Danielle Mysliwiec on artmaking and the art world

A video of the November 2nd lecture by Danielle Mysliwiec has been posted to SVA’s iTunes U page. You can find it at this link, along with many other videos for lectures sponsored by the Visual & Critical Studies department. The lecture covered a lot of ground, and led to a lively conversation that began during the evening’s question-and-answer section, and continued long afterward among some of the students in VCS.

A screen capture of the title card for the iTunes U video.

During the first half of Mysliwiec’s talk, she showed slides of her work and discussed its evolution from her earliest days as a painter until the present. Much like recent VCS graduate Alyse Anderson, Mysliwiec started her undergraduate career as a pre-med student. After taking an art class and later becoming a TA for the professor, she made the switch to art for good. Eventually, she went on to graduate school at Hunter College in Manhattan, where she got her MFA in 2004

Over the years, Mysliwiec’s painting has often reflected a potent mix of systematic thinking and serendipity. In one series, acrylic paint she found dried in the bottom of a paper cup became the inspiration for a set of canvases that organized a large number of similar casts into an iridescent grid-based design. Later on, painted brushstrokes on glass became the raw material for two other sets of compositions, the first created by peeling the brushstrokes up and arranging them on a canvas, and the second constructed digitally from a scanned catalog of numerous painted gestures.

Other images she has made combine tight, geometric shapes with small moments of interruption or breaks in the overall design; in these, the paint is laid out in lines that stand on the canvas like thick yarn, allowing her to emulate the look of weaving over a flat surface. (For these works, Mysliwiec cited a unique combination of inspirations, including Baroque citadel layouts from 17th century and the fiber art of Sheila Hicks and Anni Albers.) Recent paintings stemming from a residency at the Vermont Studio Center involve a using a more subtle version of this woven look to create color gradients laid out in geometric designs. In every case, Mysliwiec stated that she is interested in finding ways to make painting “feel like a stranger,” so that the viewer has a new relationship to the idea of what painting can do.

A quote from T.S. Eliot's play The cocktail party that helped shape Mysliwiec's ideas on making painting new and unexpected.

Part of a notebook page with ideas that grew from the quote shown above.

The second half of her talk, Mysliwiec discussed her involvement with Brainstormers, a Feminist performance art collective she co-founded in 2005. (VCS instructor Elaine Kaufman is another co-founder.) The group’s performances address gender inequality within the professional art world, particularly as one moves higher up in the realm of museums, galleries, and collectors. In addition to staging satirical/educational performances outside public art events such as the Armory Show, the group runs a site that presents and analyzes statistics on the significant difference between the percentage of women who graduate from art school and the percentage who find representation within the gallery system.

The conversation that resulted examined various possibilities as to why this is the case, from the old idea that male artists are more “provenly profitable,” to the inertia inherent in old male-dominated social networks, to power of lingering stereotypes about women. While Mysliwiec admitted that some progress has been made over the last few decades, the situation is still nowhere near equitable. (For more on this, she recommended the 2005 New York times article “The X Factor: Is the Art Market Rational or Biased?” by Greg Allen.)

During the question-and-answer session, Mysliwiec responds to a comment by a member of the audience.

This last discussion ended up continuing well after the lecture was over. Disturbed by some of the statistics Mysliwiec cited, a group of students raised the issue again during that week’s session of Amy Wilson’s Art in Theory: 1900-2000 course. Among the things that came up were Wilson’s experiences as a woman in the art world; the history of gender activism in the arts; past actions that challenged orthodox views on female artists; and possible ideas on what might be done in the future to redress the gender disparity that still exists. Many of Wilson’s students expressed surprise at the situation that Mysliwiec described, and the follow-up discussion seems to have inspired many of them to seek new ways to improve it in the future.

As always, this brief summary has only been able to scratch the surface of what was shown and said during the hour-long lecture. If you’re interested in one artist’s account of how her own creative process has evolved naturally over time, or want to know more about Brainstormers and the issues they’re confronting, the video is well worth a view.

Visual & Critical Studies