Thinking About Art: The One Word Project

Thinking About Art: The One Word Project

D. Keith Furon's images (including the book's cover shot) are included in this collection of artist's work, by J.T. Kirkland.

Introduction to the book by J.T. Kirkland:

During the Summer of 2004, after spending months searching for art writing that truly spoke to me, I finally gave up on my quest and decided to fill what I felt was a small gap in contemporary art writing. On June 18, 2004, I posted the first entry to my Web log ("blog"), Thinking About Art (http://thinkingaboutart.blogs.com).
It's not that I believed other art writing was poorly done; instead, I felt there was a voice and viewpoint about contemporary art that wasn't heard or seen. Some eighteen months later, I am still unable to definitively describe what I felt that missing voice should be saying and how it should be saying it. The past year and a half, Thinking About Art has been an exploration in communication about the visual arts, an educational pursuit of greater understanding.

Without question, one area of art writing that called out to me was the artist interview. I'm utterly fascinated by the mind of an artist. Just what exactly goes on in the brain of an artist that somehow gets manifested into beautiful, thoughtful, inspirational and evocative art objects? For me, artist interviews are an important tool for gaining insight into the creative process. Unfortunately, many of the interviews I've read are very formulaic and lack much risk taking. These traditional interviews are ubiquitous, but are often more focused on the agenda of the interviewer instead of exploring the mind of the artist. When the question ends up longer than the answer, the personality of the artist has to fight to shine through. The job of the interviewer should be to keep the questions as open ended as possible – just enough to prompt the artist. This minimal provocation from the interviewer triggers the artist to generate an answer, ideally in a similar fashion as the art making process. Taking all of this into consideration, the One Word Project was conceptualized and initiated in the Fall of 2004.

The premise behind the One Word Project was for me, as an art viewer, to look at a representative sample of an artist's body of work and react as instinctively as possible. Through posts on Thinking About Art and other art blogs, I invited artists – anyone who considered themselves to be an artist – to send me a link to their art Web site or a selection of images. I would then review the artist's work and react intuitively with a single word response, using no word more than once throughout the course of the project. The chosen word would be sent back to the artist with the request that they write a 100-500 word response discussing how the word relates to their work. Additionally, I asked that the artist include two digital images of their work to be posted online with the writing. These were the only requirements placed upon the artist. Unbeknownst to the artists, failure to abide by the imposed "rules" would not eliminate them from the project. Instead, deviation from the "rules" would simply speak further to the individualistic nature of each artist. It should also be noted that when the artists agreed to participate, none were aware that the project would be documented in a book. Honestly, neither did I.

Though the One Word Project initially limited participation to artists residing in the metro Washington, D.C. area, it was eventually opened up to artists living anywhere in the world. Ultimately, 42 artists participated in the project and provided a variety of responses. Some artists wrote barely more than 100 words while others responded with almost 1,500 words. Some artists discussed the given word in great depth and thoughtfully related it to their work while others barely acknowledged the word and instead launched into a discussion about a wide assortment of topics. Some didn't even mention the assigned word at all.
I published all of the responses on Thinking About Art and only edited the writing for consistent formatting.

Over the course of many months, artists' responses to the One Word Project were published on my blog. Once the project concluded, I re-read every publication. I was struck by the insight one could gain by comparing the chosen word to the artist's writing to their images displayed. I felt that this project should be documented for eternity as, without a doubt, the blog will one day disappear and the original posts of writing and images will be lost forever. Though the project was conceived and implemented in a somewhat cutting-edge medium (the art blog), I felt there would be an important resonance created by the project if published in a book for readers to hold in their hands. Instead of clicking on dozens of links and viewing images on an oversaturated computer monitor, it might be valuable for people to curl up in bed with this book to read the writing and view the images by simply flipping through the pages. A paper-based book, what a novel concept!

The book version of the project just slightly differs from the Web version. While there were 42 participants for the Web, only 39 chose to participate in the book. Due to space limitations and out of fairness to all participants, two pages were dedicated to each artist. Thus, only one image for each artist was included and I asked some artists whose web responses were very long to edit their text to fit on one page while not altering the overall concept of the writing.

I hope that as you read the contents of this book you are as struck as I continue to be by the complexity of the artistic mind. I hope you are moved by the passion of some of the artists and blown away by the creativity of others. I hope that by reading these artists' words, the gap between the art layperson and the art junkie is lessened. I hope that when you finish this book, the world of visual art is just a little bit smaller.

And yes, the word "originality" is included twice. As much as I wanted to remove myself from the interviews, I guess a small portion of me snuck in. There could be a no more ironic word to reveal my gaffe.

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