I saw the MFA Thesis Exhibition at Kendall yesterday. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time, but it really got me thinking, so I thought I should write down my first impressions. This is not a review. If I have time, I’d like to go back and give the work more time and dig into specifics. There were highlights and lowlights, and these impressions don’t apply to everything I saw.
Overall, I think these MFA grads are trying to make work that does way too much, and they end up getting in the way of themselves. I get the feeling that when these artists are presented with the choice to do either more less, they ALWAYS do more. More colors, more materials, more techniques, more metaphors, more narratives, more characters, more, more, more… The problem with this way of thinking is that these additions quickly succumb to diminishing returns. The work gets so overcrowded with multiple attempts at capital M Meaning that all the elements crowd one another out. I don’t feel I’m being invited to ponder something along with the artist. Instead, it feels like the artist is trying to prove to me they’re capable of working Hard to make something Important that Means Something.
Don’t do that.
Show me what’s unresolved. Show me where your curiosity led you and what you made along the way. Where does it lead that makes you afraid? Then what do you do? What happens when your plan fails? What happens when you cheat at your own game? How little work can you do to achieve the same effect? When you’re working really hard on an object, what are you neglecting? Why?
I think a lot of the work is built on a very traditional notion about what an artist is supposed to be. The artist, this work seems to say, is someone who makes things you cannot make in order to tell you things you do not know.
I want art that makes me curious about the world. Not art that makes me curious about art. I want to be perturbed, delighted, and jolted. I don’t really care about being impressed.
Do less! Focus on smaller things, edited actions, and unknown outcomes. A lot of the work feels like an intense, craft-heavy production of a Big Idea. I get the sense that a concentrated period of thinking precedes the production. An idea is formulated, then objects are made, in that order. I want to see thinking through making. I want to see thinking out loud in materials, not materials coerced into illustrating thoughts.
Note: This isn’t a particularly positive response, I know, but when artwork gets a critical response (positive or negative) that means it’s alive in the world, which is always better than being dead. Also, I should point out that I’m currently a masters student at Kendall, pursuing a MA in Visual and Critical Studies. Here’s a paper I wrote for a class I just completed. So in the spirit of healthy critique, have at it.
Note 2: I intentionally didn’t include photos in this post, because I worried that it would seem like these overall impressions applied mainly to the images I chose to include. When I visited I only photographed the work I liked, which is less guilty of the sins discussed.