Response to Richard Tuttle’s Lecture (Franklin Perry Martin)

Response to artist lecture: Richard Tuttle

My first impression when Tuttle began to speak was, ‘Man, this guy has done enough drugs to completely lose his mind.’  His sentences were quiet and disconnected, he appeared to slip into a sort of daydream every couple of minutes, and often would lose his train of thought, pausing for long periods of time to collect himself.  Considering this was my first exposure to Tuttle and his work, I was quick to judge.  In my eyes his sculptures were childish and incomplete.  I was also even further removed from his stylistic tendency given the impression I received from his speaking style.  I assumed, how could someone so spacy have a clear mental image of what he was trying to communicate through his art?

Presently, as some time has passed between seeing him speak and considering his intentions and characteristics, I realize I was far too quick to sweep his credibility from under him before knowing a single fact about him.  From the notes I took during his lecture, and the information presented about him online, I realize that rather than being unable to communicate an idea, Tuttle is caught between the desire to express an expansive emotional feeling using inert symbols and the inability to do so fully.  I now attribute his ‘spacy-ness’ to the difficulties of explaining a deeply profound emotional feeling or realization to a group of people who has not experienced the idea before.  It seems similar to telling a story to a friend, and when unable to explain the true magnitude of the situation, you default to saying ‘you just had to be there.’

Tuttle validates this notion through his recognition of the belief that “art is a spiritual revelation…we have not made a sculpture that fully captures the abstraction of the [human] figure.”  I find this statement interesting and also true.  Interesting because there are so many diverse examples of sculpture of the human figure, from the works of Auguste Rodin to the white dancers erected in the lawn outside the Denver Center for Performing Arts, that at least one could potentially be considered accurate.  On the other hand, I think Tuttle is onto something here relative to the abstract side of the human figure that does indeed exist.  This abstraction, what makes a human who they are- their life choices, past experiences, and emotionality, is nearly impossible to communicate through a singular example of one moment in time.  This, I feel, is the pinnacle of the difficulties Tuttle has in imparting his experiential process of creation to any given audience.

“Richard Tuttle is a Postminimalist artist know for his small, subtle, intimate works.  His art makes use of scale and line…and span a range of media (Wikipedia).”  He has been criticized for just how minimalist his work actually is, and is considered the ‘artist’s artist (Wikipedia).’  I feel as though Tuttle can be considered the ‘artist’s artist’ for the same reason that I found it difficult to understand his motives when I heard him speak.  For other artists, Tuttle’s ideas of abstraction and the inability to fully capture it are easily grasp-able, as they have been considering topics of a similar nature professionally.  For those of us who have not exposed ourselves to these ideals and modes of thought prior to viewing Tuttle’s lecture, this becomes more difficult.

Tuttle’s lecture focused on his second exhibition “What’s the Wind,” a series of sculptures he calls ‘systems.’  These ‘systems’ are designed to “conceive of sculpture as spatial interpenetrations rather than concrete three-dimensional form.  Each sculpture is based on an outer “space frame” and an inner assemblage of elements made from various materials (ArtLog).”  Tuttle admitted that his orientation of the sculptures inside of their frames allows for separation of viewpoints and allows the audience to be brought ‘into’ the sculpture at certain angles.  He explained that the way the brain and eyes work provides a human with many opportunities and options for making sculptures out of what is offered to them.  He continued this thought to expand on this idea with the addition that people would rather be ‘slaves’ than deal with ‘freedom.’  Considering the idea that individuals may limit themselves to interpreting a single art piece in one way only, he attempts to display this learned helplessness through the restraints of his sculpting.

Tuttle’s most profound point relative to his artwork, that I think makes a lot of sense, is his idea that “art invites a number of elements to come into proximity and have a conversation.”  By displaying his sculptures in his unique way, both limited and augmented by their frames, he invites the human audience to come into close contact with his pieces and have a conversation with them- not literally, but in the abstract sense of the word.  This idea is relatively new in terms of artwork in my opinion, considering that I feel that most artists have a specific idea they are trying to explain, whereas Tuttle seems to want his audience to come to their own conclusions regarding his work.  I think that this perspective allows for a more realistic communication between artist, piece, and audience.  Without a strict guideline for interpretation, the audience is able to freely associate themselves with any aspect of the artwork, and (for me) this creates a more legitimate ‘conversation’ between all involved in the process.

Overall, my initial opinion of Richard Tuttle was entirely incorrect.  Considering I was quick and harsh to judge his personal appearance, and this clouded my ability to appreciate the deeper meaning behind his creations.  In the future, I will attempt to keep an open mind when weighing an artist’s personal aesthetic, and afterwards come to a conclusion about their career and creations.



“Richard Tuttle.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Apr. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <;.

“Richard Tuttle: What’s the Wind.” Artlog /. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <;.

3 Responses

  1. I absolutely loved your lecture review. I did not attend Tuttles lecture solely due to the fact that I despised his work. Your lecture review really made me re-look his simple little creations and “systems”. I really kind of got into them a little more after reading some of your reactions and interpretations. I particularly liked your opening quote of Tuttles where he describes how the human figure is the ultimate abstraction. I now view his art as depictions of some form of the human spirit, and this has really changes my opinions of Tuttles. Thank you.

  2. Im glad you noticed how disconnected he was, I found it weird how he was having a hard time with coming up with things to say to the audience. It was very frustrating. All together your paper was very interesting and enjoyable to read. You did a wonderful job of describing his ideas and artistic process

  3. I am very jealous you were able to attend this lecture! I had planned on going all semester, but was required to attend a screening the night of his lecture. This past summer, at the Venice Bienale, Tuttle had an installation piece that I was dying to see, but was unfortunately shut out of it due to the enormous line. I had never considered Tuttle’s work to be that popular with the average contemporary art-goer, but I was proven wrong in Venice.

    I really enjoyed your review of his lecture. The way you worked through your own feelings towards Tuttle through the paper made me questions my own feelings for him as well. When you said “Tuttle is caught between the desire to express an expansive emotional feeling using inert symbols and the inability to do so fully,” you seemed to hit the nail on the head! That one statement encapsulates his entire canon of work.

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