Laura Owens’ Liberating Take on Talent, Mistakes and Finding A Space of Personal Freedom

In a recent profile in the New Yorker of artist Laura Owens, whose mid-career Retrospective at The Whitney Museum opens on November 10th, we found some really liberating ideas about talent, painting and the BEST take on making mistakes we’ve seen.

We hadn’t considered that talent might really about passion and desire rather than a specific gift we are born with:

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as innate talent. It’s about desires and passions that lead to a focus on certain things and seeing the world in a certain way.

Laura Owens / Gavin Brown’s Enterprise

…Or contemplated where the space of personal freedom is in our own life:

I feel like there’s a space of personal freedom for me where my art-making happens. When I go to that space, I’m completely in this world of possibility. There’s no inner emotional state that I could compare it to; it’s a space that has its own properties, and they don’t have to do with happy or sad or any of that. I would never say to myself, “Okay, let me go into this space of freedom in order to show you about the pain I have.” Do you know what I mean? I’m not in the space of freedom if I’m in pain. I’m in sort of a contracted, negative, or dark space. My work gets created in this space of freedom, and that’s why a lot of it has to do with experimentation, invention, and sort of a juxtaposition of things you wouldn’t normally juxtapose. I keep using the word “freedom”—I know there’s probably a better word, but maybe I feel like painting doesn’t have enough of that as a category so I’ll use it anyway. But as far as sitting in front of one of my paintings and saying, “Oh here’s an emotionally charged, happy painting”—I don’t get that as a viewer of my own work. I more get a feeling about the process of creativity, the synapse of connections happening.

Laura Owens / Whitney Museum of American Art

And although we always knew that mistakes yield huge information and insight and are never a waste, we had never viewed them as windows.

When you make a mistake, see what’s good about it. Mistakes are little windows into what is possible. 


Laura Owens / Gavin Brown’s Enterprise

More of Owens work here.

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