Studio Visits: A Critical Aspect of Contemporary Art Practice

By Mira Dayal
The artist’s studio is often conceived of as a private space, a room for thought and exploration in which the artist can sustain direct engagement with their art. It is not usually conceived of as a public space open to visitors and conversation. Yet many artists working today see studio visits as critical to their professional and aesthetic development. Depending on the visitor, a studio visit could additionally lead to wider reception or gallery representation. I spoke with several artists–whose studio visits I had recently visited–to unravel this apparent contradiction.
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​Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and neighbor Sam Duboff in their studio. (Photo: nytimes.com)

In my studio visit with Joan Easton, the artist explained to me that she was in the middle of several transitions–from one studio to another, and from photography-based work to mixed-media explorations. Amidst this scene, I appeared to ask her about several of her past projects. Easton had assembled binders, materials, and prints to show me during the visit to facilitate my understanding of her work. Through discussing the contents, I gained a deeper understanding of the logic and connections between her projects. At the same time, she noted that our conversation had helped her “become aware of aspects that need to be strengthened or deleted, and assess or reassess the treatment, materials, presentation, and clarity of vision.” The artist’s initial hesitancy to have a stranger in her thought-space had evolved into a genuine appreciation for the professional development to which it led.
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​Joan Easton demonstrates how she uses candy wrappers in her Transformation series.

My conversation with Barbara Siegel in her studio elicited another, similar response: “Hearing another person’s perception of and reaction to the work can be enlightening–an opportunity to become more conscious of layers of meaning that were previously subconscious.  Having time to think about and respond to an interviewer’s questions is a luxury—a chance to contemplate and further articulate what I’ve done and why, and to connect the threads in new ways.” Having another person in the studio is then a way for the artist to emerge from direct engagement with the art in order to elucidate the details of that engagement.
Joan Snitzer, an artist whose most recent body of work involves a feedback mechanism of images appearing in her home, has another, more direct reason for appreciating studio visits. She explained to me that, “so many things and images are now entering the home unmediated and intentionally designed to engage the occupants. The images and objects I find entering my home can be among the familiar or arrive from a group of strangers…  Guests in my studio are like guests at a dinner party. The conversations that occur are a reflection of what I have prepared.  The guests bring to the table their own daily experience and perspective.  The response of my guests often clarifies my own intentions and beliefs. It is the feedback I need to prepare the next table and meal.” For Snitzer, the studio visit is then an integral part of a process, a step necessary in order to move from one idea or oeuvre to another.
The studio visitor’s role should then be reconsidered equally– or perhaps more–important as that of the spectator. While the spectator or museum may participate in the physical creation or accumulation of an artist’s work, the studio visitor participates in the articulation and formulation of ideas for work. Of course, the studio visitor is permitted a much more personal connection with the artist as a visitor not only to their literal studio but also to a place which is frequently considered their home and creative space. When we speak about dialogic art, perhaps we should think not only of works relating to each other, but also of the artist relating to fellow creators.
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