Conversation Starter

When can family cause a spark?

Family is an everlasting source of material for artists. Whether it be the family that raised them or they created later on, family matters seep into artwork.

Throughout his videos, performances, installations, and photographs, Bryan Zanisnik draws from his family and personal history. Frequently incorporating his parents in his work, Zanisnik creates performances in which power dynamics—such as struggles for control between parent and child—play out in surreal scenarios. “We’re so inhibited to create or use what’s really at the core of us, because we feel like we need to mediate it or filter it through our education, our experiences, our knowledge,” recalled Zanisnik. “This for me was really a revelation, that something so genuinely a part of my past—it’s something that never was related to art at all—could be an artwork.”

“Narrative and storytelling is in the blood,” declares artist Carrie Mae Weems. Through a mixture of archival personal photos and the artist’s first major photo-documentary series, Family Pictures and Stories, Weems takes the viewer on a personal journey through her childhood in the 1950s.

William Kentridge considers the influence his family had while he was growing up. “Very early on, I was taken to an elderly friend of my grandparents, a Welsh artist named Matthew Whitman, who was painting in Johannesburg,” Kentridge reminisced. “I showed him some of my drawings and he gave me a drawing list, explaining how to draw the veranda of his house and where to put the shadows. I was happy to be watching him looking. While in university, I realized my grandfather’s advice that painting should just be a hobby didn’t hold much water.”

What roles can family play for an artist? How can family participate in the artist’s process?