Rainy Day Gauges of the Grey Area — My charge///practicum>>> Experience

Lauren Greve

Dec 17, 2014

On a rainy November afternoon at Art League Houston, I had the opportunity to attend the two-day charge///practicum>>>, devoted to gathering artists around discussions of their artwork—namely, how and where artists display their artwork and how their choices shape the larger economy. Lauren van Haaften-Schick and Helena Keefe presented their workshop entitled Gauging the Grey Area: A Human Spectrum—a workshop that poignantly examined what happens when artists say “no” to displaying their work, and the various circumstances in which an artist declines to show his or her work.

Van Haaften-Schick and Keefe began the workshop reading selected letters from artists who had declined to participate in exhibitions. The letters ranged from a few paragraphs to a few pages, but each letter had a similar motif: the artists discussed how the exhibitions could be more equitable regarding artist participation and the display of their work. Ultimately, we wondered—what compels artists to say yes and participate in exhibitions, or alternately, what compels artists to say no?

Following the letters, participants in the workshop enacted a human spectrum based on the letters we had read and even elaborated a few scenarios of our own. A strip of blue tape on the floor demarcated our possible answers of whether or not we would choose to participate in the proposed exhibitions—on one end, Yes; on the other end, No. By the end of the afternoon, it was clear to me that the decisions confronting artists about displaying their work are rarely black and white; we undoubtedly gauged the grey area. The spectrum became more complex once we added another dimension to the spectrum: did we feel confident about our choice to participate in an exhibition, or were we hesitant? Our viewpoints shifted more than once—someone could begin on one end of the spectrum and move to the opposite end as we discussed our reasons for saying yes or no. Our tendency to keep changing our minds was perhaps the most revealing aspect of Gauging the Grey Area—to keep our minds open and to continue the discussion amongst artists—for the answer to whether or not artists choose to participate in an exhibition is rarely just yes or no.