Sunday, 12 May 2013

Biting the Hand that Feeds

As children we are defined by the recognition by others, particularly the parent, arguably most importantly the mother figure. This is literally illustrated by our motivation to create art; our early scrawls are only rendered valuable by affirmation. "Look what I've done mummy!" - Grayson Perry (joke). 

As adults we have learned to be more independent but we are inescapably linked to these early memories, we continually seek out and relive the sensation of affirmation and rejection emotionally learned in childhood. Artists are most vulnerable to accusations of this need for affirmation whether we like to admit it or not; why else do we show?  .

In the creation of the series Mother & Child, I attempted to explore the world of the mother and baby and I ended up with the images of the mother detached from the child; present and absent within the domestic environment. This is a deeply personal exploration of my own relationship to my absent biological and social heritage but further it is a discussion of the notion of this subconscious mother figure that we are seeking to please. In this context I am unapologetically ambivalent when I say that this work exists both for me and for an audience. Having achieved an overwhelming sense of personal satisfaction in its creation, I admit to seeking to share this with others, like a form of empathy. It is a strange dichotomy. 

Work of value must be free of the ambition to 'please' certainly in the act of creation. Only through awareness of the subconscious and art historical influences around us can we attempt to detach this need for affirmation from the very fabric of the work itself. We are always working within certain boundaries of conventional understanding but if we seek the approval of an invisible audience too greedily, we are merely following rules that govern conventional aesthetics and mimicking by rote, that which has gone before.
If we accept that there are no natural rules and that they are merely imposed upon us, then equally it is possible to imagine that entire preconceived meanings can be shifted. I am reminded of a relatively contemporary example; blue for boys and pink for girls. It feels impossible to imagine pink being associated with anything else other than female gender identity now but early in the 20th century these colors were interpreted very differently.
"The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." - Earnshaw's Infants' Department, USA, 1918.

In the creation of authentic works that are a response to our personal needs, we must accept that we may fail to connect with a greater audience, we can never assume a shared empathy, it's ok.

"An artist should always bite the hand that feeds him, but not too hard" - Nam June Paik.

Mother & Child #1, from series Mother & Child, UKR © Richard Ansett 2011

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