X interviews Y

X – I read a quote by Claude Levi-Strauss. He said: “On the whole, an all things considered, the interview is a detestable genre to which the intellectual poverty of the ages obliges one to submit more often than one would like.” What do you think of the interview?

Y – Like all genres, the interview has its limitations – the subjective experience of the subject – and when one genre dominates a field other stories remain untold. The principle problem with the interview although it is a useful practice, is that it is only a first step in research. There is value in the original documentation but to simply transcribe the interview; to leave all analysis up to the future readers is only doing half the work.

X – Some excellent books written with the interview process; for example, Jean Stein Edie – An American Biography.

Y – Yes, but there the editing of the interviews, by Jean Stein and George Plimpton, was the key to quality. But there are so many now. The endless rambling discussion, sometimes it is not even clear who is interviewing who.

X – The genre of the interview has been a major feature of contemporary art writing for the last couple of decades.

Y – Yes, it seems that every third article in Art & Australia is an interview – actually in vol. 48/2 there were 5 interviews and 9 non-interview articles, not including the reviews and editorial. There are whole books of interviews filling my bookshelves like Pierre Cabanne’s Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, Fracis Crémieux’s My Galleries and Painters Daniel-Henry Kahnwieler and much of the Re:Search series.

X – Why does the interview feature so much in writing about art when it doesn’t in other areas of writing such as science or sport’s reporting? Is it the ego of the artist, the literary genre of the artist’s biography or the nature of art itself?

Y – But then what is art but this endless discourse about art? Art is a category defined by the discussion of the category. It is, in Arthur Danto’s opinion, just a few people in a few cities endlessly carping on about art. The interview certainly gives that appearance but the conversation about art is larger than a few insiders talking. The interview panders to the idea that the art is only accessible and understandable to insiders, to people who know the artist, if not personally, then through biographies and interviews. Art becomes a game of insiders, and eavesdroppers, rather than something fills a public, or private, desire. The rise of the interview in art reflects the role of the artist from the medium of the muse to a source of inspiration.

X – And what are you going to do next?

Y – Reply to your last question. Goodbye.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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