the repetitive stylized act of doing dumpster dive, doing artist, doing gender

Holiday schmoliday!

I’ve got things to contemplate, reconfigure and loosely codify as a kind of academic cognitive capitol. Actually my notions of artist identity constituted, writing praxis as a possible form of artist resilience, realization and alteration of thought communities is far more to me than an academic textabations.

And so I pursue the INNER KLANG* of constitution.


dumpster diving

warring destabilization

NOT a doctor!

I opened a “Yikes!” which landed in my inbox this morning. In a volley of emails with an artist friend who was being emotionally troubled in the wake of receiving a very large commission, I was reminded of the unstableness of our identity as artist. Along with most my peers, I live with the unsettling ongoing fear that at any moment I may be unmasked as not artist and discovered to be a lame poser. So in an a very feminine like gesture to mitigate my friend’s discomfort, I shot him an email with the comforting claim:

Body of work = artist
No body of work = not artist.
A single unsuccessful work will not undo you as artist!
You are artist!

I pass a dumpster and register its contents, sheet upon sheet of gymnasium wrestling floor matts. There is an awkward moment when everything I have internalized as appropriate behavior to conform to citations of race, education, gender, age and affluence—the infrastructure of my identity—is called into question as I am precariously teetering, one leg in, one out, yanking these five by six foot planar foam matts from a dumpster to use for fabricating art. Breaching the social protocols of what it “means” to be a white highly educated semi-affluent aging woman in order to perform artist requires a tremendous amount of emotional energy. The cognitive dissonance of resisting conventional frames is damn exhausting. More often than not, I cave to conform to a less troubling identity and leave viable supplies untouched, art pieces unrealized.

I do not wake each morning, look into my closet to decide what gender I would like to perform today. Now I may consciously or not toy with the cultural citations that heighten or collapse the degree to which I will perform my femininity. But I do not from day to day don one gender and then another. My histories and ongoing amalgamations of internalized and externalized doings as they conform and conflict with conventions drive my constitutive identity. And I am viscerally compelled to repetitively perform particularities of conventions that establish and maintain this mildly malleable identity into something I can live with. It is only in the wake of an event that disrupts my capacity to consciously or unconsciously hold the constructs of my identity together, that opportunities arise to adapt my script. And even here in fact I can only bend the citation script. I cannot cast it a side for another without ripping out my entire conventional infrastructure. Crap, most this convention infrastructure appears to be not some fabrication but experientially my core, my me. So I don’t know where to begin ripping out. War and trauma can rip out entire identity infrastructures on which we depend to function. Hence I see radical conventional shifts after wars, economic crisis and other catastrophic events that reveal faulty or nonfunctional convention structures. What wars, economics and catastrophes of mundane and magnificent proportions destabilize me to reform anew moment by moment?

Once over lunch I told two doctor friends, one who worked in a emergency room and the other an anesthesiologist, how as artist, myself and peers had an ongoing fear that we would suddenly be unmasked as not artist and be discovered as lame poser. In humorous horror, they had a like fear. They lived in a quiet terror that at any moment while in the emergency room slicing open or suturing up a patient someone would tap them on the should and tell them, WTF are you doing, YOU ARE NOT DOCTOR!

Ha. So in terms of identity formation we must ongoingly do artist, do doctor, do gender.


In thinking about doing artist as doing gender it is quite simple to reconfigure many of Butler’s most notable statement’s to understand artist.

The following are direct quotes but I have dropped the word gender replacing it with artist.
Butler, Gender Troubling, 1999: 179 [insertion of artist and # break down are my own]

  1. Artist ought NOT to be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow;
  2. rather, artist is an identity tenuously constituted in time,
  3. instituted in an exterior space
  4. through stylized repetition of acts.
  5. The effect of artist is produced through the stylization of the body and body of creative works and, hence,
  6. must be understood as the mundane way in which
    1. bodily gestures
    2. movements and
    3. styles of various kinds
  7. constitute the illusion
  8. of an abiding creative self, an artist of a particular kind.

