The syntax of the studio, from babble to murmur remains not only private, but hermeneutically opaque. Objects, images and texts congregate according to the artist’s esoteric taxonomy, redundant outside of the studio, salient for the artist only. (Pigrum, 2007).
My recent visits to a variety of different studios show how the women concerned have managed to carve out a personal space for themselves in the home environment which allows them to follow their passion. This illustrates the changing relationship between male and female understanding of the way that the home environment is divided alongside an acceptance that those women’s art is considered sufficiently important to justify its own space. In a fascinating research article Gendered Space? (2000) , which many women can relate to, Paula Townsend explains the history of how space in the home has traditionally been divided on gender lines, with women being assumed to have overall control of the space, but in coupled families having no actual space to call their own. The man has historically had his study and/or shed, to which he could retire when he wanted peace or privacy, while in recent times, children often have personal bedrooms which they use for similar purposes. Women, meanwhile, are assumed to have the kitchen as “their space”, despite it being open to all at any time of day or night, and this is a room which is unsuited to longer term hobbies and activities; the table is required three times a day for meals and so needs to be clear of materials regularly, thus limiting women’s artistic endeavours to work that is easy to tidy away and which is portable, i.e. knitting, sewing, drawing.
Women’s increasing presence in the formal workplace and the consequent financial authority this has brought has begun to allow women to demand the same amount of personal space within the home that men have always had, whether it be their own study for private contemplation or a larger space to explore artistic pursuits. It also brings into focus how women and their partners view the work that she does in “her” space. Allocating a specific, unique room for her creativity gives the undertaking a legitimacy which has previously been absent in the gendered view of art pursuits. The possession of a personal studio in the modern world takes art from being a plaything to being a serious undertaking which merits a specific space and indicates independence, respect and personal autonomy as well as money. This lack of respect for women’s artistic value still prevails, as exemplified in Team LPD’s (2015) piece Artists in their Studios, which includes thirty eight artists in their place of work, only three of whom are women. Those three are Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo and Tamara De Lempika.
Moving away from gender politics, there is also the question of whether a personal studio is a positive or negative aid to creativity. Women often prefer to work in collective groups, sharing spaces and being able to discuss their work in situ. This allows for collaboration and feedback and is popular in arts which require space and funds to house large pieces of equipment, such as furnaces. Others prefer a smaller space, close to the house, where they can work in peace while still being available to the family. And a third group are almost peripatetic, taking their tools with them as they move around. Each group has found a way of carving out a personal space which helps her with the process of making her work.
The studio itself has been a concept for several hundred years, originally appearing in Mediaeval times as the Atelier, where a craftsman would produce his work, accompanied by a series of apprentices, all male. As patronage became the defined way for artists to make a living, they were able to afford bigger studio areas and more assistants until by the 18th century, art was being produced to order on an almost factory scale. With the larger studios came the concept of the Bottega (the workroom) and the Studiolo (the study, a place for contemplation) and a division of thought from action (Wallace, 2014). In the 20th and 21st century, the concept of the art factory was extended ………..
The studio as metaphor
Over and over, references on the subject of studios refer to Pagrum’s excellent article (2007) The ontopology of the artist’s studio as workplace, which delves into the mythology and meaning of the studio. The arrangement of equipment, the ideas boards and mementos that litter the walls and shelves – all serve as a fulcrum for the artist to visualise and plan her work; a messy amalgam of fleeting thoughts and concrete examples which are the influences that inform her own ideas. Bookshelves are particularly interesting as an expression of the work they enjoy and tables overflow with the tools of their trade. Pagrum argues that this heady mix of paraphernalia and tools with ideas and the artist’s experiences merge together to make the studio a shrine to creation, or at least the expectation of creation. This expectation has both positive and negative aspects; the artist retires to this creative space to make her work, but when inspiration is low, the studio can also seem like a prison, with its lowering threat of failure. At the same time, Bain (2005) refers to the need for an artist to construct an identity, and the place of the studio within the construct as a physical expression of that identity.
Each artist’s space tells us as much about them, their personality and their interests as it does about their work. As such, it has been a rich seam of subject matter for artists and photographers for centuries. The subject has been approached by photographers in many ways, and for example, Hossein Amirsadeghi’s (2012) work, Sanctuaries mixes images of people at work with more general portraits of artists in and around their studios. Barbara Yoshida’s fascinating series of 100 studies of women artists (Frank, 2015) focuses on their relationships with their studios more than the space itself, while Kamala Walton’s Works in Progress is more of a personal response to the space and character of different studios in and around Bristol. The Gagosian Museum’s 2015 dual exhibition of how artists and photographers relate to their studios (Architectural Digest, 2015) is an excellent insight into the concept of creation and how different artists express its two sides, while Elina Brotherus’ series Artists at Work looks at the relationship between the subject (the model) and the artist. However, one subject which seems to be lacking is examples of photographers in their studios. Maybe this is because one set of studio lights on a white background looks much like another, or because the modern day photographer’s place of work resembles a computer lab more than an atelier. Perhaps this is something to explore in a later piece of work.
Whichever line of research the author takes to examine the idea of the artist’s studio, it remains a place of mystery and awe, somewhere that is an expression of it’s maker’s personality and identity as well as being a functional space.
“For many years the studio has possessed an aura of glamour, of apartness from the outside world, a place of magic.” (Giles Waterfield, 2009)
Amirsadeghi, Hossein, (2012), Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and Their Studios, London: Thames & Hudson
Architectural Digest (2015) Two exhibitions explore artists’ and photographers’ portraits of their own studios. [online press release] At: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/artists-photographers-studios-gagosian-article (Accessed on 27 July 2017)
Waterfield, Giles (2009) The Artist’s Studio, London: Hogarth Arts.