Disrupting Norms, Defying Expectations

Roughly once a month, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

Somewhere along the line, “disruptive innovation” became a buzzy concept in business circles. But disruption, innovation, and defied expectations have long been tools in the artist’s kit. We asked artists, Is it a priority in your work to disrupt norms or defy expectations?

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Samuel Rowlett, visual artist
In my work I only ever try to disrupt the norms I impose upon myself. What my work prioritizes is its own business.

For me (I’m sure I’m not alone in this) my work begins as an idea. Often it is not even visual in nature; it is almost like a word I can’t remember. My work starts as more language than image. In this early, proto-art state, the work is formless, to some extent even boundless. Here, the work has a near unlimited potential, it is purely theoretical, it is something unproven by nature. I wish I could hold the work in this state for longer.

Inevitably, it is in fact “norms” (all the things I know and much of what I really don’t know) that actually give the work “form” and provide a bridge to the physical world. Norms, such as those fostered by the history and traditions of art and visual culture, constitute a complex vocabulary. Disrupting those norms is how artists communicate with each other.

As far as expectations go, I’m more of an expectation avoider. I have this theory that if I can avoid expectations, I might be able to defy disappointment.

Ryan P. Casey, tap dance artist
Because I find that people have very rigid notions or images of what tap is – Fred Astaire twirling with a cane, perhaps, or a Broadway musical – I make it a priority in my work to subvert expectations. I’ve combined tap with poetry; performed with basketballs; choreographed character-driven pieces that integrate tap into a narrative; and other techniques intended primarily to display to the audience tap’s (and rhythm’s) versatility. I want them to think, “I didn’t know you could do that with tap!”

It’s true that tap has a very distinct tradition, which so many of its practitioners strive to emphasize and inculcate in their students, but there is so much innovation within it already: Astaire’s firecracker routine from Holiday Inn, for instance, or the many Vaudevillian variations on tap (in roller skates, on stairs, etc.). Sometimes people think tap can’t tell stories or express emotions or accomplish other feats commonly associated with ballet, contemporary, modern, and other styles. It’s important to me to clarify that tap can, in fact, achieve those kinds of effects in its own way, and that, as a percussive dance style, it has its own special and equally worthy qualities.

Nancy Selvage, sculpture and interdisciplinary artist
I strive to create work that engages me and the viewer in a discovery process. The disruption of norms and defiance of expectations often emerge from these exploration processes; however, neither is the initial impetus or the priority.

In many of my installations the alteration of expectations has been an important factor (but not primary goal) in creating a compelling and emotional experience of space. (See reviews of Convergence, Nuclear Home, and Dwell for viewer responses.)

Whether I start with a plate on a table or a wall in a plaza, I am interested in the convergence of actual, implied, and symbolic content to express social and environmental concerns. (Read more.)

 

Ryan P. Casey is a tap dancer, teacher, choreographer and journalist. He’ll perform his show Gumshoes in Tap Shoes at the Dance Complex in Cambridge 2/6 & 2/7, 8 PM.

Trained as a painter, Samuel Rowlett‘s work filters sculpture, performance, video, and photography through the language and materiality of painting and drawing. He was just named as a 2015 MCC Artist Fellow in Sculpture/Installation/New Genres.

Nancy Selvage, a public artist and sculptor, has support from the New England Foundation for the Arts to create the Point Park Public Art Project in Lowell, MA.

Image: Samuel Rowlett, LANDSCAPE PAINTING IN THE EXPANDED FIELD (FIELD PAINTING) (2012), oil on linen, wood, backpack harness, 96×72 in.

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