(Talking of difficult communication), if we start with something unquestionably true and beyond the realms of doubtfullness: what an artist says about themself lets us know something about the work of art, and vice versa. Surely?
The artist’s autobiography is probably the bedrock of a great deal of what is written about works of art. By journalists, writers, bloggers and what-you have it.
What we understand of the work of art is inseparably bound to who the artist is. And who they say they are.
So..lets have a look at the origins of the term identity it might throw up something interesting about artistic identity:
identity (n.) “sameness, oneness,” from Middle French identité (14c.), from Late Latin (5c.) identitatem (nominative identitas) “sameness,” from ident-, comb. form of Latin idem (neuter) “the same” (see identical); abstracted from identidem “over and over,” from phrase idem et idem.
Ah…so, identity refers to, not uniqueness, but sameness. What the artist or artwork are like. (Everything is like something). That confuses things a bit. So artistic identity may be do with what the artwork is like, rather than how unique it is. The artwork disappears in a puff of … Sameness.
An artist’s life story coexists with the artwork, each supporting the other. But another thought, an artist’s story tends be a linear narrative. Usually something along the lines of how the artist translates their life experiences into the work of art.
The artist presents us with a life story that supports, explains and justifies the work of art. Providing a covenant for the meaning and value of the work of art. For example, reduced to the ridiculous, the ‘X Factor’ mini biographies…I’m singing because my dog died on the rail tracks…etc
However identity is not confined to a simple social or mental linear narrative.
Identity involves all manner of irregular bits and bobs: physique, bodiliness, friends and relatives, children, persons, what we do or don’t do on a day to day basis, what we eat and drink, our drugs of choice: caffeine, chocolate, nicotine, alcohol. Our practices, mistakes, foibles. The dead ends and failings of life.
Mistakes make people, as the great Dave Lee Roth said.
So there maybe a uniqueness to artistic identity. Its just a bit messy.
The life story story requires a little unpacking. And expanding. Its necessarily difficult and confusing and contradictory.
If I’m explaining my paintings to a gallery owner, or writing an artists statement, or a manifesto perhaps, my story does need to be reduced to an A4 page of text. But what is excluded are the revealing inconsistencies and conflicts between levels of self-interpretation, various incongruent narratives of identity. We often surprise and dissapoint ourselves.
Ignoramus et ignorabimus, nice bit of latin to finish with – meaning “we do not know and will not know”.
There’s a lot of that in painting. The practice of, the explanation of, and the interpretation of. There are just some things about the work of art that we could never possibly know.
So what. A useful question. I suppose that if I begin an anaysis of a work of art based upon what the artist says about their life, (or what a book or critic or gallery says about the artist’s life), we now have a little wriggle room to tease the story apart, examine the inards and therefore get to a better understanding about what the artwork is more likely to be about. Moderating that which we are spoon fed so to speak.