Art historian Katie Hessel talks about the importance of fairness, collaboration, and following your instincts in art.
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your book. A story of art without humans. How do you feel now that you’ve come out into the world?
The great thing about being a writer and creating something tangible and physical and putting it out into the world is that it actually kind of takes on a life of its own. It’s just a privilege that people read it. In a way, it’s just in my head. It’s so great to be able to share that with the world.
Your first book has received a fair amount of press so far. How are you adjusting to the spotlight?
That’s great because at the end of the day, it’s not really about me, it’s about the subject matter. To be honest, I don’t mean like, “Oh, I’m so humble.” I believe so much in this subject, and the fact that I get paid to write, talk, and talk about art all day long is such a joy and honor. I’m so excited because I’m completely obsessed with this theme and completely obsessed with all the artists featured in this book. If so, let’s talk about it.
Why do you think art is important? What does art mean to you?
you know what? “Why is art important?” You’re the first person to actually ask me that. That’s insane. For me, art history, and art in general, is about visualizing the world from an individual’s perspective. What I love about this work is that it looks at the history of the world in all its different movements, shapes, forms, and contexts. We’re looking at how individuals view it. I think that’s what connects me to this work and what excites me so much. It connects me to women from 100, 200, 300, 400 years ago.
I think of people like [17th century painter] Artemisia Gentileschi. It’s just what she went through and how she dealt with it. Not just shocking things, but also about her way of life as a woman. It’s so important to talk about it because our voices don’t often get heard.
When I think of Barbara Kruger “Your body is a battlefield” When I think of Jenny Holzer “Abuse of power is not surprising.” Or I think of Zoe Leonard. “I want a president.” Every piece here shows me something about the world I didn’t know, but instantly recognizes. It shows me something about myself that I didn’t know, but I immediately recognize. That is the power of art.
There are all these things in life and all these people have experienced it before us. Somehow they visualized it and showed it to us in a very poignant, emotional and wonderful way. That is its power. All of these stories are important, so the fact that so many of them have somehow been erased through our museums is a travesty.
Beyond Instagram and podcasts, what is your research process like for a book?
That’s the range. I’ve been on Instagram for eight years, so I have a pretty good grasp of many female artists. What I love about the podcast is that we’re talking to some of the greatest artists in the world, but we’re also talking to academics who have been doing this work behind the scenes all along. I think it’s equally important to spotlight the people behind the scenes.
For example, I interviewed this woman. Sue Tate She lives in Bristol, England, and has been working quietly but with great conciseness and with great depth for 30 years, longer than I have been alive. It’s really important to shine a spotlight on these people and talk to them, but research is coming from just about everywhere. It could be an academic journal, an exhibition, or a conversation.
I think I am very conscious of this when I go to museums. [to ask], “Where are all the female artists?” When I see a woman’s name, I always think, “Okay, let’s look her up.” That’s where it comes from, or where people are like, “Has she heard of this person?” It comes from scrolling through Instagram and finding things. It’s amazing because we have great knowledge to get that information these days.
I appreciate that you chose to use a relatively approachable language as a way to combat elitism in the arts. Diving into the world can be quite overwhelming, especially for those new to art history.
I want a 13-year-old child who has never set foot in a museum or gallery to pick up this book at the library, find something of themselves in it, and feel like they can somehow become a part of it. I am. It should be a conversation with everyone. If we’re not looking at the work of a wide range of people, we’re not looking at society as a whole. That also applies to the people behind the scenes. Not just artists.
I remember reading Hilton Als’ article about Alice Neal and being very moved by it. He talked about his childhood and his experience of seeing Alice Neal’s work and feeling included. make Hilton Ars. That’s all power.
There’s Instagram, there’s podcasts; column you are writing for guardian, You have a book and have even organized an exhibition. What appeals to you about working in different formats?
They all keep each other completely informed and it’s a lot of fun. Seeing artwork in a book is a completely different experience than seeing it on a gallery wall. It would be amazing if you could do both. I never thought I would write a book or curate an exhibition in my life, but it happened. Hopefully it’s possible for many others as well. I always believe that nothing happens overnight. That’s what I had when I started Instagram when I was 21 years old. The first exhibition was held in the lobby of an advertising agency because there was no other place to exhibit it.
It all happened organically. I always think that if I’m interested in this person, or if I’m interested in asking this person this particular question, there’s one other person in the world that could be.
