She and I were fascinated by how issues of space seemed to manifest themselves in a city's art practice, not to mention how their art communities formed and functioned.

    Studio Chicago as a project is interested in ALL artistic production and in how ALL artists in Chicago create and define "the studio" for themselves. This blog is a place for those stories to be told and reflections made by a number of artists, working in different disciplines and at different points in their career. In addition, as Philip pointed out, it is also a site where other bloggers (politicians, developers and administrators to name a few) can reflect on "the studio" as it intersects with their work.

    I'm not sure how a blog dedicated to various artists reflecting on the idea of "studio" marginalizes any one practice. If anything, as the blog evolves, it will be an interesting collection of artist stories provided by Chicago artists working in this city, today. Certainly censoring contributors based on whether or not they maintain a dedciated square footage to the "production of art objects" would be more marginalizing, and insofar as it represented Chicago, would imply that as a city we had yet to recognize a more expansive, and yes, sometimes experimental and risky, idea of art practice.

    Shannon Stratton
    Elizabeth Chodos

  15. philip, i appreciate your civil responses to needlessly divisive and rudely dismissive commentary. i have also appreciated how, over the course of years, you've expanded my notion about what an art practice can be -- whether it be a show on the radio, a gallery space in your living room, or as part of a loose collective of like-minded artists discussing intriguing ideas together, or as a painter in a more traditional sense.

    your thoughts on working in a not-necessarily-a-studio studio resonate with me too. i use multiple spaces as 'my studio,' whether that be columbia's digital lab, the one-third of my apartment that isn't my bedroom or kitchen, or whatever location i'm using for a shoot, since i rarely, if ever, photograph in my studio. it's challenging, since not all of my tools or subjects are in my space (nor could i afford for them to be, nor would it be practical or desirable). i don't think this makes me less of an artist, just perhaps a more nimble one.

    shannon + elizabeth, i appreciate your efforts to sprinkle valium in this forum and to provide clarity on your project.

    paul, i am not the southern gentleman that philip is and would like to tell you that the manner in which you communicate your loose cannon and mean-spirited ideas is really unwelcome here.

  16. Philip, I am sorry to come to this conversation so late. Regardless, I enjoyed your comments about the concept of studio very much. While I highly regard Wesley and Paul for their important contributions to the Chicago art scene, we have all heard those same tired comments way too many times. It is unfortunate that the spiteful tone of their messages obscures their stature. I have known many wonderful artists while living in Chicago. Whether they had a studio or not never seemed to impact on their ability to conceive and make great work. TB

  17. P-I am wondering if your studio envy is in part like my painter envy-and this too is oversimplified, but my envy comes from the idea of tools-i feel, with my work, that i have to make things differently, or at least have a menu of difference-some things i know how to do and some things i need to learn to do for an individual piece, and that each piece needs to be made the way the piece needs to be. so if its gotta be a poster, i need to learn that, or if its gotta be a freaking sand sculpture i need to learn that, and if i cant learn it i need to find someone who will do it for me and that often if i have made something a certain way i cannot do it again (some things only work once.)

    i am sure there must be an acronym for this art making condition:)

    i am forever feeling that i am making it up from one piece, show, project to another from something related to scratch (as in cooking)

    it seems wonderfully freeing to go into that demarcated space with those demarcated tools (painting tools) its like envy of a different set of givens. i have blurry demarcations:) and wish sometimes they were sharper.
    in the time i have been attempting to juggle art making with home mom-ing you would not believe how many people have suggested i make some drawings at a table top in my free time(?)
    I dont think people suggest it because they think making art as a drawing is easier, but maybe because it would narrow down some issues-the tool issue-pencil, paper , a space issue-table top vs bigger, and maybe time (like maybe i can pop out some quick art during naptime:) its very curious to me and i have tried but found it impossible to start from the idea of *making a drawing*

    and before i accidently offend some painters and drawers out there, i am in no way suggesting what they do is simple or that the *givens* make making an interesting painting any easier.

    rachel-thank you for the word nimble in this context, your studio descriptions, and the shout out to Philip's civility and gentlemenliness. i think the nastiness of you tube comment posting has permeated blogs and other sites and its really kinda sad.

    best, danielle gustafson-sundell

  18. Dear Philip-

    Thanks for your 500 words. Very thorough and thoughtful.

    I too have suffered from studio envy in the past, but have found the answer. When I feel the need make art I get in my car, drive around the block, return to the same address, and get to work. When sated by my creations I drive around the same block, in the opposite direction, and resume my civilian activities.

    Hope this helps.