Scott Listfield, a Somerville, MA based artist, participates in the Artists Interview Artists Project. Below Scott responds to another artist's five questions (Michael Janis from Washington, D.C.). In order to participate, Scott had to provide me with five questions for some other artist to answer. The assigning of questions to artists is completely random. If you're an artist and interested in participating, let me know.
1. When did you decide to pursue art as a career?
Who said anything about a career? Seriously, I work during the day. “Career” implies that some kind of money is changing hands, or at least enough to support some kind of payment of rent. You have to be pretty crazy to presume that art will pay your rent. Or if not crazy, at least willing to go all Thomas Kinkade and sell whatever you can. The business of art is something that has always made me kind of uneasy. I find that the best way to deal with the problem is to have steady employment and not rely whatsoever on art to pay the bills. Then I can pretty much do whatever I want without the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that maybe I included a puppy hugging a kitten in that last painting just because I knew it would sell like hot cakes.
Anyhow, not to offend anyone, but art seems like a poor fit for a “career.” In fact, this question confuses me. To get a little clarity, and to be especially cliched, I looked up “career” on dictionary.com and I was going to reprint the definition in full here, just because that would be super cheesy. But then I looked it up and it wasn’t especially helpful.
Career, n. : 1. A chosen pursuit; a profession or occupation.
Well, yeah, obviously. But then I took a look at the second definition:
Career, n. : 2. A path or course, as of the sun through the heavens.
This seemed surprisingly poetic and made me feel like maybe, just maybe, painting is exactly like the sun traveling through the heavens. But then again, so would being a stockbroker or manure salesman.
2. At what point did you call yourself an artist? Was it after a specific artwork or course?
Labeling oneself an “artist” (or better yet an “artiste”) seems like a supremely pompous thing to do. So I’ve been telling everyone that I’m an artist since I first learned to talk at like 1 or 2 because I am a very very pompous man. Seriously, though, if you meet someone, at like a party or something, and they’re all like “I’m an artist,” at least right off the bat, don’t you presume that they’re a prick? I know I do.
No, really, I don’t call myself an artist. I don’t know that the label holds any particular mystique or anything, like suddenly you cross some imaginary threshold and you’re an artist, whereas before you were just some hack who played around with artist’s materials. Actually, yeah, that works better for me I think. I’m a hack who plays around with artist’s materials.
3. Which do you find exerts a stronger influence/impact on your subsequent work, success or failure?
What does this mean? And I don’t mean to get all semantic on anyone here, but what the heck is a success or failure? Of a particular piece? Of a whole show? Who defines what’s a “failure”? I feel like I’m supposed to be all “Failure teaches you far more than success, I loves me some failure.” But that’s ridiculous. Failure blows.
In terms of a specific piece, if it fails, I want to throw it out a window. Actually, much like the Cobra Kai, failure is not really an option. I will have to work on it at least until it gets, you know, a C minus or something. In terms of a show, if I, say, apply to White Columns and don’t get in, well, in the short term that pisses me off and I want to work harder so I can get a solo show at the Guggenheim so I can be all like ”White Columns you SUCK,” because I’m a pretty vindictive person like that. But in the longer term, if I get into White Columns I think it would be much better for my artistic career (which is a notion I pretty much pissed on in question 1 - oops, sorry about that). But regardless of success or failure, if you don’t have some kind of internal motivation, keeping you going during crappy times and keeping your ego at least a little bit in check during good times, you’re probably not going to make it in the long run anyway.
4. Do you find titles to be integral to understanding a work of art? Describe how you develop titles for your work.
Only occasionally. Most of the time a title is pretty much just descriptive. Sometimes a title will in some way justify or provide the subtext for an otherwise totally lame piece of art, which is completely annoying. And I don’t really remember specific pieces of art (particularly my own) by their official title. Usually if I’m talking about it, I’ll be like “That one with Busta Rhymes in it” or “That explosion thing I did last year” or “that piece of crap by Jeff Koons that I kind of like, but I don’t know why.” It’s like when I try to play Simpson’s Trivia and the question goes something like “In Episode 427: Homer Eat’s a Donut, what color shirt was Smithers wearing?” And I always have to say “I think the answer is ‘green’ but I have absolutely no idea what episode that is.”
Regarding my own titles, pretty much about half the time I know what I want to title a piece before I start to work on it. The other half of the time I have no idea and make up something stupid at the absolute last second. When I started making astronaut paintings, they were all titled things like “astronaut on bus” and “astronaut and robot.” But the more paintings I made the more inane that way of titling became. You could kind of assume after a point that in all of my paintings, there was going to be an astronaut doing or looking at something. So titling it “Astronaut doing this” seemed pretty redundant.
5. Who would you invite to a small dinner party you were hosting. The person could be living or dead, including fictional. Describe why this person is your choice.
Why do these things always have to be at a dinner party that I am hosting? What if I don’t like hosting parties? If I am busy hosting the party, how much will I really get to talk with Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sting? If I’m checking on the casserole every five seconds, probably not too much. And how come I feel like I should picks something like ‘Shakespeare, Ghandi, and Jesus,’ whereas I’d be totally lying if I didn’t say ‘Salma Hayek, Natalie Portman, and Winona Ryder, circa Reality Bites, but not contemporary Winona, because she seems a little unhinged lately’? And if I called Charles Darwin back from the dead, wouldn’t he be a little bit pissed that he has to eat the crappy dinner that I made in the microwave and then go back to being dead? I’d be pretty angry.
I guess my final answer is Winston Churchill, Godzilla, and a Unicorn.
Juno Doran (questions by James W. Bailey)
Josh Feldman (questions by Joseph Barbaccia)
Lisa Stephenson (questions by Whitney Lynn)
Joseph Barbaccia (questions by Josh Feldman)
James W. Bailey (questions by Matt Hollis)
Matt Hollis (questions by Juno Doran)
Carol Es (questions by James Leonard)
Alexandra Silverthorne (questions by Ami Lahoff)
Christine Buckton Tillman (questions by Carol Es)
Douglas Witmer (questions by Alexandra Silverthorne)
Sky Pape (questions by Douglas Witmer)
Whitney Lynn (questions by Lisa Stephenson)
Heather Levy (questions by Joanne Greenbaum)
Heather Lowe (questions by Samantha Wolov)
Samantha Wolov (questions by Heather Levy)
Timothy McClellan (questions by Heather Lowe)
James Leonard (questions by Sky Pape)
Joanne Greenbaum (questions by Timothy McClellan)
Richard Kooyman (questions by Robert Walton)
Candy Keegan (questions by Warren Craghead)
Robert Walton (questions by Candy Keegan)
John M. Adams (questions by Richard Kooyman)
Prescott Moore Lassman (questions by Mary Addison Hackett)
Mary Addison Hackett (questions by Prescott Moore Lassman)
Andrew Wodzianski (questions by Nathan Manuel & D.Billy)
Nathan Manuel & D.Billy (questions by Andrew Wodzianski)
Michael Janis (questions by Scott Listfield)