Sunday, May 13, 2007

FAQ (Fairly Asinine Questions)

My third grade teacher once told me there is no such thing as a stupid question. While this may be true for third graders, it is definitely true that adults can ask insulting and/or passive aggressive questions.
Here are some of the insulting/passive aggressive questions people have asked me recently:

1. “Oh, you’re wearing that today?”
2. “Why would an artist go to a lecture by a scientist?”
3. “Are you proud of what you’re doing?”
4. “Well, how do you feel about your weight?”
5. “Did you know that the newer cell phones are better than yours?”
6. "Is it in you?"
7. Etc.

The other day I was at a lecture by a photographer that I had really been looking forward hearing. After a fantastic lecture about the social responsibilities of photography and how the photographer's images had positively impacted the lives of both audiences who had seen her work and the people who she had photographed, the first question someone asked was, “Do you shoot digital or film?”

So, in response, here is a short, unordered list of questions that I would prefer if everyone in the audience at art lectures could agree to stop asking.

Artist Lecture FAQ (Fairly Asinine Questions):

1. How are you dealing with digital technology?
2. Where do you get your ideas from?
3. Who are your influences?
4. What type of [camera, paint, wood, etc.] do you use?
5. Do you use assistants in your work?
6. Where is your studio?
7. I found that your work relates to [Baudrillard, Foucault, Derrida, etc.] and his theory of …
(Not really a question, just a series of unrelated statements about theory that proves the person asking the question can read.)
8. How do you know when a piece is finished?
9. How did you develop your wonderful sense of form and color?
10. How does your work relate to the war?
11. Who do you think your target audience is?
12. Your work reminds me of my work in that …
13. How do you handle transporting your work?
14. I was talking to [Matthew Barney, Matthew Richie, Matthew Collings, etc.] the other day and your work came up …
15. How do you determine your prices?
16. Etc.

The main reason why these questions are insulting is because most of them focus on how the artist created the work, not what they created. If you had just worked a year on a new series of work and the best question someone can come up with is “Where is your studio?” wouldn’t you be insulted? I seems that if the same crowds that to populate art lectures went to a lecture by a writer, the vast majority of questions would be the equivalent of:

1. Did you use Microsoft Word to write?
2. How has the change from typewriters to computers influenced your work?
3. Etc.

The other main reason that these questions are insulting is that they rarely actually deal with the lecturer or their work. They are usually more about the person asking the question. It seems to me that many people come to art lectures to finally have a captive audience to prove how smart they are both to themselves and everyone around them. Now I’m not saying I ask better questions, but I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut if I don’t have a serious question about the lecture I just heard. By definition, I can’t give you a list of good questions to ask artists, because if the lecture is any good and you honestly have a question for the artist, then it should be about the specific lecture, not a cookie cutter question.

So please, the next time you’re at a lecture, if you don’t have a question, don’t hijack the whole audience and lecturer by asking a FAQ.


1 : marked by inexcusable failure to exercise intelligence or sound judgment
2 : of, relating to, or resembling an ass

If you have been to a lecture recently and heard an asinine question, please add it to my FAQ here:

Me asking questions after Michael Scoggins lecture


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