“Artists don’t know the meaning of their work,” Smith said. “They can tell you everything about it…But their job is to make something that goes out into the world and attracts people and attracts language. I’m throwing language at it.”
New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, said that to Kent Wolgamott recently and the meaning of her statement was brought home today in Sally Mann’s essay on her experience of being portrayed as a negligent, even exploitative, mother in the aftermath of this New York Times Magazine profile (above.)
I was blindsided by the controversy. It occasionally felt as though my soul had been exposed to critics who took pleasure in poking it with a stick. I thought my relative obscurity and geographic isolation would shield me, and I was initially unprepared to respond to the attention in any cogent way. And all of this was worsened by the cosmically bad timing of the book’s release, which coincided with a debate around an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs that included images of children along with sadomasochistic and homoerotic imagery, stimulating widespread discussion about what constituted obscenity in art. Into this turbulent climate, I had put forth my family pictures. Although barely a quarter of them depicted a nude child, I was unfailingly described as the woman who made pictures of her naked kids, an assertion that inflamed my critics, many of whom had never actually seen the work.
Sally Mann’s Exposure (NYTimes.com)