Confessional Art

[Walks into lecture and rocks out to some Beyoncé]

Confessional art is something we actually all know about – especially if you’ve heard any pert of Beyoncé’s new album, Lemonade, which describes her confession about how Jay-Z cheated on her. (And also, it is a pretty damned good album.) Beyoncé – Hold Up – YouTube

*If I’m totally honest, I’m just going to throw some artists that I learnt about out there and some of them you many have no clue about how they are connected to confessional art. But that is okay, everyone feels confused about art at some point in their lives.*

The definition that is ‘commonly’ used is;

Confessional art is a form of contemporary art that focuses on an intentional revelation of the private self. Confessional art encourages an intimate analysis of the artist’s, artist’s subjects’, or spectators confidential, and often controversial, experiences and emotions. Confessional art emerged in the late 20th century, especially in Great Britain, and is closely associated with autobiographical visual arts and literature.

Source: Confessional Art Definition

I hope to bend this definition, and the definition that which you may personally hold, just as our Monday presentation did with my perception of confessional art.

Confessional art is normally about violence against women, pregnancy and miscarriage. But why? We spoke as a group and decided that; it makes you feel like a part of a bigger group, to make yourself vulnerable, drawing attention, getting things off of your chest, and connection. I have highlighted three particular definitions that the group came up with, as these are some things that I haven’t previously thought of, and these caught my ear the most. If I were you, I would keep them in the back of your mind, just as I did, when reading through the rest of this post.

Sophie Calle produced two pieces of confessional artwork, the first of which I an unsure of the name of it. This piece is about how she asked 100 women to translate and interpret a ‘love letter’ (I’ve put this in inverted commas and you will understand if you read the English translation). There were psychologists and those who looked at grammar, and just women who interpreted it in their own individual way. This allowed a connection to other women that were experiencing the same situation, or have felt those emotions described in the letter. Interesting. Expressive. Emotional.


Sources: Sophie CalleSophie Calle (1)Sophie Calle (2)Sophie Calle (3)Sophie Calle (4)

Sophie Calle also did another piece which I find a little strange, and really quite personal. She shows a video of the last moments of her mothers life, or as some may interpret it, the first moments of her mothers death. I am unsure as to why it, so say, freaks me out. To me, it’s just a bit weird to show the public this very private moment of not only your own life, but your own mothers life – presumably a woman of whom Sophie was very close to. It also, for me, raises questions of whether her mother would have wanted this. (Unfortunately I cannot find a copy of this video online.) This piece also raised questions for what Sophie Calle is trying to confess. Is it something to do with her relationship with her mother? Or perhaps it is about life and death?

Contemporary art has been described as ‘other art’ before, because some don’t take it seriously. However, more descriptive, more appreciative words can also be used (which are words that I like);






This leads on to the discussion within confessional art of ‘the person is the political’. This came around in 1970’s feminism when personal lives started to become politics. Caroline Hamish (and other women were also involved) were criticised for just having a conversation about their lives in meetings because many people didn’t believe what they did; that the personal is political. This is also all different depending on what race, gender, and sexuality we are, because people view us differently according to these things. Making confessional artwork in the first person can counteract this and make the piece more powerful.

Carolee Schneeman made her powerful statement with her 1975 performance of Interior Scroll. [I do not advise watching the performance if you look for it because even the photos are pretty shocking, even if you do have a lot of curiosity.] This piece is incredibly confrontational and

the text was taken from a super 8 film Schneeman had begun in 1973 entitled Kitch’s Last Meal. It recounts a conversation with ‘a structuralist film-maker’ in which the artist sets intuition and bodily processes, traditionally associated with ‘woman’, against traditionally ‘male’ notions of order and rationality. Critics originally identified the male figure as the filmmaker Anthony McCall (born 1946), who was Schneemann’s lover between 1971 and 1976.

Source: Tate – Schneeman


Source: Caroline SchneemanCaroline Schneeman (1)

Tracey Emin also went for the controversial with her 1995 piece of ‘Why I Never Became a Dancer’. In this, she described that she hated as school and so at 13, she left and hung around cafes. All summer she had nothing to do but dream and have sex. There were no morals or rules or judgements. She was able to do what she wanted to do. She was being used as an escape, so she used dance as hers. This did backfire on her when at a dance competition she was singled out in her performance when most of the ‘lads’ she’d had sex with, were shouting out ‘slut’. She therefore could never escape the place that she wanted to escape from. This piece also shows revenge elements as she names some of those people she slept with in the video in order to name and shame those elders who had sex with a minor, a 13 year old. Tracey Emin is also known for her pieces named ‘My Bed’ and ‘The Tent’. Interestingly, My Bed did include a noose, however when Saatchi bought the piece, this part was taken away. Did this take away some of the confession of Emin’s confessional artwork?

Both of the pieces, Interior Scroll and Why I Never Became a Dancer both have double standards of being a woman. For example, Emin was a ‘slut’ but those who slept with her slept with a 13-year-old. Let’s think about that for a minute…

Confessional art has also been made as part of Hannah Black’s MA in the form of the 2014 video, ‘The Neek’. Within this piece there are discussions of family, patriarchy and mixed race. There are also elements of talk of communism. It has be said, which is very clear if you watch this particular piece, is that you would have a different relationship to the work depending on your personal relationship with the artist. So for example, I had no idea who this artist was, and so I interpreted this piece differently to those who had heard of this artist, and who had seen her works previously. Along with the audio, there were images of different parts of the neck, and ovals which would often be layered, and also appear on different parts of the neck. As a group, we came up to several thoughts as to why this was; venn diagrams / representation / what if it is a painting, the ovals are completely separate from the neck and would be more distinct in the painting / representation of the drawing talked about / draws attention about the neck / when talking about things, that’s where her neck gets warm.

