Watching the Process

Art 21

A mural leaves a lump in my throat. A photograph says something I never could. Artists remind me that I’m not alone. My relationship with an artist’s work becomes intimate when a piece evokes something deep and rare, something that incubates wonder. That curiosity lingers while I seek a similar aesthetic, but until I have an understanding of the process, of how the artist arrived at a place somehow familiar, I’m never satiated.

Each episode of the award-winning PBS series ART:21 presents three to five contemporary artists alongside their respective praxis, inspiration, and process. They speak candidly, bringing novel perspectives on universal themes to the viewer. Each installment is loosely based on a theme such as compassion, paradox, identity or romance, to name a few.

In season five’s episode, “Systems,” New York artist Julie Mehretu’s large-scale, reductionist paintings evolve layer by layer, then devolve as she sands away paint, bringing background shapes and colors to the foreground in an exercise she describes as finding the “poltergeist in her work.” She says her early paintings have a “math-like, diagrammatic element,” compared to recent works, more “atmospheric and painterly.” The depth and complexity of her descriptions are as compelling as the paintings themselves.

For many, access to contemporary art is limited; however, anyone with an Internet connection can access ART:21’s website, which offers teacher’s guides, student art projects, an online lesson library, and, most importantly, over 86 featured artists.

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