Book Review: Bourgeon: Fifty Artists Write About Their Work

The art world is one of the few professional spheres left, where passion trumps all, where one will joyfully abandon money and security, will defy the warnings and wishes of peers and parents, in order to dance, paint, sculpt, write, and otherwise live, one’s ecstasy.

This notion is perhaps no more clear than in the recent anthology Bourgeon: Fifty Artists Write About Their Work, in which Leonard Jacobs writes in the preface, “If you are an artist you have got to do your work. It’s that straightforward. You do your work. You let nothing, you let no one, stop you. You do your work.”

The captivating and insightful anthology, edited by Robert Bettmann, takes the reader on a powerful journey through the intensely unique creativity and dedication that is the DC art scene. It is one in which Megan Coyle says, “I like surprising my viewers—I like it when they don’t realize I am a collage artists and not a painter. Or perhaps I could say I am a painter—I paint with paper.”

Bourgeon depicts the DC arts community in a way similar to how Coyle creates her collages, with an ever evolving, yet always astonishingly imaginative and expressive work process and methodology.

Joan Belmar describes his 3-inch thick worlds under glass, explaining, “The result I hope for is an organic and mysterious world that is in constant movement,” while Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Chair of the Theater and Dance Department at George Washington University explains, “When it is time to start a new work, I suddenly dream lucidly and see scenes from the new dance. It’s as if my subconscious gets filled up, and then moves all the ideas to the forefront of my conscious mind.” 

Bourgeon is written in the context of an evolving art world, one in which great debate exists questioning the value of a college degree.

DC-base painter Prudence Bonds defends self-teaching methods of trial and error and “listens more keenly to intuition,” but with an honest tinge of anxiety, recognizes, “It seems galleries are less likely to take a chance on someone like me.” In the dance realm, Artistic Director for Gesel Mason Performance Projects argues, “If a student’s academic training can teach them how to suspend judgment and navigate fear, then that is a degree worth having.”

Though Bourgeon incites important dialogue surrounding such controversies as formal training and the age-old debate of creating work for the market versus maintaining artistic integrity (DC-based hip-hop teacher and choreographer Aysha Upchurch demands, “Can Hip Hop maintain its integrity as a dance form with so much focus on its entertainment value?” while Executive and Artistic Director of the DC Cowboys Dance Company states, “We actively seek corporate sponsorships and patrons to keep the organization financially stable.”), Bourgeon is at its best when illuminating the buoyant spirit shared among the culturally diverse arts community.

Perhaps we can all learn from dance scholar Laurel Victoria Gray, who writes about Bollywood dance, “In these times of woe anything that brings people together to dance with shared joy should be celebrated.”

Bringing the Art in DC to You,

Roxanne Goldberg