As a curator, I am sometimes the de facto spokesperson for the artists represented in a gallery. When I was first asked “how did they ever come up with this idea?,” I tried my best to answer with a well-articulated (in my opinion) response that incorporated stated artist intention, the context of the work relative to past and present, and a relationship to contemporary art and society. But that answer was not good enough—whether or not it was a question that could really be answered, I wanted to try. What I have come to realize is that that question is nearly impossible to answer to any asker’s satisfaction because quantifying and qualifying creativity is incredibly difficult. Even when an artist is transparent about the process, an aura of impenetrability remains. The creative process is individual and comprised of a myriad of components, not the least of which is the very real reality that every single person’s experience—and therefore perspective from which to draw—is unique. 

Given all of that, asking questions about why and how artists make what they make reflects curiosity and a desire to connect. We live at a time when social media has made sharing (and over-sharing) a standard activity— but being interested in an artist and their studio is a centuries-old phenomena. Sharing what inspires or how something is made may have relatable aspects even if the exact path between the genesis of an idea and the creation of an artwork could not be conveyed to everyone’s liking.

The desire to ask about function does not stem from the fact that these artists are rooted in contemporary craft as much as it reflects a genuine interest in underscoring the complexity of this type of work—it’s potential for broad and layered meaning. And it reveals something about the way artistic endeavors connect to lived experience (is it assumed that painters put their own paintings on their living room walls?).