Study visit – This is it isn’t it? Workplace Gallery, Gateshead

Max Lee, Rats (hand painted wall drawing ); Joe Fletcher Orr, Muppet (stuffed toy); The White Pube, IDK WHO ELSE IS IN THIS SHOW (Webcam video)

For this visit a group of us joined tutor Emma Drye to look at “This is it, isn’t it?” An exhibition looking at “self-doubt, self-awareness and self-reflexivity as a core of artistic practice”. The exhibition is curated by MILK, an artist-led collective which aims to support early career and emerging artists in Newcastle and nationally.

This was a thought-provoking exhibition because it challenged my instinctive dislike of art which focuses on the self. “Artist,” I think. “A trip to this gallery has cost me 4 hours of my time including travel. And I get here, and it’s all about you. And you don’t seem very happy.”

I’ve always worked on the assumption that the artist gives something – a glimpse of beauty even in the mundane, an idea about how the world could be different, the hint of a shared emotion, an exploration of what colour or line can do. Maybe these artists are giving something, their not very cheerful 20-something thoughts. But why should I listen?

I had a discussion with Emma about happiness in art. I had been struck by something Jeremy Deller said in the documentary about his work to commemorate the soldiers who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme “We’re here because we’re here“. He commented that the theatre people he worked with on the performance were all incredibly can do and upbeat in contrast to all the artists he knew who were all miserable. Emma disagreed with Jeremy and cited Marvin Gaye Chetwind as an artist whose work is “a party” (although she does use actors/performers) and Gillian Ayers as a joyous painter.

We also discussed the collective nature of the artists group MILK. The artists don’t collaborate on their art but they work together to put on exhibitions, apply for grants, and share studio space and equipment. Emma suggested that to avoid isolation it was especially important for OCA students to look for opportunities to work collectively.

In the end, I was glad I spent an hour or so in a gallery paying attention to 20-somethings talk about their opinions, give me a tour of a farm or show me their dating concerns. It did leave me with the slightly worrying question: “Is all art a massive ego trip?”


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