Alec Soth: Should artists be entertainers?

Taking a short break from another long day of writing, we decided to troll around for an update on the Alec Soth portrait auction announced two weeks ago via his blog, Little Brown Mushroom. In an effort to help out with medical expenses for friend and collaborator Brad Zellar, Soth is making this rare opportunity available on Ebay until November 25th. We love Soth’s work, but would never stand a chance of winning–and indeed after 8 bids by 4 individuals, the bidding stands at $8100 with g***g holding down a slim lead over the next highest bidder. Just two more days to get your bids in, folks, and all for a good cause…

But actually this is not the main purpose of our post today, which is in fact to share the stumbled-upon blog entry just below Soth’s portrait auction announcement, “Should artists be entertainers?” Expressing a desire for more narrative/storytelling in photobooks, Soth here proffers his view that there are three levels or outcomes of artmaking: as entertainment, as education, and as agent for change.

He subsequently encounters and considers opinions which both contradict and support his position: a) that true artists never set out to entertain, even if their art brings pleasure to an audience in the end (John Gossage), or b) that despite Kafka’s exhortation that art “must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our souls”, it all boils down to entertainment and its “suave henchman,” pleasure (Michael Chabon).

Soth believes that entertainment is essential, that his consideration of the audience is integral to his work. And yet, he finds that he is also entertained (and, we assume, educated and changed) by the work of artists like Gossage who make no such effort to address or entertain an audience. This is an interesting dichotomy to consider.

Here, for your consideration are some works by Soth (above) and Gossage (below), along with links to Soth’s blog, online bookstore, and website–where we finally and thankfully learn that the correct pronunciation of Soth rhymes with “both”.

Should artists be entertainers? post from Alec Soth’s blog, Little Brown Mushroom

Alec Soth’s website
Direct link to Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi which we saw in New York in 2004 and which is still incredible

John Gossage’s The Pond exhibition and webcast on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

The blog of Alec Soth and friends, Little Brown Mushroom
Alex Soth’s portrait auction announcement 
For the bidders: Ebay page for Alec Soth portrait auction
Alec Soth’s online bookstore 

Conductors of the Moving World collaborative book project by Alec Soth and Brad Zellar
Just in time for Thanksgiving, an apropos post from Brad Zellar’s entertaining (yes, entertaining–and possibly educational, even life-changing) blog, Your Man for Fun in Rapidan

images, from top to bottom:
Alec Soth, three photographs from the book and exhibition The Last Days of W, 2008
John Gossage, three photographs from the series 
The Pond, 1985, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of anonymous donors 

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