For any project, creative or otherwise, self-doubt can be your worst enemy. Or it can be your driving force. For Rachel Rose, a young artist who delivered Amherst’s 2017 Rapaport Lecture in Contemporary Art, it’s the latter.
Highly praised in contemporary art circles for her experiential video installations, Rose spoke to students, faculty and staff in Fayerweather Hall earlier this month.
The lecture and Q&A focused on Rose’s experiences as an undergraduate at Yale and an M.F.A. student at Columbia University, and on her burgeoning career as a video artist. (The New York Times called her “the Next Big Thing” in 2015, and she’s since shown her work in prestigious museums and galleries worldwide.)
Before making video art, Rose was an abstract painter. When she began having to defend her work in graduate critiques, Rose said, she questioned why she was painting in the first place. “It suddenly just felt flat and meaningless.” She set her sights on filmmaking instead. Since graduating from Columbia in 2013, she has filmed, edited and produced five films that explore mortality, global warming and space exploration, among other topics.
She said she gives great consideration to how her videos are installed and experienced. During a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York City, for example, Rose projected the video onto a transparent scrim in front of a window so that viewers would see a disorienting oscillation between the virtual world of video and real world behind it.
During the Q&A, Rose offered practical career advice: “One of the most useful things is to work for another artist, because then you see what the real-world mechanism of it is.”
She also offered insights to those struggling with self-doubt: “I still feel enormous cynicism and doubt about art, about being an artist and the context in which my work is shown.” But through this doubt, “I’ve discovered energy,” she said. “My cynicism and doubt about what a work could mean gives me a certain freedom. This doubt about art doesn’t feel debilitating; it feels like a necessary tool for producing anything.”
Chloe Tausk ’19E, a studio art and English major in the audience, related. “I appreciated hearing her speak about her doubts as an artist,” Tausk said after the talk. “The questions that used to intimidate her in college and graduate school now seem to drive her thoughts and intentions as she makes art.”
Another student asked Rose about how she cultivates ideas. “I wish there was a better word for research, because it’s not exactly the right word,” Rose said. “I use JSTOR but then it’s almost like I try to let the work explode into the way that I’m living and absorbing, so that it’s all-encompassing.” She pointed to her most recent work, Lake Valley (2017), an animated video inspired by 1970s animated movies and psychedelic music.
“What’s really fun about doing research when you’re not in school is that it can feel so open and free associative,” Rose said. “All the limits that I felt when I was a student—about the correct footnote and everything being right—are gone, and I can use academic research as a material in my work.”
Rose’s lecture was made possible by the Brooke Kamin Rapaport ’84 Lectureship in Contemporary Art Fund, which aims to increase awareness of contemporary art among students and in the community.
To see more of Rose’s work, visit http://www.pilarcorrias.com/artists/rachel-rose/