As many Answers as there are Artists

I studied under Duane McDiarmid as a graduate student (I had other professors, too!).  During my time in that program, we re-christened the department "Sculpture and Expanded Practice" to better describe what we believed our activities and media to be, because the word "sculpture" implied a creative constraint we felt we had outgrown.  I must say, rattling off this title to new acquaintances and colleagues often elicits a quizzical expression and/or the response "And what does 'expanded practice' mean?!"

The way Duane likes to put it: "What we are sculpting is ourselves."  It's a poetic statement, just vague and suggestive enough to inspire contemplation.  I'm not certain it's as effective an explanation for the phrase "expanded practice" as I would like it to be, though it does help somewhat!  I like how it draws attention to the actions of the artist, the role of the artist, rather than prioritize the objects sculptors are expected to produce.  Because when I say "sculpture", I flinch at the follow-up questions people often ask: "What do you sculpt?  What materials do you use?"  In the era of time-lapse and performance works, there are no easy answers to those questions!

But I also think it unfairly shifts "the artist" into the position of "art object".  While this may work for some artists, it does not necessarily work for everyone.  (I, for one, have had quite enough of feeling objectified in my lifetime, so I would like to refrain from objectifying my self.  That being said, I often engage in self-examination through my work.  Can't seem to help it!!)

Duane once told me: "Every gesture is a demonstration of belief."  He teaches that art is found in any action that an artist takes, meaning every action by an artist is necessarily art.  Therefore no action can go unexamined.  [read more here]  This way of thinking finds support in the writing of Judith Butler about performance, particularly gender performance.

Judith Butler asserts that every individual in every circumstance, every moment of every day, is voluntarily performing their identity (with a special emphasis on gender identity in her most celebrated work on the subject), as much as any actor on the stage or screen.  Identity is always acted out (performed), rather than self-apparent, and identity is subject to change, rather than immutable.  So it follows that any person who wears the title of "artist" is performing this role in every moment of every day, for as long as they assume this identity. 

 Candid photos of my classmates during graduate school, starting with our 1st year exhibition (2005, top left) and ending with the last gathering of friends in my home, while I was actively moving out (2008, bottom right).  These are photos of "artists", otherwise ordinary people, just doing what they do.

Candid photos of my classmates during graduate school, starting with our 1st year exhibition (2005, top left) and ending with the last gathering of friends in my home, while I was actively moving out (2008, bottom right).  These are photos of "artists", otherwise ordinary people, just doing what they do.

Therefore, artists necessarily demonstrate what it means "to be an artist" with every action they take.  And to the question "What does it mean to be an artist?", there would seem to be as many answers as there are artists!  Perhaps there is no better way for me to define what it means to be an artist than to take on this identity and explore it from the inside.  (In that case, I must be doing something right, already!)

I am an artist, because I daily aspire to be one.  I demonstrate what it means to be an artist through my actions, my practice.  The fact that I persevere in practicing this profession in spite of any uncertainty I may struggle with (on a daily basis) demonstrates that I hope to be responsible with my practice.  And the fact I have been practicing for more than ten years demonstrates my level of commitment to this responsibility.  If I maintain careful observation of the (many) function(s) I serve within my community — observe the many diverse relationships I have with other people, on any and every scale — I may yet learn what differentiates my chosen profession from other professions.

My work reflects upon the status and social place of the artist in contemporary global culture.  We are forced to reconsider the position of the artist in relation to every other person and profession in the world.  I infer the potential for the artist to perform a social function, without prescribing what that function must be or passing judgment on the practice of my fellow artists.  While the labor of an artist is likely to result in art objects and/or artifacts, my inquiry is less concerned with the meaning of artifacts produced by artists (in the course of performing their social function), and more with the question: "How to use artists?", and the attendant ethical implications.