I read an essay online the other day, “Is an artist’s studio a window into their soul?” by Bob Duggan on BigThink, and it’s been percolating in my brain ever since. Unfortunately, probably not in the way the author intended. The piece compares the studios of NC Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth, which were preserved as museums after their deaths. Duggan says some fairly interesting things about what you can infer about an artist’s life and practice from looking at the things he surrounded himself with.
The author also mentions visiting the preserved studios of Winslow Homer, Jackson Pollock, and Francis Bacon. (I’ve been to Francis Bacon’s studio too – it’s a big ol’ mess, apparently because he wouldn't allow people to clean up his stuff.) Notice anything about those artists? Yep, famous white men.
I work in my dining room. If my dining room reveals anything about my soul, it’s probably about the constant tension of wanting to keep working on things in progress and having to clean them up. I have another friend who makes gorgeous, large, paint-on-metal pieces in her living room. Her “studio”, if anyone ever visited, would probably reveal none of that, because, as a nice middle-aged woman, she, like me, would tidy up for guests.
We would both love to have nice, airy studios to create work in ideal conditions that we could tweak to our preferences. But we live in an expensive city, so we make do. So do many, many others in vastly more difficult conditions.
Martin Ramirez made his art in an insane asylum, while very successful Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama lives in one. A number of artists, including Frank Jones, did much of their art in prison. Should we draw conclusions about their souls based on that?
I might suggest another title for Duggan’s piece: “Is an artist’s studio a window into his privilege?”