chapter  6
Turner: Space, persona, authority
BySAM SMILES
Pages 16

Given the volume of critical theory of the last 50 years questioning the primacy of authorship, it is perhaps remarkable that the biography is still an important constituent of arts publishing. In its desire to locate the wellsprings of creativity, artistic biography carries with it a number of assumptions that are redolent of its nineteenth-century hey-day.1 Biography unites what may often be a heterogeneous life’s work under the unitary sign of one individual, giving authorship a pre-eminent position and circumscribing a professional career with the outline of the life itself. The biographical narrative moves in a relatively narrow compass, from the artist to his/her social and professional circle, giving the ‘outside world’, at best, the function of a mise-en-scène, providing a loose context for creativity, or using it to explain any sudden violation of the organic world of artistic production, normally restricted to domestic and collegial spaces. Art works, on this model, are ultimately expressive of their maker, irrespective of their imbrication in a variety of social and ideological contexts; artists and their motives are prioritised over works and their effects. The implication is that knowledge of an artist’s birth, upbringing and daily life, the familial and social spaces in which s/he works, makes an important, perhaps an essential contribution to any serious engagement with their artistic production. To that extent, biography can be distinguished from a critical study of an artist’s achievement, where authorship is at least balanced by wider contextual understandings.