Caspar Heinemann takes a slightly different approach to confessional art. Their piece (that IS intentional – you will see in a second) is a 2015 video of ‘Angry Contingent Gender Poem’ (Caspar’s Tumblr Blog: This raises the question for the viewer, before even watching the video, of what is gender? In 2016 we don’t really know the true answer to that but we would relate it to the male and the female. The social construct. However, some people don’t feel like they belong in these categories, and there is a lot of prejudgements with these categories that are made.

As I used, Caspar uses ‘they’ pronouns. This is because she isn’t male nor female. Do you have to be? The video also looks like a very personal thing for something but they couldn’t say it publicly, which makes it a very relatable piece. It is also filmed in what looks like a bedroom – again, making it very relatable. Their words that are spoken are full of emotion and passion, but they are spoken in a monotone. Is the monotone the way that they find people talk to them about gender? Does the monotone represent their judgement of gender; they don’t care? There is also no eye contact with the camera or the viewer, which contradictory makes it more personal and impersonal at the same time.

Moving onto Derek Jarman and his piece ‘Blue’, created in 1993. This is a piece made from a 35mm film which has been transferred to a digital file, to add colour and sound. The duration is 75 minutes. A few months after making this, he died of AIDs, in a time where a lot of people in the art community were dying. However, at the point that he made this piece, he was loosing his eyesight. The piece, although it is about the course of the illness for Derek Jarman, is very anonymous, as he uses no images and actors were speaking. This was not image heavy, unlike all the previous confessional artworks that have been looked at in this post. This allows it to link to the subject matter of going blind. The audio, or the video, also described the lives and deaths of friends that he had who also died of the disease. Sometimes within the piece, it is almost as if he is talking out loud rather than specifically talking to someone else. This piece confesses the struggle and the life that you live with AIDs, very much to the last few moments.

Nan Goldin also did a very emotional and powerful piece of ‘Nan One Month After Being Battered’, a 1984 photography piece. This is also part of a slide show and book in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

Nan one month after being battered 1984 by Nan Goldin born 1953

Source: Tate – Nan

This piece has been within the conversation of queer – a queer being defined as differentiated people who are bisexual, gay, transsexual, lesbian, those who like someone like this, and those who are not of the social norm. An insult. Within this piece, she does not hide the fact that she is bruised. In fact, she looks like she is just about to go out with lipstick and jewellery on, but no make up to cover the marks. This piece is very confrontational, strong, striving, explicit and visceral. She is staring straight at the camera, as if to say she is not afraid. This piece, like the Caspar Heinemann piece, is very relatable due to the low tech and low budget production.

Frida Kahlo is incredibly well known for her confessional work. Frida was ill and bedridden for the majority of her life, and used artwork, specifically painting, to confess how she felt about all of this. One of these paintings is the ‘Broken Column’, which is a 1944 oil on board painting, 39.8cm x 30.6cm. For this piece she shows her spinal surgery, and the way in which she is trying to self heal herself, even though the wounds will always be open and there.


Source: The Broken Column

My Birth, another piece by Frida, shows her giving birth to herself. Above the scene on the bed, a painting of her grandmother, or the Virgin Mary, hangs on the wall, overlooking. This scene is not pretty either, Frida paints what childbirth is like with all the blood and other juices. Before this painting, her mother had recently died and she had a miscarriage. Both of these themes can be seen in this confessional art piece.


Source: My Birth

A piece that is connected to this is The Arrival by Louise Bourgeois, made out of glass, wood and stainless steel. Compared to Frida’s work, the dimensions of this work is 142.2 x 61 x 50.8cm. Sadly, Louise only became well known for her work when she was 75 years old, but still continued her profession into her 90’s.


Source: MOMA – The Arrival

Another couple of confessional pieces that are inspirations are;

Mary Kelly, Post Partum Document, 1975, where she documents her child’s first 6 years in detail, from nappy analysis, to how she felt about childcare that day.

Chris Klaus, I Love Dick, 1997, New York: semictexte

Travis Alabanza and Live Wynter at Late at Tate 2016 — Late at Tate – YouTube

Tracey Emin’s artworks are often provocative, raw and emotional, drawing on experiences from her personal life, from her sexual history, abuse and abortion to gender and relationships.  Performance artists Travis Alabanza and Liv Wynter have collaborated on a poetic response to Emin’s My Bed exploring some of these themes.

Travis Alabanza is a Black, queer, non binary performance artist who uses live poetry, visuals and sound to create art centred around race, gender and class.  Liv Wynter is a queer female artist who uses an anarchic and punk exploration of language, rap and poetry performance to bring attention to issues such as trauma, recovery, abuse, sexual violence and identity to challenge the idea of intimacy and without compromise.

Source: Late at Tate – What’s on

PLEASE NOTE that all of the artists that have been talked about in this post, all but two were female. Is this because there are more things women can confess about? Or are men not taken seriously in confessional art? Or are there simply more women making confessional art?

Just something for you to think about.

0 Replies to “Confessional Art”

  1. Thank you for your blog. I’m reading it to gather some extra info for my Art history class.. I’ve been studying Tracey’s “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With” for an essay. It was a good source! Thanks

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