Artists on Making Art: Bourgeois, Freud, Arbus
By LIZ HAGER
Louise Bourgeois (born 1911) studied art at various schools in Paris (where she was born and grew up), including the École du Louvre, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Académie Julian, and Atelier Fernand Léger. In 1938, she emigrated to the United States and continued her studies at the Art Students League in New York. By the 1940s she had turned her attention almost exclusively to sculptural work. Greatly influenced by the influx of European Surrealist artists, who had immigrated to the United States after World War II, Bourgeois’s early sculpture was composed of groupings of abstract shapes, often carved from wood. By the 1960s she began to execute larger pieces in rubber, bronze, and stone, and later fabric. Bourgeoise draws extensively from her childhood for inspiration. Deeply symbolic, her work uses her relationship with her parents and the role sexuality played in her early family life as a vocabulary in which to understand and remake that history.
I have never mentioned the word dream in discussing my art, while they (the Surrealists) talked about the dream all the time. I don’t dream. You might say I work under a spell, I truly value the spell. I have the privilege of being able to enter the spell, to enter this very arid land where you are likely to find your birthright. To express yourself if your birthright…
Art comes from life. Art comes from the problem you have in seducing birds, men, snakes—anything you want.
What modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself, to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach. This is a painful situation, and modern art is about this painful situation of having no absolutely definite way of expressing yourself. This is why modern art will continue, because the condition remains; it is the modern human condition. . .
All art comes from terrific failures and terrific needs that we have. It is about the difficulty of being a self because one is neglected. Everywhere in the modern world there is neglect, the need to be recognized, which is not satisfied. Art is a way of recognizing oneself, which is why it will always be modern.
—From an interview with Donald Kuspit (1988), excerpted from Bourgeois.
Born in Berlin in 1922 (the grandson of Sigmund Freud), Lucian Freud is indisputably one of Britain’s most powerful figurative painters. Portraits and nudes are his forte, and his subjects are more often than not observed in arresting close-up. His early work was so meticulously painted, that Freud was often labeled as a “realist” or “superrealistic.” However the intensity and subjectivity of his work has sets him apart from the comparatively emotionless British figurative art of the post WWII era.
The painter makes real to others his innermost feelings about all that he cares for. A secret becomes known to everyone who views the picture through the intensity with which it is felt. The painter must give a completely free rein to any feelings or sensations he may have and reject nothing to which he is naturally drawn. It is just this self-indulgence which acts for him as the discipline through which he discards what is inessential to him and so crystallises his tastes. A painter’s tastes must grow out of what so obsesses him in life that he never has to ask himself what is suitable for him to do in art. . .
. . . People are driven towards making works of art, not by familiarity with the process by this is done, but by a necessity to communicate their feelings about the object of their choice with such intensity that these feelings become infectious. . .
—excerpted from Lucien Freud, “Some Thoughts on Painting,” Encounter III, no. 1 (July 1954).
Best known for her pictures of dwarves, transvestites, nudists and circus performers, Diane Arbus (1923-1971) was one of the most influential American photographers of the 1960s. She was a pioneer, photographing those things that the public of that era would not otherwise have seen. Though the settings appear casual, there was nothing improvisational about Arbus’ shots. She spent great amounts of time getting to know her subjects before photographing them, and they often collaborated in the picture-making process.
The younger sister of Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov, Arbus and her husband Allan started out as fashion photographers. In 1959, however, under the tutelage of Lisette Model, Arbus began to pursue her own work. Arbus loved photography for the miracles she felt it performed by accident.
Invention is mostly this kind of subtle, inevitable thing. People get closer to the beauty of their invention. They get narrower and more particular in it. Invention has a lot to do with a certain kind of light some people have and with the print quality and the choice of subject. It’s a million choices you make. It’s luck in a sense, or even ill luck. You can’t avoid it. It’s what’s left when you take everything else away. I think the most beautiful inventions are the ones you don’t think of. . .
. . . There used to be this moment of panic which I still can get where I’d look in the ground glass and it would look all ugly to me and I wouldn’t know what was wrong. Sometimes it’s like looking in a kaleidoscope. You shake it around and it just on’t shake out right. I used to think if I could jumble it up, it would go away. But short of that, since I couldn’t do that, I’d just back up or start to talk, or, I don’t know, go someplace else. But I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you can calculate on because there’s always this mysterious thing in the process.
—excerpted from Diane Arbus, catalog for Museum of Modern Art exhibition, 1972.