I’ve been thinking about the differences between the art made by older and younger artists. This has come about partly because of the seemingly abrupt turn Rachel Whiteread’s new work (outlined in my last post), and probably because my birthday yesterday puts me three years away from receiving my AARP card. There are no laws about the kind of work an artist of any age must make, but it might be illuminating to make some gross generalizations based on a handful of cherry picked observations.
If I would give a word to the older and recent work by Whiteread, I’d say there’s been a move from the social to the personal. While her past work might answer questions posed by a sociologist (how do people live, what spaces do they inhabit, etc.), her new stuff seems to answer those questions about her own personal life. But the ‘social’ and ‘personal’ make a poor dichotomy.
Looking at Gauguin, one could see in Jacob’s Fight with the Angel (above) and The Spirit of the Dead Keep Their Watch (below) as a move from the historical depiction of stories heard, to the personal depiction of a nice meaty Tahitian ass where Gauguin probably passed along his Treponema pallidum.
At the same time there are plenty of artists who move back and forth between the personal and historical (Picasso comes to mind) or the personal and the social (now I’m thinking of Cathie Opie). In one way, it can be parsed as shift from the general to the specific. Perhaps some of the difference stems from the idea that a 25 year old is getting their information second hand from words and teachers, while a person twice the age has parallels to the concepts learned that could be drawn from lived experience. The recent art school grad may make political work drawn from the news or history books, while an artist twice that age may have lived and voted through the past four presidential administrations, and incorporate some of that personal history.
Quite often the minds of young children are referred to as sponges. But there eventually comes a point where information flows the other way. Sponges become fountains. For the younger artist, information coming in gets barely masticated, and moist chunks of theory and fact might be recognizable and picked out in the resulting spew. Those of us who are so old we fart dust, the concepts ingested twenty years have now been incorporated on the cellular level. This morning’s toast is moistened by saliva that was last night’s consommé. Eventually it all gets shit out, along with dead cells that are byproducts of body’s regeneration process. For the older artist, the stuff that comes out is seen as a part of the body—the personal—no longer recognizable as the stuff that went in.
November 17, 2008
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