Sunday, January 24, 2010

Service Aesthetics: Is it really art?

By Kristin Bruch

One of my hopes for the new year is to spark conversations from this blog. Tori, my new fellow blog editor, and I are planning to share reviews of the exhibitions we see, comments on art in the making, and thoughts on articles we read. (Side note: if you have anything you would like to contribute, please let us know!)

We'd like to start the dialogue with the topic of aesthetics. While aesthetics is a fairly difficult word to spell, the word is even more difficult to define. To my understanding, relational aesthetics refers to the art of the 1990s that is more about human interaction and social context. Aesthetic art is not about personal contemplation, no longer about sitting reflectively in front of a Rothko. Fair enough, right?

One group of artists branched out of relational aesthetics to what is called service aesthetics. Service aesthetics is defined by a one-on-one connection between two people while the artist is performing a free service for the viewer, or "client."

Let me give you an example of service aesthetics that Steven Madoff discussed in the September 2008 issue of Artforum. " the Whitney Biennial in New York last March, artist Bert Rodriguez presented In the Beginning . . . , 2008. The piece consisted of a simulacrum of a generic psychologist’s office— complete with de rigueur stuffed leather chairs and potted plant—in which the artist (although he is not a trained therapist) held forty-five-minute personal consultations. By nature, these sessions were intensely personal for both the subject and the artist, moving toward a symbolic enactment of therapeutic release."

The question becomes, is this really art? Aren't these artists just performing regular tasks that we typically pay for all the time? Although my classmates may disagree with me, this is art. These artists are pushing the idea of aesthetics in a new way. They are taking the idea of the service economy we live in every day and putting a personal connection back into it, all for free, to demonstrate the lack of interpersonal connections in the transactions of our everyday lives. In my opinion, art serves as a mirror of the world, and this is one aspect of the world that needs to be addressed.

Service aesthetics is art. Granted, we get to decide whether it is good or bad. What do you think?

To leave you with some thoughts.. check out the video below from Bert Rodriguez, the nontraditional therapist, discussing his art:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Visiting Artist #1: Kurt Kauper

For the past two days, Kurt Kauper has been visiting American University. Being the first visiting artist for spring 2010, Kauper started our semester with inspiration and insight.

With back to back critiques and an artist talk on Tuesday night (January 19th), a few cups of coffee were definitely needed. I believe, and if I may speak for my fellow MFA students, that his visit was a success. The crits have been well received and many of us are left with new ideas and a long list of artists to look up.

Not only were the critiques helpful, his artist talk was engaging and informing. Presenting and answering questions for a little over an hour, Kauper discussed influences, ideas, and process. He led us through his bodies of work starting with an Ingres study, done after high school, to his famous figures of present day. His works are impressively rendered and dialogue with the accuracy of modern day computer graphics. Attention is paid to every hair and birthmark seen on his subjects. The pieces invite the viewer to stand in awe of his technique and in question of the environments in which he places his figures and the choice of clothing or lack thereof. Kauper is famously known for his Diva Series, but has also painted the notorious faces of Carey Grant, Bobby Orr, and Barack and Michelle Obama.

Kauper’s works, bio, and contact can be viewed at


Check back for updates on our future visiting artists.

Spring Schedule: (all talks will be at the Katzen Art Center, AU)

  • February 8th: Julie Langsam: 6p in Crit Space
  • February 16th: Beverly McIver: 6p in Recital Hall
  • March 4th: Hilary Harkness: 6p in Crit Space
  • April 1st: Erik Thor Sandberg: 6p in Recital Hall