… “Why do I want to be an artist? What is it that I want out of this?”
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Robert Storr: … How does language intersect with imagery for you, and with the way you think about art? For example, quite a lot of your titles have jokes in them, and a certain number of titles involve alliterations or sound. What is the significance of such linguistic elements for you?
Elizabeth Murray: At a certain point in a painting, sometimes at the very beginning, I know what the words for the painting are, or what the name of the painting should be. The name of the painting describes what I’m really thinking I feel about it. Finding the right words is satisfying. I don’t name it so much for other people, I name it for me. So the words are really important. But on the other hand, sometimes I want the name to slide off the painting a little, so it’s not obvious; I don’t want to tell people what the painting is about.
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RS: I noticed when we were going through your books of drawings the other day that there are bits and pieces of lectures, drafts of talks you were going to give. Increasingly, because of the museum structure, grants, degrees, awards, and so on, artists are called upon to explain themselves, to make statements, and to be articulate spokespeople for their work. This is something that Allan Kaprow discussed years ago, and it is even truer now than before.
EM: It’s a task. I would like not to do it anymore. But I have a technique: I grab the slides and I wing it. I never know what I’m going to say. That works best for me because it helps me avoid developing a spiel.
I remember the first time somebody came into my studio and stood in front of a painting and said, “Well, what is this about? What are you doing? What are you trying to say?” A collector. And I sort of stumbled around. I felt inadequate. Here I was with this person, and I wasn’t a naïve newcomer, and it brought me back to something I felt very strongly when I was an art student: that your painting was something that you did not have to describe. You did not have to explain it. You did it, and it was up to whoever was looking at it to figure it out. There might be some clues, but basically your job was to make it. … And I didn’t say anything, and it felt fine not to say anything.
[line break added] On the other hand, I teach, and I ask students all the time, “What are you trying to do?” But I think that’s on another level. When you’re a student, in your studio, in your practice, it’s a good idea to begin to think, “Why do I want to be an artist? What is it that I want out of this?” So I put it to my students, but I honestly think this is something an artist isn’t beholden to do for others.