Friday, November 20, 2009

Systems and Classification

The other night I got a phone call from a friend, and I was very rude, very distracted. I was busy trying to figure out the system behind the PBS Art 21 series—how was it organized? Did each season have the same thematic words as the principal of organization? I had just started writing down the words when the phone rang, and I just could not shake myself out of my pondering, so I hung up quickly. This ability, or obsession, with focusing, sorting, cataloging and making connections between things that are sometimes correct (and, as my husband likes to point out, often bizarre and very far off the mark), helps me to understand the world.

Finally I had an ah-ha moment and realized that each program had its own word (theme) and this was divided into four segments (artists). So far there have been five seasons, every other year since 2001. Four programs per year means five times four times four equals eighty artists categorized by twenty words.

The twenty themes have been:






Loss and Desire















After I got that sorted out, I made a list of all the artists in each segment that we have seen so far. Eventually we will get to them all. Sometimes the categorization is self-evident, but more often it seems arbitrary, or at least just one part of the puzzle. I guess that is the more accurate description—since most artists or people in general are multi-faceted and could be placed in different categories. That is the fallacy of any system of division—whether it is horoscopes or numerology or whether you prefer vanilla, chocolate or strawberry ice cream—we all have shades of the variables within us. Nevertheless, I sent an email to several friends and asked them to place themselves, and the rest of us in one of the Art 21 categories. I think it was an interesting exercise. It certainly made me think about myself and my work, and five other artists and their work, in a concentrated manner. I found certain words were easily eliminated and some seemed to cluster. Some topics could have worked for any of us (is that why we are all friends?) but in the end I made individual decisions for each of these people, as they did for the rest of us. No one had just one attribute, though there was similar choices made—which must show that we each have some consistency or clarity that is being expressed.

Now I am thinking about visual ways to express categorization or systems of being.

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