Before participating in a panel discussion at the recent Blouin Creative Leadership Summit, MFA Art Practice Department Chair David Ross stopped to chat with Artinfo on a wide range of topics, from defining an artist’s work to the kind of students who attend his program at SVA.
“The job of the artist, first, is to understand the purpose of their work,” Ross told Artinfo. “What is the purpose of their art? In whose interest does the art exist? Why are they doing what they’re doing? If they can first answer that question, that answer will lead them to a series of other questions, one of which is ‘What tools? What media? What structures do I need to engage with in order to create the work that’s consistent with the purpose of my work?’”
Evaluating the success of an artist’s work is something else entirely. According to Ross, that’s a personal matter. “From the artist’s perspective, artists generally want their work to succeed even if in the eyes of the public, for instance, or the eyes of a critic, it fails,” he said. “An artist knows when a work has succeeded because it has successfully done what it was they set out to do.”
Ross also told Artinfo that the kinds of students that join the MFA Art Practice Department are typically artists who have been working for awhile. “The average age is the late-30s, and anecdotally you might say they’ve already built a boat in the basement,” he said. “And so now, they realize, ‘Why did I build a boat in the basement? I can’t use it in the basement, and I can’t even get it out of the basement, so if I had known why I was doing what I was doing before I started, I probably would have built a boat near water somewhere, and outdoors,’ if you follow me.”
Before joining the faculty at SVA, Ross served as director of the Whitney, the SFMOMA, and Boston’s ICA, among other professional experiences. Throughout it all, Ross has remained consistent in his goals. “As a curator, as a museum director, as a writer, and now as somebody who’s working in an art school, my attitude hasn’t really changed,” he said. “It’s always been to encourage artists to be honest with themselves, and to ask themselves the hard and big questions in ways that propel their own work forward, that enable them to work in a way that at least is consistent with their own sensibility, not with their own extrinsic, external pressures or forces.”
To read the full interview, which includes Ross discussing his rock band Red, visit Artinfo.