Jennifer Dalton. What Does an Artist Look Like? (Every Photograph of an Artist to Appear in the New Yorker Magazine in 2009) [detail], 2010. Hand-labeled, laminated photographs (each 4×6 inches), pencil. Overall dimensions variable.
What Does an Artist Look Like?
In What Does an Artist Look Like? I’ve categorized and ranked every photograph of any genre of artist that appeared in The New Yorker during the year 2009. I’ve also previously worked with the years 1999, 2000, and 2001. Each horizontal row represents artists within a single artistic genre; from top to bottom the rows present writers, visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, dancers, architects, and actors. It is apparent at a glance the relative importance this magazine gives to different genres of artists, with actors, then musicians, then writers getting the most representation. And men artists appear about four times more often than women.
I cut out each image from the magazine, re-photographed it snapshot-size while maintaining the relative size of the photograph on the magazine page. I then ranked each image on a scale from “genius” to “pinup,” as those seem to be the clichés that representations of artists in popular culture fall into. I re-photographed men’s images on a black background and women’s on a white background. Reading from right to left, each row starts with the most “genius” images and continues to the most “pinup” in each genre. The images of male artists cluster around the “genius” (right hand) end of each line, and women’s images tend toward the “pinup” end. At the two extremes, one artist might be featured smoking in their book-filled study, while another is in a miniskirt lying on the floor.
Every Descriptive Word . . .
In Every Descriptive Word . . . I’ve handwritten every descriptive word or phrase critics used to describe artists and their work in Artforum‘s “best of the year” critical round-up of exhibitions and projects. I’ve made similar text drawings using December issues of the magazine, going back to 2000. Starting at the top with the first critic’s first descriptions, I list the words in the order they appear. I am fascinated by the words that critics use to describe visual art. Over the years certain words, for instance “luminous” and “liminal,” enjoy moments of great popularity. My inspiration in starting this project was my expectation that the words used to describe works made by men and women might be different, and this has been subtly apparent on occasion. What I did not expect, and what has been emphatically borne out over the past decade and a half, is that the quantity of writing about men is three to five times the quantity of writing about women. Words used to describe artists identified as male are in the left column of the drawing; words used to describe artists identified as female are in the right column. The right hand column of words ends about 4 feet down the 14-foot-long paper.
Editors’ note: This contribution is part of a featured grouping on toxic masculinities and new solidarities in academic and artistic institutions. The other contributions include:
What is Academia? by Kim Calder and Evan Kleekamp
The Passion of Contra Diabolum by Sarah Heston
After “A Refuge for Jae-in Doe”: A Social Media Chronology by Seo-Young Chu