generally speaking?

Is it at all possible to speak in general terms about the meaning of art in one’s own life?  I cannot imagine life without art, but maybe its just a personal matter?  I’m turning thoughts about the role of art in society around in my head, without coming to any satisfying answer. The only thing I’m pretty sure of, is that art is not a pretty add on, art is for real, art is about life and death.


 Tierney Gearon: Daddy, where are you?

Tierney Gearon’s main focus as a photographer is her own  children, and her mentally ill mother. Above is the mother together with a young child. It’s a frightening scene, the grandmother totally incapable of understanding what kinds of feelings she arises in her grandson. But what worries me even more, is the mother – the photographer – and how she uses a situation like this to make art!?

But at the same time I have to admit; the picture is, artistically, a great image. A kind of image that rips your heart & soul to pieces.

This is Tierney Gearon – in her own words:

My mom is mentally ill, and a big part of it is how I celebrated my mom instead of being embarrassed or trying to hide from her. Instead, I celebrate the beauty in her …Not only does it rejuvenate my soul, but photography also helps me to process things, even though I might not be realizing it at the time. What did The Mother Project specifically help you work out? That I’m not mentally ill and that I can’t fix my mom. They were two really big battles I had to get through, and this work helped me with that.

I find Gearon’s own statement very interesting, because as one can see, she uses art, the art she herself produces, in a therapeutic or palliative way. An interesting question is if we, the public, can use her art the same way.


Tierney Gearon, American photographer (1963).

21 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Or she just uses the words of therapy to describe something else, because there are no words for that something else.

    1. Sigrun says:

      – no words for THAT something else …
      – THAT?

      1. Harold Rhenisch says:

        Ha ha. Yes. But that’s why, um, it’s art, right, and not words?

      2. Sigrun says:

        It’s a good illustration, this little THAT, isn’t it?!

      3. Harold Rhenisch says:

        Yes. I wonder what is inside it, once the little folding chopsticks are unstrapped from its top and the fold down flaps are lifted.

      1. Because a baby is obviously in fear… that isn’t art to me. As a father…

      2. Sigrun says:

        To me it’s scaring, but the scared baby is not an argument against the aesthetic quality of the work – actually I am tempted to say that it is a part of what gives this image it’s unique quality as a work of art.

  2. Tierney Gearon is walking the razor’s edge with this picture. It crosses the line for my taste. Scaring the child is just out of bounds and negates whatever artistic purpose/integrity she may have in this instance. Would I feel differently if the picture had been taken at Mardi Gras? I would have a different opinion if there was a spontaneity about the scene, if this was a picture of something that just happened, but the picture as she took it seems contrived to elicit fright from someone who cannot protect himself by someone whose judgement is at best clouded. So while I agree this is a powerful image, it loses its claim on my artistic sensibility because it ignores a basic tenet of human interaction “do no harm.”

    The artist is willing to take chances, cross lines and to be wrong sometimes…

    1. Sigrun says:

      I find this to be a very, very difficult image to relate to. It challenge my sense of ethics, many artworks try to do this, provoke us, but I think this does it without having provocation on its mind. Which also makes it more interesting – better & worse.

      1. Harold Rhenisch says:

        I have no difficulty relating to this image.

        I don’t know the story into which it nestles.

        I suspect it is an interesting and supportive story, though.

      2. She does say (in the trailer to the documentary) that she intended no harm and did not believe she caused any…on the other hand she did occasionally ask her mother to put on a mask. Did she intend to provoke some reaction in her subjects capture it in a photo and provoke an audience? I agree with you and do not believe provocation of an audience is on her mind…maybe when she creates a gallery of images she does so as an artist trying to elicit audience response…but in the process of taking these pictures she seems to be focused on the moment and subject with no thought about a potential audience.
        As you say, this is a great artistic image that tears at the heart. I have taken a look at her work on her website. As a body of work it is moving in its innocence, sincerity and honesty.

      3. Sigrun says:

        Thank you, Ronald!

        Tierney Gearon makes images which are easy to use in a speculative way. But thats not what I’m interested in.

        What really interests me, aside from pure aesthetics, in Tierney Gearon’s mother-series, is how she depicts the complicated relationship she has with her schizophrenic mother, through beautiful horrible images. I guess one could use the word palliative here, both for the artist’s own process and for us, the onlookers.

      4. Harold Rhenisch says:

        The medium is part of the approach, I’d say. Photography brings its own technology, and the artist’s relationship is channelled through it, if not, perhaps, shaped by it. If she had done this work in oils (or acrylics), it would have been quite different, and the emotional charge, the whole emotional universe portrayed might have been very different indeed. More processed, perhaps. Perhaps images like this say more about human relationships to time and memory, as interpreted by a machine, or about human-machine relationships, than about purely human-human ones. At any rate, the photograph has changed the playing field and is one of the players on it.

  3. Is it possible baby was crying and Granma tried to cheer him / her up? Probably not; but as Harold suggests above, we don’t really know the story behind the image, we are kept guessing. Will the baby have nightmares forever more? Did the photographer judge that she would quickly click then tell Granma she was frightening the baby very soon after? Did she believe the harm done to the baby would be minimal and that it was best to allow her mentally ill mother to continue with her make-believe? Is it a set-up or a spontaneous moment caught by the camera?
    Me, I admit I am worried and want to scoop up the child and tell Granma to go change into something more comfortable.

    1. Sigrun says:

      I love your story here, and I must say I like that an image can make you produce it. To me this is a great quality in itself.

      1. Yes, it is. The image is so compelling and intriguing that it made me think, imagine, question, assess. And I still have no fixed opinion about it.

  4. I think, too, the baby may have been crying for other reasons than the mask. A baby that young may not find a mask scary, the way older children do. My children were more afraid of novelty than of teeth or masks…and after a minute of shrieking, they often calmed back down–and even smiled or giggled. The photographer may be provoking the audience/viewers, but she is not necessarily provoking fear in the baby or the grandmother. However, her choice to make this particular shot into gallery Art allows us to imagine all kinds of things (purpose, story, relationship, aesthetics).
    The therapeutic aspect of Gearon’s work intrigues me. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you, Ann!
      Gearon’s work intrigues me too, I might try to write something on it in my upcoming project.

      1. Harold Rhenisch says:

        I hope you do.

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