What is your relationship with work? With so many things going on, how do you avoid burnout?
Great question. People ask me this all the time, but I don’t understand. I am sociable and have a normal life as well. When I met her friend on Saturday, I remember her saying: can not understand. “I said, ‘I just love it. It makes me so happy, and I’m going to do it anyway.’ With a podcast, I’m going to make it anyway, whether people listen to it or not, whether I get paid for it or not. is.
The fact that I can make it my job is amazing and I want to encourage people to do the same. I’m always teaching people how to podcast. All you need is a microphone, headphones, and a Wi-Fi connection. ” It’s all in fun, so you don’t feel burnt out.
You’ve been doing this job for almost 10 years. How do you feel about working on this topic for so long and being on this journey?
Some people can’t believe I still do my own Instagram, but I just do it. I like it and it’s fun. I love seeing people comment and it gets me so excited. The way it connects me with people is extraordinary. Instagram is strangely non-hierarchical. Because we’re all just in this together. Do you want to do it forever? I don’t know. Will Instagram last forever? I don’t know. I’m a very instinctive person. I only pursue things that interest me. I also know when I’m not interested in something because it’s so obvious.
What does it look like when you are not interested?
I don’t feel like doing that. It’s like my podcast, where I interview some of my favorite authors.I’m having an interview Ali Smith, or I’ll be interviewing Deborah Levy in three weeks. I think I probably read their book last year or the year before. Now he has to go read all their books within three weeks. It’s like such a challenge, I’m going to take it, and as a result you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m so glad I did this, because my heart felt so enriched.” “Because it feels like it.”
Have you ever felt creatively stuck in some way, or were you just going full steam ahead from the beginning?
I’m a bit of an obsessive diary keeper and record everything. I love writing letters to people. “You don’t have to be a writer. Anyone can do this.” Can I show you this quote I found? I was listening to Sheila Heti’s podcast, someone I’d never heard of before, but now I’m completely obsessed with her.
i love her.
oh my god. I literally fell into a hole. she says: “I’m baffled by how many people feel they have to engage in creative writing. Why do you think they need to do this in an academic sense? Why do you need a degree to write? What does it take to be a writer? That doesn’t make sense to me. You were writing stories when you were 12, so why should that be awarded to you? All it takes to be a writer is , just writing.”
Whenever I experience writer’s block or something like that, I always try to write a letter or email someone. Write a letter to someone who is no longer in this world, such as someone you don’t know. I’m your hero. I often send guardian This article is for a friend, my friend Dom who lives in Mexico. I usually write in the middle of the night. He writes a note on the side and thinks, “This is what I want to say.” He said, “Why don’t you actually write that comment and include it?” Imagine you are explaining something to someone. And, I don’t know, that’s how I often describe it.
Are you interested in creating your own art?
What drives people to become artists? It is the most fascinating thing in the whole world. People will literally abandon every convention in the world and say, “This is what I want.” It’s like, “Wow, you must be the most extraordinary person.”
That’s why I’m so fascinated by it. I’m not an artist, but I love playing the piano and I really love writing. I don’t know, there are many ways to be creative, but I’m in awe of people who make art. I mean, I was very experimental with my art in school, throwing myself into mod rock and making all these ridiculous sculptures. I also love filmmaking and editing. I love making books for people, I love making letters for people.
[Artists] They are the most extraordinary people because they see the world in ways I could never have imagined. They make the world the way it is and I want to be part of it.
I remember when I interviewed Amy Sherald. She said, “There is no plan B.” She was like, “Yes, I love you.” I love people who just go for it. I’m just in awe of people for whom this is their calling. I think that happens to a small number of people on this planet, but I’m willing to accept it.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I just want as many people as possible to become interested in art history. The future of art history needs to be shaped by people with diverse perspectives, and I want to be a conduit for that. If I can promote any of that and introduce people to something, my job is done.
Katie Hessel Recommends:
A London Library membership card that transports me to the world’s greatest library, with countless stacks of books.
a copy of my scribbles John Berger’s way of seeing You will begin to think, see, and be about the world differently.
Nell Dunn’s talk to womena book of interviews with women including artists Pauline Boty—Since 1967. They’re close to my age group when they conduct, so even though they’re speaking over 50 years ago, I tune in to hear their stories and hear their wisdom about life, writing, and art. I like to soak in it. It still feels modern somehow.