Butler, Gender Troubling, 1990: 278-79

  1. Artist reality, artist particularlity, is performative which means, quite simply that it is real only to the extent that it is performed.
  2. It seems fair to say that certain kinds of acts are usually interpreted as expressive of a particular artist core or identity
    1. and that these acts either conform to an expected artistic praxis (particular kind of artist)
    2. or contest that expectation in some way.
  3. The expectation, in turn is based upon the perception of X, where X is understood to be the discrete and tactic datum of primary characteristics of particular artistic praxis…
  4. This implicit and popular theory of acts and gestures as expressive of artist itself is something prior to the various acts, postures, and gestures by which it is dramatized and known, indeed, artist to the popular imagination as a substantial core which might well be understood as spiritual or psychological correlate of biological abilities.
  5. If artist attributes, however, are not expressive but performative, then these attributes effectively constitute the identity they are said to express or reveal.

To me this translates as the various acts, postures, gestures that make me recognizable as artist do not reflect but presuPOSE and proPOSE my identity, meaning my identity category exists because it is performed. This implies that my identity comes into being in the acts and is not a prior core being reflected. Sigh. Ha is sounds like the presbyterian / methodist split of preordination versus free will. Of course Butler is not actually grounding her notions in free will agency. In many ways identity arises somewhere between free will and ordination.

For me the artists propensities that constitute their making practice–materiality, form, subject matter, themes, relationship to audience–are both unstable and constituted over time and these then constitute artist identity. I believe that artists that persist passionately in their field (often becoming recognized as a pivotal art game changer or cultural jammer) often have a writing practice and that this writing practice functions as a stylized receptive act in constituting the artist identity and their particular practice as “real” and socially viable.

Of course I also predict that the writing is also a method of

  1. regulating emotions so that they do not incapacity the artist’s production or relevance.
  2. reframing experience (trauma-Pennebaker), re-narrating life stories in a useful, health regulating way
  3. translating and codifying the generative body knowledge derived from making into textual and aural language structure (perhaps a grounding method for situated cognition)
  4. assists in remapping neural mapping (learning?)
  5. generating alternate thought/praxis communities

AND that all these things generate a resilience that allows the artist to remain passionate and persistent in terms of their creative pursuits. Thus writing has a resilience and realization function. And as the artist remains resilient and realizes their practice they impact, codify or alter thought communities which then shift cultural conventions….and so on..

I think there are a lot more things the writing is doing for the artist and changing and codifying conventions…but they allude my fingertips at the moment.


I just stumbled upon Kandinsky’s circa 1913 text, Concerning the Spirituality in Art. Only yet into the translator’s intro, I am surprised at how my my thinking and Butler’s notions of identity constitution are implicitly in the text. Perhaps it is that I believe the artist’s writings help them constituted their INNER KLANG.

It is no common thing to find an artist who, even if he be willing to try, is capable of expressing his aims and ideals with any clearness and moderation. Some people will say that any such capacity is a flaw in the perfect artist, who should find his expression in line and colour, and leave the multitude to grope its way unaided towards comprehension. This attitude is a relic of the days when “l’art pour l’art” was the latest battle cry; when eccentricity of manner and irregularity of life were more important than any talent to the would-be artist; when every one except oneself was bourgeois. The last few years have in some measure removed this absurdity, by destroying the old convention that it was middle-class to be sane, and that between the artist and the outer-world yawned a gulf which few could cross. Modern artists are beginning to realize their social duties. They are the spiritual teachers of the world, and for their teaching to have weight, it must be comprehensible.

Any attempt, therefore, to bring artist and public into sympathy, to enable the latter to understand the ideals of the former, should be thoroughly welcome; and such an attempt is this book of Kandinsky’s.

The author is one of the leaders of the new art movement in Munich. The group of which he is a member includes painters, poets, musicians, dramatists, critics, all working to the same end— the expression of the SOUL of nature and humanity, or, as Kandinsky terms it, the INNER KLANG.

MICHAEL T. H. SADLER, “Translator’s Introduction” in Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky. (Kindle Locations 16-26): circa 1915.

IMAGE And yes even my hand written notes are riddled with trails of language misuse and abuse. WTF. Funny that when I speak aloud these bastardization of being verbs, tense and misplaced terms do not exist. I actually do know the rules of language. It is true. And, I instantly note misuse in other people’s writings and speech, but this does not stop the butchery that is inflicted by my whirling fingers spitting out my thoughts which drool across the keyboard, screen and page. Sigh.


You may also like

dissolution at the threshold of other
art making as contextual other–as resolving alternate avenues of being
Art as an Accounting of Oneself. Reflecting artist into a Judith Butler essay.
staking out the ground, a research framework. who or how is artist realized