What Do You See? Think? Say? is a book on private and public responses to art, conducted as a Winter study project by Williams College students directed by Lucy R. Lippard in Williamstown, Massachusetts in January of 1976. This publication is the result of a three week project in which students were asked to reflect on the gap between the professional writing by critics and the public perception of art. The first week was spent in Massachusetts, where students were asked to select and research a particular artist, paying special attention to the critical body of writing surrounding the artists’ work. The second week, students traveled to New York City to see the artist’s work in person, and observe the public reaction to the work. There was no prescribed formula for students’ gathering data, however, many students interviewed museum patrons about their reactions. The third week was spent back in Massachusetts, where students were asked to reflect on the previous two weeks of research, culminating in a short essay on the chasm between the professional discourse and the public response to the artwork. What emerges in the project are reflections on who the intended audience is for contemporary art, what the role of the contemporary artist is in society, and what the relationship between the art object and the value system is, including its commodity-status. Perhaps most importantly, students arrive at the question: what is the relationship between the art world to the real world?
This book is a document of critique on the professionalization of artist practices, fueled by the insular discourse practices of writers and critics within the “art world.” Beyond the revelations students arrive at in the book, this publication also serves as a fascinating view into Lucy R. Lippard’s method of teaching. A method which promoted critical thinking via firsthand experience collecting many differing viewpoints on a subject. The artists chosen by the students in this book include Carl Andre, Giorgio de Chirico, Public Murals, Jean Dubuffet, Red Grooms and the Ruckus Crew, Hans Hoffman, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Louise Nevelson, Maurice Prendergast, Man Ray, Chaim Soutine, Mark Di Suvero, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Lucy R. Lippard, born in 1937 in New York City, is an art historian, curator, writer and activist who currently lives and works in Galisteo, New Mexico. Lippard’s work as a critic focused on conceptual art and minimalism. Her book, Six Years: the Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 has become one of the seminal texts on conceptual art and was the subject of an award winning exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 2012. Lippard has also written extensively on feminist and politically engaged art and curated over fifty exhibitions.
Lippard was a member of the Art Workers Coalition, founded in 1969, which put pressure on institutions to take a stand on political issues, including the Vietnam War. Lippard was one of the founders of Printed Matter in 1976. Lippard has championed the artist’s book as an accessible form of art for nearly half a century. Lippard also founded the Political Art Documentation/Distribution archive, which was later donated to MoMA Library in the late 1980s. This archive includes materials related to ACT UP, Guerrilla Girls, Keith Haring, Gregory Solette, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, among many others.
What Do You See? Think? Say? is printed in black and white, staple bound, with a rubber stamped cover. 500 copies of this book were printed by the Excelsior Printing Company in North Adams, Massachusetts.