Lecture by Kevin Conley

The Solitary Working Artist vs. the Studio System

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Ask most museumgoers and art lovers to picture an artist at work and the image they’ll probably conjure is a solitary one—Vincent Van Gogh in the cornfields at Arles, Andrew Wyeth at Chadd’s Ford, Alice Neel in her Harlem apartment. But for working artists reporting to their place of business, the daily reality is usually more crowded and convivial. For Kevin Conley, over the course of decades as a museum and gallery visitor, art critic and author, the idiosyncrasies he’s noticed in his own history of studio visits with solitary working artists have amazed and amused him—from the productive chaos of Walton Ford’s studio in the Berkshires to the evocative clutter of Betye Saar’s working home in Laurel Canyon to the busy magazine-like atmosphere of Hank Willis Thomas’s Chelsea warehouse. Conley is equally perceptive in his observations of the artist studio system: How much should the hand of artist be involved in the production of the actual objects of art? Can artists be happy having their sculptures made by fabricators in another state? Must they paint every inch of the canvas or can studio assistants fill in the busy background patterns, saving the more complex passages for the artists to do themselves? Complex questions. Astute observations from an experienced observer.