Monday, November 16, 2009

Studio as Medium

Guest Blogger:
Michelle Grabner
Artist and Writer

How and why does the studio matter to art and artists today?

The studio doesn’t matter. Hard work and steadfastness to art and art making does. Most often, but not exclusively, the studio is the space of this work.

When approached by Mary Jane Jacob in March 2008 about ideas for projects that the Department of Exhibitions and Events at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago might consider undertaking, I pitched the idea of the studio. Exhausted by the fact that contemporary art discourse was focused primarily on inventory and consumption I simply wished to turn the lens away from the art bubble and its marketing tools to that of the studio, the space of artists and artmaking. With Mary Jane’s leadership and curatorial acuity: voila, The Studio Reader, Picturing the Studio, The Summer Studio and more. The studio is a medium. However, the studio can also be a subject.

The split between studio as medium and studio as subject became powerfully clear when working on crafting and editing The Studio Reader with Mary Jane Jacob and co-curating the exhibition Picturing the Studio with art historian Annika Marie. Both of these research projects shed very little light on the reality of my own studio. When I work in my studio I don’t think of Daniel Buren’s “first frame.” I don’t consider the longstanding tradition of the romantic studio or mediate on post-studio analysis. Nor do I ponder Bruce Nauman’s wry quote “If I was an artist and I was in the studio then, whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.” I just work. In the studio I think about abstraction. I think about values and achieving the conditions of quality in idea and artmaking.

However when evaluating the studio as a mode of discourse I write in the introduction to The Studio Reader: “In a contemporary examination of the studio and its potential, perhaps equally germane to post-studio and postmodern theory, and its intrinsic tie to a modernist studio tradition, is Michael de Certeau’s analysis of “spaces” and “places.” He defines a place as a distinct location in which the elements constituting it are “beside” one another, abidingly stable, because of the rules and laws that govern “proper” place. A space on the other hand, “exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables.” De Certeau employs a simple analogy for space in which it is “like a word when it is spoken, that is when it is caught in the ambiguities of an actualization, transformed into a term dependent upon different conventions, situated as the act of a present (or of a time), and modified by the transformations caused by successive contexts.”

De Certeau and John Dewey’s theory of attention were helpful in my examination of the studio as subject. However, and more importantly, as a working artist my studio is simply an appropriate medium in which to deliberating on the potential of abstraction.

Michelle Grabner is an artist and writer. She is a professor and chair of the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Along with her husband Brad Killam, she runs The Suburban and The Poorfarm; exhibition spaces in Oak Park, IL and Waupaca County, WI. In March 2010 she will have solo exhibitions at Leo Koenig Gallery, NYC and Minus Space, NYC. An interview about her work and activities with art critic Saul Ostrow will be published in Art in America early next year.

Untitled, 2008, 40x40", silverpoint and gesso on paper, Courtesy of Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; Artist's studio


  1. AH! The antidote! -for that poofy piece of speciousness that precedes it; an actual painter/serious artist who has worked long and hard (obviously) to be good at what it is, she does.

    These are serious times, requiring serious work -done by women and men as opposed to girls and boys. Chicago has an opportunity to bring it all back home in terms of what is American Art -the last thing we need to be promoting from here is a bunch of vapid, run of the mill academic, trendy, art school fluff. Nice piece Michelle -thanks.

  2. Excellent essay Michelle. I hope to run into you at CAA in February.