Why Art Shouldn’t Speak For Itself

I’ve always been told that art should speak for itself.

That our job is to do the work, the
work’s job is to speak for the work, and any attempt to make grand claims about
what the work is, what it’s supposed to do or what people should think about
it, is bad form.


And yet, every time I go to an art
museum, watch a documentary or see an interview with one of my heroes, all I
want is for the artist to speak. To me, artist statements are more interesting
than the art itself. That’s what inspires me. That’s what gives me permission
to try something new.

Yes, I pay attention to the work, but I
what I obsess over is the thinking behind the work. As the consumer,I
want the back story. I want a detailed description of the landscape that
sustained the artist when her spirit was tired and sagging. I want to know who
the artist had to become in order to finish it.

What’s interesting is, now that most
artists are operating on some permutation of free, res ipsa loquitur might not cut it anymore. If we just sit back and
let the work speak for itself, where’s the value to the fans? As Seth says,
when the cost of delivering the thing itself is so cheap, there isn’t a
bright line between exposing the work and delivering the work.

That’s why Kevin Smith has spent tens of thousands of hours
in the past twenty years – on stage, on camera, on air and on ink – answering
questions, telling stories and sharing secrets behind his work. He’s not trying
to perfect the audience experience; he’s trying to extend it. It’s the second
bite of the apple. And his fans couldn’t get that if he simply let the work
speak for itself.

Today’s audience no longer buys what we sell, they buy the story we tell. They buy the humble
beginnings that first ignited the work, the process we endured to create the
work and the resistance we overcame to sign, seal and ship the work.

Just because the work is done, doesn’t mean our mouths
should close.


What have you declined this week?


For the list called, “21 Things I Learned While Spying on Myself,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

* * * *

Scott Ginsberg

That Guy with the Nametag

Writing, Publishing, Performing, Consulting


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