Kevin Conley discusses the role of the artist in the studio

Kevin Conley on whether the or not an artists plays a hand in the physical creation of their own art in the Benton museum on Thursday, March 5, 2018.  Conley is a well known arts writer and editor and has contributed to "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New Yorker" among other publications. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

In his talk Thursday night at the Benton, surrounded by recently installed work of soon-to-be graduates of the University of Connecticut’s master of fine arts program, arts writer Kevin Conley talked about whether the hand of the artist is important in their own work.

Conley is a prolific arts writer, editor and author who has been published frequently in “The New Yorker,” “Vogue,” “New York Times Magazine” and “The Wall Street Journal.”

Conley scrolled through pictures of aesthetically pleasing, messy studios of famous artists including Marcel Duchamp, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Pollock and O’Keefe. Through these images, Conley highlighted the idea of the studio as “a site of pilgrimage” and as “a holy place even for an atheist.”

Max Conley, a second-semester studio art major, appreciated Kevin’s method of presentation.

“I thought the talk was interesting because it was presented as both a chronological progression through art history and on a spectrum of how you choose to make your art,” Max said.

Once Andy Warhol came into prominence in the 1960s, studio practices began to stray from the dedicated, lone artist sacrificing themselves to the art gods in their small studio and moved toward the artist as CEO, according to Kevin.

These artists had their work made in part, or even mostly, by paid employees in studios that more closely resembled Kevin’s familiar magazine production lines or a factory.

This then raises the question of, if the artist doesn’t make the work entirely on their own, then do they still get the credit, the fame and the admiration?

Marita Tafuri, a 33-year-old Storrs resident volunteering at the Benton, had the same thought.

“I never thought about the process of creating art, about the editor’s point of view, and sometimes you wonder how it takes out the individuality of the artist and their intimate process and they make it more commercial,” Tafuri said.

Despite this, Tafuri said she doesn’t think the corporate way of making art removes any of the value.

“Centuries ago, the artists had students that came even in Ren time, main artists had students that come learning the process, and the artist himself let him do some part of the work as part of their learning process, so it doesn’t take out value on the work itself because the idea is still one of the artist,” Tafuri said.

Avery Bikerman, a second-semester digital media and design major, expanded on Tafuri’s thoughts.

“I think if you have a vision then it doesn’t really matter what approach you take to get there, as long (as) you have achieved what that vision is,” Bikerman said.

Max agreed with Bikerman.

“Today, in the modern art world, talent doesn’t really have as much to do with artistic production. It’s really more based on the vision you have,” Max said. “There aren’t really any ethical challenges to producing in a studio. I just think it has more (to do) with what you want to do, and I think art is also an experience, and I think the way you make your art is a very personal decision too.”

Max also noted that sometimes it isn’t possible for spectacular pieces of art, both in execution and size, to be made by one person.

“I think a lot of people don’t consider, you know, some of these things are implicit in the art,” Max said. “It was mentioned a number of times that very large works and very meticulous works really can’t be produced solely by the artist, especially on an aggressive time frame.”

The issue is not resolved though, and Kevin himself said he can’t come down on one side of the artistic intellectual debate, leaving room for the members of the audience to decide for themselves if they worship at the altar of Pollock or Warhol.


Alex Taylor is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexis.taylor@uconn.edu.