Tara Donovan and “The Redemption of Practice”

September 15th, 2006 · No Comments · Artists, St Louis, Writing


Tara Donovan has two new installments of familiar work at the St Louis Art Museum for the 98th cycle of their Currents series, and last night she spoke with Robin Clark about her work in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit.

I came away with a few observations from the lecture. First, and almost without saying, Donovan is one of the best artists of our generation, and her new work, particularly the etchings, is as fun as it is smart and gorgeous. Second, as Donovan spoke about the inherent malleable physical properties of her materials, and the activation between viewers and the object in real space, I was struck afresh with how awkward it to require artists to justify the work they make in academic terms.

While those things are indeed true about her work, I’d like to think she makes the work she makes because she enjoys making it and can’t imagine making anything other. As she advanced the power point image and trailed off mid-sentence, she seemed to indicate that she too would like the work to speak for itself, and I was reminded of Libby Lumpkin’s seminal essay, The Redemption of Practice:

The problem that arises with such [postmodernist] art theories is the problem that arises with all uses of intentionality: It locates the authority of the work of art not in the complexity of responses to it, but in what is presumed to be the character and quality of its source. As such current theories are washed away by the tide of new art that asserts its material presence, art theorists might do well to consider that the most esteemed art historians and critics earn their reputations less for their grand theories than for their quotidian observations — the complexity and quality of their responses to the rhetorical aspects of individual physical objects in the world. In any case, one can hardly deal honestly with undeniably embodied meaning without calling into question the basic premise of the idea of the liberal arts, that antique assumption that the arts of the mind are superior to the arts of practice. At the end of the twentieth century, it is time to come to terms with the reality that art objects earn their value in the social economy, and that one might know all there is to know of ‘vision,’ and still know nothing of art.

Category: Artists · St Louis · Writing

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