Doing artist as doing gender: artist identity troubling in the wake of vocational troubling


There is a trend that visual artists’ who enact an undoing, a troubling, [1] of conventions in their work—whether through materiality, form, process, presentation, subject matter, or theme—also have a writing practice. I believe this practice arises to counter additional identity destabilization resulting from a vocational mode that hinges on troubling.[2]

My hope was that if I did this (writing as artist) honestly I would discover how to see myself from a perspective that would render myself whole in my own eyes.
– Anne Truitt [3]

As a part of a vocational impetus, process, product and positioning, the artist’s tweaking of citational conventions[4] loosen the social regulations used in identity constitution that allow the artist to continually locate and substantiate herself as recognizable—socially viable.[5] Thus an artist like the transgendered is likely to find that her personhood and practice, her being and doing, does not conform unambiguously to normalized cultural conventions.[6], [7]

I began to see my life as somewhere between these two orders of the natural and the abstract, belonging entirely neither to the one nor to the other.

It is taxing to think out and then maintain a view of one’s self that is realistic.
– Anne Truitt [8]

Transgender congruence is the degree to which the ambiguous dislocation of personhood is performatively reconfigured in a way that generates feelings of acceptability—internally normalizing the unconventional as genuine, authentic and a viable category.[9] I believe the artist’s writing practice has a congruency function in renegotiating, generating and maintaining the artist’s identity as socially discernable in light of their particular unconventional art modes. In other words the act of writing, like other stylized repetitive acts, assists in resolving the illusion of a stable identity category from which the artist may continue her particular forms of doing.

While writing, I began to discover this strange voice at the back of my throat, which didn’t sound like my old voice at all. It felt red and raw and powerful, and the more I wrote, the stronger it became. Each word seemed to chip away at my former identity and bring me closer to who I felt I really was. Writing had given me ownership over my own life. – Sabrina Chapadjiev [10]

I proposing an initial probing into parallels that exist between doing gender and doing artist, specifically around the concept of troubling and transgender. Terminology of being and doing artist will be recast in light of Judith Butler’s notions of troubling, gender regulation, production, resistance and subversion as they relate to performativity, transgender and gender constitution.[11] It is my hope that this will provide a framework from which to understand artist identity constitution and vocational convention troubling as they relate to possible functions of the trans-genre practice of seminal/germinal visual artists that write and make.

[1] From my readings and misreadings of Judith Butler’s texts Gender Troubling (1990) and Undoing Gender (2004), I have arrived at the following working definition for troubling:

Troubling is the experiential destabilization of X* as a result of an apparent incomplete, incompatible or nonfunctional relational alignment of X with a perceived “reality” construct.
*With X functioning as person, place, thing or practice (action)

[2] Vicki Kirby, “Gender, Sexuality, Performance — Gender Trouble; Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” in Judith Butler: Live Theory (London: Continuum, 2006), 20.

[3] Anne Truitt, Daybook, the Journal of an Artist (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982), Kindle Locations 66-67.

[4] Mark Batey and Adrian Furnham, “Creativity, Intelligence, and Personality: A Critical Review of the Scattered Literature,” Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 132, no. 4 (2006): 359, doi:10.3200/mono.132.4.355-430.

[5] Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), 4, 14, 35.

[6] ,Ibid, 6.

[7] Richard Jenkins, Social Identity, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge, 2008), Ch 2.

[8] Truitt, Kindle Locations 88-89, 206.

[9] Kozee, H. B., Tylka, T. L., & Bauerband, L. A. (2012). Measuring transgender individuals’ comfort with gender identity and appearance: Development and validation of the Transgender Congruence Scale. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 179-196. doi: 10.1177/0361684312442161

[10] Sabrina Chapadjiev, Live through This: On Creativity and Self-destruction (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008), 9.

[11] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990)


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