How much hard work is enough hard work?

May 21, 2012

So I keep making these mixed message pieces, the small amounts of text on colored fields, and I got it into my head that they would make great silkscreen prints, actual ink on actual paper, vs. doing the default thing and simply printing these images (like the ones below) like I print my other “photographic” work.  Except that didn’t feel right, and feeling wrong about that didn’t feel right either.  Let me unpack that: printing a purely digital image that could just have well been a Microsoft Word document as a photograph and then trying to sell it as such seemed like a dearth of labor, never mind that a lot of effort goes into getting text, font, placement, and colors exactly right; it would be like professionally printing an MSPaint drawing, minus even the actual drawing.  Just not labor-intensive enough to justify the expense of legitimizing these as photographic prints.  Like what you see is exactly what you get.  So just printing them feels wrong.

Feeling wrong feels wrong, though, because conceptual art already hammered away at the facade that an artist’s labor had to be physical, something somehow more “pure” and “real” than mental labor, so there’s no real reason why these are less legitimate than my other text art just because they look simpler.  What you see is what you get is plenty, right?  Maybe.  An important part of first-wave conceptual art was dematerialization, the idea that the art didn’t even need to exist as an object, but there’s no denying that a 30×40″ lightjet print is an object, and for me an expensive one.  So can the principles of foregrounding mental labor be applied to actual art objects when the bulk of the labor is still mental?  What you see is labor, even if it isn’t as much labor as you might normally see?  And that that in itself might even be a strength of the work, to fuck around with what the minimal requirements are for an image and an object?  As a sort of challenge?  I’m not sure.  I still keep making these thinking I’ll get some silkscreened but that’s probably out of my league financially so instead what I get left with is a question people were coming up with tentative answers to 40 years ago, and I’m not sure where I’m at other than what you see is what you get.

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