Reviewed August 2020
Vaughan Hennen, Digital Design and Access Librarian
Dakota State University
The Hirshhorn Museum is documenting the lives and creative processes of artists while in quarantine in a project called Hirshhorn Artists Diaries. Before each video, the following text appears in white, on a black screen: “In April 2020, we reached out to more than 100 artists and asked each to contribute their voice to an artist historical record. The following is a selection from our living archive.”
This is a truly unique collection of videos and an important artifact that allows us into the intimate and vulnerable space of artists. The entire series documents the mental and physical spaces that COVID-19 has impacted, it is striking to see artists’ quiet, empty studios, and their almost shocked reflections on new norms after COVID. Because of this, students of all levels would also benefit from watching these videos, as it shows everyone has a different practice, approach, and creative orientation for the pandemic. Students and art faculty can use this resource for a new perspective of what the “studio” can be - a place of escape, healing, and reflection.
Students, faculty, and librarians should notice this collection, as it is a special place where artists discuss their work tendencies before COVID and goals for what a studio process and professional process might look like after COVID-19. The “diary” entries range from one to three minutes and can feature exclusive and intimate tours of artists’ studios, their stream of consciousness, sometimes typed words, signaling the importance of accessibility in this moment. It is important to remember that the videos take place during the first three months of quarantine, so the feeling of isolation is almost palpable in many of the videos.
Almost all of those who recorded videos discussed how their studio practice and creative processes have been impacted by the pandemic. A common thread throughout the videos are discussions of focus, building a new studio practice, reflection on working, and schedules.
The collection of videos is free, online with no paywall and features a clean, intuitive platform that users can manipulate without much thought. YouTube and the Hirshhorn’s site are the best for access to artists and for documentation after this pandemic has passed. Those interested can access the videos either through the official website Hirshhorn Artist Diaries or through their YouTube channel.
The resource is easy to navigate, once there, but to find the videos from the Hirshhorn’s homepage, one must click “Artists in Quarantine” to get to the series titled “Hirshhorn Artist Diaries.” Titles could be more consistent throughout, to show continuity. The videos are displayed together on one page but don’t seem to be organized in a uniform fashion. Similarly, the naming convention and description in the titles are not consistent throughout the page.
All videos have high-quality captions but do not offer audio descriptions of the studios they are in. Adding audio descriptions could add unique insight to those who have varying visual abilities.
Overall this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in artistic practice. Those who work in museums as directors, curators, or librarians would find this collection of videos enlightening, for the simple fact of emptiness, quiet, and adjusting to working with teams remotely. Because the videos are uploaded each week, this is a living series that will be important to follow, going forward.