This weekend, members of Yale’s art community spanning different generations and fields of study gathered at the Yale University Art Gallery to discuss the process of identifying oneself as an artist.
Last Saturday’s symposium, “Becoming Artists: Critique, Originality and Identity,” consisted of three student-moderated panels featuring Yale School of Art students and faculty as well as YUAG staff and other art experts. The panels, titled “Critiquing the Critique,” “Reproducing Artists: The Role of Originality in Contemporary Art” and “Managing Biography: Negotiating Audience,” served as the culmination of a semester-long course in art critique mandatory for first-year students in all disciplines at the School of Art. “Becoming Artists” was the second annual symposium for the class to be co-sponsored by the Gallery and the School of Art.
“Artists should think and speak on their own behalf,” said Dean of the School of Art Robert Storr in his opening remarks at the symposium. “You have to be your art’s first advocate and its last.”
Martha Tuttle ART ’15, a participant in the “Reproducing Artists” panel, said studying art at the graduate level is not only about honing one’s individual studio practice, but also about learning how to situate one’s work “in dialogue with the surrounding world.” The symposium provided a forum for that dialogue, she said, adding that the ambiguity of the panel topics resulted in an engaging conversation both within each panel and between the three.
Anthony Hope ART ’15, also a panelist on “Reproducing Artists,” said the critique and biography panels were directly applicable to his peers’ practices. Both critique and biography — an artist’s personal history — grapple with the way an artist perceives his work and the way an audience does, Hope said, adding that trying to discuss the elusive concept of originality was more daunting.
“A lot of artists struggle with trying to create something that hasn’t been done before, but everything that’s new is in itself original,” Hope said. “It’s a confusing topic to begin with.”
Each of the three panels was devised by one of the School of Art course’s three discussion groups, led this year by School of Art critic and the symposium’s primary organizer Jonathan Weinberg, Museum Educator at the YUAG Elizabeth Manekin and Assistant Curator at the Museum of Modern Art Paulina Pobocha. Discussion groups met every other week last semester, first to discuss readings and then to plan the symposium. Students in each group elected both their symposium topic and the students who were to speak on the panel, in addition to deciding which artists to invite.
Manekin, also a panelist for “Critiquing the Critique,” said the class provides an unusual opportunity for students from all concentrations within the school to participate in dialogue about one another’s work. The symposium format, she explained, allows students to engage both with their peers and with established artists and academics, which she said is part of the Gallery’s mission.
Storr said that he hopes the symposium will have “reverberations” throughout the School of Art, noting that the event helps address differences in perspective across generations.
“It’s interesting to hear similar points of view but from different lines of sight,” said Daniel Beckwith ART ’15, who also presented on “Reproducing Artists.” “You see the different reasons people have similar opinions.”
Ryan Gerald Nelson ART ’15 explained that a team of seven School of Art students studying graphic design created the event’s programs, all 300 of which could fold open to serve as unique posters. Team members took turns applying marks to each poster as a way to highlight the collaborative process, he said.
Last year’s symposium, entitled “Critical Practice Panel Day: Art in Conversation,” featured four panels.