“Because once you strike ‘I am interested in’ from your vocabulary, suddenly things get way more interesting.”
That is the last line of Steve Lambert’s essay “No Longer Interested” and it points to the trickiness of trying to do something as extreme as eliminate a commonly used word or phrase from your usage—what do you say instead? Of course Steve is probably not totally serious when he suggests he wants to completely remove “interested” from his vocabulary (then again, knowing Steve, maybe he is). Though it is a useful polemic to contemplate, and points to a real problem in the status quo system of non-functional art making in general, I think it might also be missing the point a bit.
I recall a similar irritation with the use of the word “notion.” There was a period of time about ten or fifteen years ago when it seemed like every artist statement involved “notions” about subjects or actions instead of just the subjects and actions. I actually collaborated with someone for a while who drove me crazy with his overuse of the word notion. When we gave artist talks together I would count how many times he said notion and then report to him the number (often many dozens) afterwards. Eventually, he curbed his use of the word notion, but somehow managed to switch it for the word “idea” which doesn’t sound as bad, but amounts to the same thing—an obscuring of the real towards a concept of it instead. But though his use of those words irritated me to no end, I don’t think it had much impact on what he, or at that time we, were actually making. No matter how many notions and ideas were discussed, ultimately we came up with actual projects that were actively engaged with real people, places, and dynamics.
It’s not that I don’t think language matters; I do, and continuously try to remedy some language issues that I feel very strongly about. I grew up with three powerful older sisters and many other strong female role models who would not be okay with the usage of the word “girl” for anyone over the age of thirteen. I have a close (female) friend who is a big user of “girl” for women of all ages, and we are currently debating the issue on a regular basis with me arguing that it is often said in unconsciously sexist ways. In my early twenties I started working at Creativity Explored, an art center in San Francisco for adults with developmental disabilities, and I have never been able to tolerate the pejorative use of the words “retarded” or “retard” ever since. There are many other words and phrases that I have similar activist relationships to, but I think “interest” or “I am interested in” will not be one of them. I admit, I myself probably rely too heavily on the word interesting, but I also know that I deeply admire interest in almost all forms, and if anything struggle with its opposite—words and ways of being like “bored,” “disinterested,” “apathetic,” etc. I’m a person who actively appreciates other people who are engaged with or interested in subjects that I’m not even excited about myself (at least not at first). As a result I’ve learned about and produced projects (with a variety of different collaborators) related to topics like Star Trek, James Joyce’s Ulysses, turtles, etc.
Perhaps we are just dealing with semantics, but I don’t think the problem is the use of the word “interested” (though I agree it is overused) and even less in the activity of being interested. What I do totally agree with is the unfortunate condition that most artists seem to put themselves into (with great systemic help) of being disempowered and disengaged with real situations and issues. I feel, as I think Steve does too, that artists should become more engaged with making work that has direct function in society (which includes a wide variety of possibilities, but my own particular direction and interests has to do with site-specific, participatory, and educational practices) rather than focusing so dominantly on obscure, ineffective, theoretical, inaccessible, and strictly commodity based work.
Read more from Growing Dialogue: No Longer Interested
“In Defense of Interest” by Harrell Fletcher – April 3, 2014