This is one of those posts where I'd love your help. I'm putting an article together for the Year Zero site next Saturday on confessional art, and I'd really like to know where people stand so I can address people's thoughts and concerns. So please be as argumentative as you'd like. Each of the paragraphs of this post starts with a question. please chip in to any of those.
What do I mean by confessional art? Well, I mean the kind of culture where an the artist/author/musician wears their heart on their sleeve, takes us into the darkest corners of their lives, writes the painful and the personal, and lays it bare and in our faces. Tracey Emin's "Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963-1995", for example, or, to use two of the people I know and love personally, the writing of Sabina England and Daisy Anne Gree.
Why does confessional art provoke such a strong reaction? Tracey Emin became an object of revulsion and ridicule when she exhibited "My Bed". Sabina has been trolled off Authonomy twice with Brown Trash. I have two theories as to why people react so strongly. First, I think people find the personal disturbing - they feel like a boundary's been crossed. I remember reading an article about snot in the seventeenth century when I was doing my doctorate - apparently that was the moment we changed our view on such things - looking at the contents of one's handkerchief was unacceptable not because it was gross, but because it was a symbol of self-obsession. I think people don't like the way confessional art breaks those social niceties and seems self-obsessed. I also think many people think it's fake - that is what's really at the heart of the criticism of both Sabina and Tracey - the idea that it's put on for sensation. (I'll say in more detail in the full article what I make of these criticisms - for now I'll just say these arguments are lazy, lazy, lazy)
Isn't confessional art the ultimate self-indulgence? Following on from the above. Well, no. I believe art connects people. But I also believe that attempting too artificially to connect with one's audience creates art that's shallow, and that misses the mark. I've come around recently to believing very strongly that the only art that's truly universal in its appeal is art that's utterly individual. Why/ Well, we are all different in sme respect - if we seek too much to emphasise our sameness, we will be chasing something that's not there. THAT is what will lead us to artifice and construct. If we go right inside ourselves we will end up with something true and something that focuses on the one true universal - our individualism (that's the short version :p)
Shouldn't confessional artists get out of other people's faces? No. End of. Art should be in people's faces. It should describe the painfula nd the true about our lives. "People may freely remove their faces from my art. I will not remove my art from their faces"
"It's not art" is it? Because somehow, autobiography is just that - it's a science, it's just "telling it", there's no value-added. Well, the strongest definition I've heard of art in a long long time came from Daisy "Maybe there is no way to leave the world a better place, and the only thing left to do is tell the truth". Isn't art transformation? No, transformation is wish fulfilment. Of course art tells universal stories, and conveys the strange in familiar terms. But IT DOES NOT MAKE THE FAMILIAR STRANGE.
So why confessional art? My answer is simple - because there have been times when it's been the only thing that's kept me alive. What about you?