Glen Helfand made this observation about the pillows (above) included in the Happiness Is… exhibition at the Montalvo Arts Center. About them he wrote, “These works traffic in bromides and, more than other works here, insert a specter of irony: are we meant to enact these phrases or scoff at them? Are they offered sincerely or with more sincere intent?” (Art Practical, 4.10, “From Saratoga, Happiness Is…“)
It’s tricky when a work opens confusion in is intent and substance. One one hand, I appreciate that an object, text, or image can hold opposing ideas simultaneously. I happen to like irony and care about self-help texts; I acknowledge that both are part of me and the world I live in.
I also feel that the viewer has an opportunity to decide how to read a work. This possibility for self-reflection is an important aspect of the work – one can decide if a work brings value or dismiss it for any number of reasons.
What I don’t want is the work to feel condescending in any way; and I certainly hope it does not fall short in substance. While I don’t take Helfand’s critique too personally, it does cause me to pause. Though this project is what needed to happen at the particular time it was made, I do think about how I can convey my intent in a way so that the audience, friends, family, art critics etc. can feel connected and maybe even enriched by it.
Making art isn’t easy. Learning more about it everyday. Thanks so much for reading.