A retrospective is an exhibition that shows off the entire oeuvre of an artist’s career. Typically arranged chronologically and later in an artist’s life, retrospectives treat art viewers to the progression of the work in a single space.
I try to visit as many retrospectives as I can for artists I admire, which sometimes involves traveling and going out of my way as necessary. You never know when they will happen again since it’s difficult to borrow or gather the work in one place.
Retrospectives aren’t just for viewers. They provide an excellent opportunity for artists to examine their accomplishments.
Even without an art venue for your retrospective, you can take stock of your life’s work by creating a virtual retrospective.
I was delighted to come across Virginia Folkestad’s timeline in her studio several years ago. She made this by tacking color images of her art chronologically to the wall. She then used yarn or string to connect ideas and thought processes between earlier and later work.
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Try this for yourself. It’s virtual because you don’t have to schlep artwork around or borrow it back from collectors.
As you go through the process, look for:
- Common themes that crop up across time
- Repeated use of a motif
- Favoring a certain color, palette, or subject
- Big change in direction and, perhaps, corresponding life events
- Maturity of technique
I love this approach because it’s not only visual but also kinesthetic. I think you will uncover unexpected things when you add movement and a sense of touch to an exercise you might have been tempted to do on the computer.
You can’t help but benefit from this process.
You are spending more time with the work and reviewing it with the benefit of hindsight. This allows you to think about it intellectually rather than monetarily or emotionally, which will help you become more articulate about your work.
To expand the vocabulary around your work, record, in writing, why you connected the images.
What did you discover?
What were you reminded of?
What ideas came up?