Art is odd, and the common method of trying to fit it into the scheme of things, either by taming it or baiting it, cannot succeed. Who at the zoo has any sense of the lion?- Jeanette Winterson (1995, p. 5)
My Master's thesis, Art Working, was an effort to explore the social relations of the art world through the work and words of practising visual artists. My scholarly interest in the art world, and in the institutional experiences of visual artists, initiated in conversation with Beth McCubbin, a visual artist that I know and care about. She said:
It’s a serious issue in the visual art world how language—or writing—has now been squished on to it. It’s touchy. I’m not the only person who feels that about writing. I have many visual artists-friends who are the same. There is a bitterness about the arts world, and a lot of it comes from the writing. There is a serious resentment and bitterness. [Visual artists] are forced to have to justify themselves in writing.
Her understanding shaped how my research progressed. With the phrase “squished on to it,” she pointed to an institutional terrain to be discovered. Her experience served as a critical point of entry from which to begin my institutional ethnography of the art world.
Responding to Beth, I examined critically the actual work of artists and curators situated in Ontario while opening up the institutional workings of the larger art world. I connected with visual artists and art professionals (e.g., public gallery curators, art critics) in Hamilton, Peterborough, Ottawa and Toronto. In my effort effort to open up the art world (and to locate the squish), I met some beautiful people who opened up about their everyday (language) work.
Check out my thesis, on the inner workings of the art world, here.