On Artist Interviews

Originally titled “Remaining in conversation,” this is a short introduction to the interview section of Holding Everything Dear (SVA, 2021).

Andy Warhol Jacqueline Kennedy II (from the portfolio ‘Eleven Pop Artists’, vol. II) 1965 © 2018 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London 2021

The artist interview in Western art has its roots in the dialogue tradition exemplified by Francisco de Hollanda’s Da pintura antigua (1548) and Lodovico Dolce’s Dialogo della Pittura (1557), both of which are important sources for the study of Renaissance art. The proliferation of the art press, the rise of the exhibition catalog as a stand-alone publication, and the events programs that accompany many exhibitions have made interviews a significant part of what Robert Morris called the “being-an-artist game.” Contemporary artists are expected to be articulate when discussing their work with critics and other arts professionals. This expectation is evident in the structure of art school education and public funding for artists. As Dave Hickey puts it, the modern artist is necessarily “eligible for patronage and available, if needed, for comment on matters of technique and theory.” The artist interview is thus a format that bears the uneasiness of art criticism at the moment; once considered a subsidiary tool to monographic studies, it has, since Andy Warhol’s use of the medium as both performance and P.R., become a genre of art unto itself. From its beginnings as part of the critical enterprise that focuses on exploration of the artistic faculties, the artist interview has become a modern aesthetic experience.The three interviews by Emmanuel Iduma with Abraham Oghobase, Jessica Holmes with Nona Faustine, and David Willis with Richard Streitmatter-Tran, chosen for this publication give us a peek into how conversation is used to grasp the meaning of artistic objects, and how artists define their positions in relation to their work and their interlocutor. Aside from a discussion of materials and techniques, these interviews touch on the questions of race and language, and the roles they play in forming both aesthetics and career trajectories. The intervention of the critic shapes the discussion of artistic influences with spontaneity and self-awareness, the conversation becoming a record of rapid exchanges and the evolution of thoughts. When conversations are purposely put to the task of art criticism, they often function in the manner of a meta-criticism, specifically breaking the persistent misconception of the chief function of critic as interpreter or decoder of art objects. The presence of the creator and the perceptor suggests that a “real” transaction takes place in an interview. This cuts through the crisis accompanying any critical rhetoric. As we shall see in this selection, the artist interview serves as a bridge in the split between the traditional review and other literary forms of criticism. The interview is the transcendent form because it is the oldest instrument embedded within all genres of criticism yet it is novelty as a genre of criticism. Conversations reveal personalities as much as they unravel the meaning of artistically composed subjects.