What Constitutes a “Studio”?

My recent research has encouraged me to think more deeply about the notion of “the studio” and the different forms that a studio might take. Reading Buzz Spector describe the different studios he has occupied throughout his career, I noticed that most of these sites had the following features in common:

  1. A table or easel for working on drawings
  2. Storage for art works (mostly in filing cabinets)
  3. Storage for art supplies, including collage materials
  4. Computer or laptop
  5. Bookshelves

While almost any indoor space could be populated with these features – and thus rendered “a studio” – I am interested in how a studio might be realized in a less obvious, perhaps more mobile or temporary way.

The first thing that occurs to me is that each of the features in the list could be combined with or absorbed into the computer or laptop. The laptop is at once a workstation (table/easel), a place of storage (either internally or via “the cloud”), a place of “art supplies” (for example photo editing and word processing software, along with all manner of online and downloadable apps and other tools), and a place to access literature (a “digital bookshelf”). Of course, the digital nature of this “studio” environment would necessarily limit the ways of working and producing in that studio (much as a furniture-making studio would predispose its occupants to certain kinds of activity). It is also interesting to consider the potential drawbacks engendered by both digital storage of artworks, and the “digital bookshelf” of literature; what problems might arise from it being too easy to store work indefinitely and “out of sight”? What pressures may result from the essentially infinite amount of literature and other resources available to the digital studio-holder?

While the laptop represents a powerful and convenient “portable studio”, there are other options which, while less powerful, are perhaps more mobile. To me the most portable “studio” would be the notebook or sketchbook – ideally pocket-sized, and with the addition of some kind of writing/drawing tool. This “studio” comprises both a “workspace” and a site of internal, analog storage; it could also be adapted to include a limited (though bespoke) library of resources – e.g. copied-down quotations, clippings and other information. In this way the notebook can easily fulfill the definition of the studio as a site in which artworks are conceived and planned. In addition, pages from a notebook may be removed, displayed, copied or shared, making the notebook fulfil an additional (latent or potential) role as a site of distribution as well as production.

While both the laptop and notebook represent rather limited or specific manifestations of “the studio”, I think that it would be interesting to develop these ideas further as part of my research. I also think it might be beneficial to consider alternative manifestations of “the studio” that are perhaps adapted to specific ways of working (for example, the Polaroid camera could be characterized as a “portable studio” which elegantly fulfils the functions of both production and distribution).

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