LABOUR OF LOVE:
The phrase is often used when viewing artists work. The meaning is given to be a task done for pleasure, not reward.
Implicit in that phrase are 3 things – time, hardship/opposition and extreme personal involvement.
Linking them all is the artist’s commitment or investment to a specific project. What you have here in this gallery is evidence of, not only this commitment and investment in a specific project, but the sheer single-mindedness and force of will it takes to overcome all obstacles in the pursuit of self-expression and art. In addition to all of this, these artists have undertaken to do this within the critical and unforgiving parameters of academia. And to reach your third level exhibition takes a real strength of will. I always tell my new students in first year to remember that an arts degree is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It requires endurance and stamina.
I would like you to keep that in mind when you are viewing these works. These artists have invested at the very least 3 to 4 years of their lives to be here. That in itself demands your respect.
This was part of the speech that I gave to open my 3rd level students’ exhibition yesterday (28 November) at the Rivertown Contemporary Gallery. This was the culmination of an incredibly intense week of installing, curating and assessing students’ work. Many long emotionally-draining hours. As a lecturer you share your student’s journey over the academic year, working incredibly closely with them. At the end of that year you then have to be part of a panel of lecturers who assesses them. That is the heartbreaking part of the job, to bear witness as strangers pull their work apart. It’s even tougher with your final year students. I have worked with these 3rd level students for 3 years, some from their very first year. The process involved in discovering one’s artist voice and what one wants to say and how, is so transformative, and so very personal. As a result the relationship between lecturer and student becomes an extremely intimate one. As mentor you receive their confessions, are witness to their internal struggles, and oversee their flagellation and supplication.
As Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
This what I try and instill in my students; that in order to make truly engaging and honest art one needs to operate outside of one’s comfort zone.
Ben Shahn tells us that “The artist] must never fail to be involved in the pleasures and the desperations of mankind, for in them lies the very source of feeling upon which the work of art is registered”.
Essentially what I tell them is to make your work personal, and by that I do not mean, you as artist merely observing and reproducing what you see. That is illustration. When I look at your work I want to see you, I want to feel your joy, your pain, your anguish! I want us to howl at the moon together!