My experience at Waltham Mills Open Studios, and the blog post I wrote for the Huffington Post’s TEDWeekends this week has gotten me ruminating obsessively about why I’m making this work, and who the work is for.
I see my artwork from Falling as being as unpopular as art gets. The combination of the work being figurative, drawn in black and white in a realistic manner, and the disturbing subject matter makes the work toxic for most people. I feel that I am making artwork that no one wants to go near. There was an article in the New York Times about photographer David Jay’s project about breast cancer called “The Scar Project.” I found these images more riveting than any article I could read about breast cancer because they say “this is what breast cancer looks like.” The images are incredibly difficult to look at, which is what I think makes them so powerful. I think in some ways I’m trying to do something similar with depression.
David Jay, The Scar Project
Ideally, I see this work as belonging in a museum. I think in a museum people are more likely to accept being challenged by an artwork than they would be at a commercial gallery. I also accept that these works will likely never sell.
I wonder if part of the reason why I’m making these images is to increase awareness of mental illness. As a young adult, I had no idea what depression was. I didn’t know that you could seek treatment and support for the kinds of emotions that I was feeling, which is why I lived without a diagnosis for over twenty years. It hurts to think about all of those years, and I constantly wonder how different my life would have been had I received treatment from the beginning.
It seems to me that there are basically two reactions to the work: 1) people who are shocked by the images and say nothing and 2) people whose lives have been affected by mental illness, who come to me privately to express what an impact my work had on them. Am I only making the work for the latter audience? Are they the only ones who are willing to go near this work?
Who do you think this work is for?