The Place of the Personal in Art/Theory Interdisciplinary Scholarship?
Posted on January 15, 2012 by michamaya
repost from my HASTAC blog.
As an artist/theorist, I find myself thinking a lot lately about the place of the personal in my work, and I wonder how other HASTAC scholars and readers think about these issues.
A major part of my aesthetic as a performance artist has been a choice to place personal risk and intimacy at the core of my art practice. This choice is inspired by artists such as Carollee Schneeman, Sophie Calle, Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Linda Montano and Hannah Wilke, who have chosen to make their personal lives and the intimate relationships the subject of their work. Often, this is a feminist strategy of making the personal political. As Chris Kraus writes in I Love Dick, an intensely personal and theoretical book of memoir/fiction:
Let a girl choose death — Janis Joplin, Simone Weil– and death becomes her definition, the outcome of her “problems.” To be female till means beng trapped within the purely psychological. No matter how dispassionate or large a vision of the world a woman formulates, whenever it includes her own experience and emotion, the telescope’s turned back on her. (196)
In another part of the book, on the work of Hannah Wilke, Kraus says that Wilke’s work was focused on the question “If women have failed to make ‘universal’ art because we’re trapped within the ‘personal,’ why not universalize the ‘personal’ and make it the subject of our art?” (211)
I am very seriously interested in these questions as they pertain to scholarship and in my role as, or performance of, an artist/theorist. As I write my essay the upcoming Marxism and New Media conference at Duke, I am not sure how much, if any at all, personal experience to include. Does my role as a performance artist stop when I am writing academic papers, in the drive for legitimacy? Does personal experience and emotion somehow necessarily devalue scholarly work? As a performance artist, I am not sure if the personal cost of using my life in my work is worth the outcome, or if I would be satisfied not including my personal experience in my work.
These questions also apply to other people who create personal artwork as part of their scholarship, including poets and writers. Here I am thinking ofJeanne Jo in the iMAP PhD program at USC as well as Margaret Rhee and her current project on queer love poems. It seems queer theory in general, as well as feminist theory, has a major stake in one’s personal relationship to one’s material, as much as many scholars attempt to have an “objective” approach. How are reviewers, for journals or for tenure, supposed to be “objective” when evaluating work of mine that deals with intimate details of my life?
I find that academic frequently supports and perhaps encourages certain categories of people to do certain categories of work, like the queer people doing queer theory, indigenous people writing indigenous theory, mixed race people studying critical mixed race theory, the list goes on. What are the implications and limitations of this? Is it something we should support with our own scholarship or break away from?
Additionally, as digital media scholars and artists, the lines between personal and scholarly are often blurred in online contexts. While I could choose to do things differently, and visitor to my Flickr page may see images of my artwork or images of my personal life, and similarly with Facebook. How do you deal with these issues?