In my last post I offered a few points from Siri Hustvedt’s truly interesting essay on Louise Bourgeois. One of the things I have been thinking about since, is Hustvedt’s assertion that: A work of art is always part person, that is: a work of art is part-thing-part-person, it is this aliveness – according to Hustvedt – that allow us to get into emotional relationships with art.
But remember, Hustvedt is not here talking about the artist; it is not the artist as a biographical person we find in our meeting with a work of art, but rather the personality of the artwork. The artist and the artwork are obviously related, but as a viewer (or reader), it is the personality of the artwork we get in touch with.
I want to start with your poem “Stanzas, Sexes, Seductions.” There’s a line in there that stopped me right in the middle: “My personal poetry is a failure.” It made me wonder two things: What do you call your personal poetry? And do you really feel it’s a failure or is that just the poem’s persona talking?
Well, I think there are different gradations of personhood in different poems. Some of them seem far away from me and some up close, and the up-close ones generally don’t say what I want them to say. And that’s true of the persona in the poem, but it’s also true of me as me.
Maybe not; because confusion, puzzlement or ambiguity might be what we are looking for. If a work of art tells you something very clear, finite and self-evident, it might not be art at all. It might instead be called a lecture, an instruction, or a statement … even science? What makes art art, I believe, is its openness, avoidance, ambiguity; it’s tendency to tell us something unexpected, even (if we are lucky) something totally un-called for. Art is not an answer, art is a question.
Hustvedt says: There is much that is felt and lived that is difficult to represent and falls outside our categories.
I believe it is here, outside our orderly categories, outside the ordinary language of everyday life, art takes place. This outside place can be called a zone of ambiguity. And it is just here—in this no man’s land—art can come to life.
I have chosen the Portuguese artist Helena Almeida as a visual companion to this post for a reason: Helena Almeida’s art is a riddle of contradictions – and so an exemplary example of ambiguity.
- Almeida is not a photographer, yet the vast majority of her work is in black-and-white photography.
- She does not make self-portraits, but nearly all of her artworks depict the artist over her 40-year career.
- She uses a particular shade of blue, not unlike the famous Yves Klein Blue, yet refutes any similarities or references to the late French actionist.