«In the illusory babels of language, an artist might advance specifically to get lost, and to intoxicate himself in dizzying syntaxes, seeking odd intersections of meaning, strange corridors of history, unexpected echoes, unknown humors, or voids of knowledge but this quest is risky, full of bottomless fictions and endless architectures and counter-architectures…at the end, if there is an end, are perhaps only meaningless reverberations […] [2]»

Texts written by artists had and continue to have a pre-eminent place within a consideration of the art history/theory developed through multiple voices.

Nevertheless, this literature is still retained into ambiguities and knotted paradoxes. First, the conception of art as a wordless language. Consideration which (sometimes) steer to artists’ statements as «If I wanted to use words, I would’ve been a writer [1]». Nowadays it is counterproductive to discuss this dichotomy between theory and practice over again, result of a heavy legacy frozen into hierarchy systems and roles distribution competing against knowledge openness and exchanges.

For a large range of practices emancipated from these confinements, the research and theoretical part of the creative process is included in the work as any other element. Even when it is not on display but still sustain the foundation of it. The consideration of the plastic object as an unique and alternative expression of the language which withdraws the artist of any other discourse is not suitable today (if it have never been). Cultural politics supported by the idea of the unique and frontal experience with the « power of art » exclusively given through the eyes is not fitting with the plurality of actual artistic practices. It is not a necessity for experiencing art to learn in these contexts, it is rather seen as a contribution to a plural source of fruitful knowledges and visions which sharpens one’s critical mind who longs for deeper involvement and understanding. (but more as a source of fruitful knowledges and visions to add since voices plurality sharp the critical mind.)

Secondly, another conviction place the artist as her/his « best lawyer », he or she is the most qualified and legitimate to develop a discourse on art in her/his quality of the one who practice. The Idea opposes the hegemonic power of art historians, art critics and curators. This  principle finds an echo in 18th century philosophy which is more than urgent to update. Indeed, in David Hume’s aesthetic philosophy (1711-1776), he placed the practice at the heart of the critical judgement development. He argued that you can not judge a good wine without knowing how it is conceived. «In a word, the same address and dexterity which practice gives to the execution of any work, is also acquire by the same means in the judging of it [3]». Obviously, it is perilous to think artists are the only people legitimate to talk about art as outside points of view and syncretism are the ultimate key for blossoming dialogues.

Starting from subjectivities lead to plural subjectivities, broader systems and connections. We are not reading Colette’s childhood memories by a voyeuristic desire regarding Colette as an individuality but more to feed our own subjectivity through hers. As Robert Brasillach beautifully described, «They should not signify anything for us, we should not find any interest at all in them. Through the magic of an unrivaled art, these memories become ours [4]».

In a certain way, encourage and reflect on texts written by artist is similar to a Copernican revolution: going directly from the source/subject/experiences to reach broader notions and thus avoid essentialist conception of the art. This shifting pursues a knowledge system structure perceived as the result of infinite rhizomes which transform themselves. Practices contaminate others in opposition with the idea of the artist as an impervious and opaque figure gifted by a hitherto unseen and genius creativity.

It is important to distinguish artists’ writings from the text material present within the artwork itself, which you can not separate from it. Also differentiate the use of words as an artwork in itself which deploy its more visible form into artist’s books where the publication is used as the artistic medium.

Then the artist has to wear the « artist’s hat » while he or she writes, which is obviously a vague, almost mystical idea. Through the public movement, the text will be tinged and interpreted under this artist status and not as an art critic, theorist, historian, etc.

Then the text is on the edge to take the function of elementary subtitles added to the visual production, comments and explanations about the works. A more interesting employment can be found in Adrian Piper’s notion of « meta-art » in her brilliant essay « In support of meta-art ». She explains it as the activity to «make explicit the thought processes, procedures and presuppositions of making whatever kind of art we make [5]». Then, texts written by artists are not giving meanings to the artworks but the way around, highlight the genesis of the artworks as stated by Laurence Corbel «The writings are essential tools for the artworks’ genesis [6]».

Texts written by artists allow to fix ephemerals attitudes whether it be within the practice in itself or into the research procedures. This wish to invite artists to explicate these processes is also a way to contribute to the contemporary art history construction, to create an open field for multiple expressions. It appears as a necessity to match with the ever-rising number of practices, of individuals. While reading Robert Smithson, Laurence Corbel found the artist´s writing as a contextualized phenomena, a mean to get insight into the web of outer influences the artist has been embedded and that fixes him into his generation´s path. Indeed in reading Robert Smithson, it bring a partial but inside overview of the artistic production in the 60’s-70’s in New York – «The artists’ writings render art evolutions as well as they are their operators[7]». Consciously or unconsciously, every production, every discourse is settled in several and rhizomatic contexts effective within the society. As Adrian Piper put forward «Ultimately the justification for meta-art is social because it is concerned with artists and artists are social: we are not exempt from the forces or the fate of this society[8] ».

The film director Andreï Tarkovski explained his motivations in these terms, « […] Reading and rereading books on the history of cinema, I came to the conclusion that these did not satisfy me, but made me want to argue and put forward my own view of the problems and the objectives of film-making. I realized that I generally came to recognize my own working principles through questioning established theory, through the urge to express my own understanding of the fundamental laws of this art form. [9]»

The writing as a process in itself can be a necessary intellectual construction of the practice. As Mel Bochner stated «The only reason why I wrote on my work was my wish to understand what I have done [10]». Whatever the reasons of this enterprise, whether it be by pleasure, urgency, necessity, conflict, reflection, under-rated feelings, challenge, etc., moving off centre and becoming her or his own studying object is always a necessary distancing profit.  Moreover for the artist´s involvement is never only an inner monologue, written language´s inherent power of transferring those multiple dynamics to the outer engages dialogues and exchanges between individuals as a source for a common ground.

(Text by Gwen Lesmeister and Gauthier Lesturgie)

[1]    Willian Powhida, “Artists Statement”, 2009.

[2] Robert Smithson, « A Museum of language in the vicinity of art » (1968) in Robert Smithson : The Collected Writings, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1996, p. 78.

[3] David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste”, 1757.

[4] Robert Brasillach in Colette, La maison de Claudine (1922), Le livre de poche : Littérature & Documents, Paris, 1978.

[5] Adrian Piper, “In support of meta-art”, Artforum, 12:2, October 1973, p. 79-81.

[6] Laurence Corbel, Le discours de l’art : Ecrits d’artistes 1960-1980, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, Rennes, 2013, p. 22.

[7] Laurence Corbel, op. cit., p. 41.

[8] Adrian Piper, op. cit.

[9]    Andreï Tarkovski, Sculpting in Time, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1989.

[10]  Mel Bochner, Spéculations – Ecrits 1965-1973, MAMCO , Geneva,  2003.