I don’t use comment books at shows: instead I use a “Question Book.” At the top of each page of my book, I put a question that has something to do with the concept of my show—love and money for Mutually Beneficial, gender and change for Swollen, and the American identity for Apple Pie. These questions get me a lot of interesting feedback along with the usual reassuring compliments and occasional vitriol.
What’s more, because viewers often answer more than one question, I get to know the people who were most interested or provoked by my show. Each answer gives more context for the next. For example, the woman who wrote “maybe not people’s hearts sometimes” on the page above, also shared that she thinks that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from real Americans, that “carrying what they did in the past and trying to make things better” is what it means to be American, that the descendants of slaves are owed no restitution, that she defines herself as “an artist and a wife,” that the quintessential American looks “stupid,” that she “kind of” likes my paintings, and that I am “charging too much.” Fascinating how all that can be rolled into one person!
I already wrote a post about Apple Pie’s “Question Book” when the show closed in Portland last fall, but, with the DIVA exhibition in Eugene, I got a whole new slew of answers, and one person’s responses in particular made an impression on me. I’ve reproduced some of my questions along with his answers below.
What does it mean to be American?
“I know, but it’s personal.”
Who is your favorite American icon?
Would you have preferred the turkey to the eagle as a symbol of the United States?
“Neither. Maybe a $.”
How do you participate in the making of America?
“I don’t and won’t.”
Do you feel like a native American?
“I am a Native American.”
What are you?
What do you do?
How would you feel about upping our immigrant quotas and therefore allowing more legal immigrants into the country?
“Yes. Good idea.”
Do you feel a connection to your immigrant heritage?
When did your family come to the United States?
“Tens of thousands of years ago, so they tell me.”
Whom do you think of when you hear the term “Indian”?
“Prefer it to sickly sweet Native American.”
Do you feel attached to the land of your birth?
“Yes, especially the Black Hills. Give em back.”
Do you feel like you belong?
“Once upon a time. Do you?”
Are you proud to be an American?
“Sort of. Sometimes. Actually, no.”
Are you politically correct?
Do you ever eat at McDonald’s?
Do you like your country?
“Which? USA version or the original?”
How do you define yourself?
How do you feel about Walmart?
Who will get your vote?
“None of your business.”
What is a quintessentially American way of thinking?
What is a quintessentially American piece of art?
Do you believe that there is such a thing as race?
What about ethnicity?
Which is your favorite painting in the series?
“Indian—not part of the flow and what I like most about the rest because the rest is so much you.”
Do you have any questions for me?
“Will you promise me you won’t stop painting? Will you make more prints? Will you focus on them and drawing at some point? Will you do something for yourself beyond more supplies and rent with the sales? You should. I love the fact that you took such a stodgy tired old concept and had fun with it.”
Art doesn’t happen without audience participation. And it isn’t just that art is not complete until it acts as a medium for communication between the artist and her-his viewers, it’s that I won’t make if I can’t make something that engages with you.