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Art Echo

Barnhart_Q4. Photos by Malena Barnhart.
Barnhart_Q4. Photos by Malena Barnhart.

“What’s it mean to be an artist?”

“What does your art mean to you?”

“What are you trying to say in your art?”

As a journalist, I vow never to ask these three questions.

But when interviewing an artist about his/her work, what does that leave? The subject matter is inherently personal, abstract, elusive, not meant to be vocalized. If the artist could say his/her message with words, in conversation with some random guy like me, well … the artists probably would just do that, instead of spending their lives learning creative skills and techniques that translate poorly to the job market and, sometimes, even to the audience.

It’s a hard gig, and I figure the last thing an artist wants to hear coming out of my mouth is one of the three questions above.

Yet, I can’t help but write stories about art. It’s challenging, intellectually stimulating, and unique each time. The same cannot be said for most reporters’ beats. I also feel (perhaps arrogantly) that I’ve put in the time to learn about art myself, and can appreciate it at a level high enough to ask questions about it—though not make it myself.

Here is the catch-22 this reporter was faced with: I wanted to continue questioning artists about their art, because I feel the answers can help us all learn more about the world around us and ourselves. But I do not wish to force artists into clumsy answers to clumsy questions about ideas and images that were never intended for articulation in the first place.

This project is SPM’s attempt to unsnag all of this. We selected four art photographers and ASU students and did multiple off-the-record interviews with each of them to get a better sense of each one individually. Once all the goofy, generic questions about like “inspiration” and “audience” were out of the way, we sent five painstakingly crafted “on-the-record” interview questions to them.

How the artists answered was up to them, except that their responses to SPM questions had to be visual photos instead of verbal statements. Better put: We let them answer questions about their art with their art.

The results are below, and they speak for themselves.










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