A Conversation with John Yau (at LA Review of Books)

Further Adventures in the Monochrome: A Conversation with John Yau

The Los Angeles Review of Books recently posted an interesting interview with the poet and art critic John Yau. In the introduction to the interview, Rachel May notes that from an early age, Yau was inspired by the poets of the New York School to find his life’s work in the intersection between poetry and art:

JOHN YAU SAYS THAT as a teenager, he decided he wanted to live the sort of life that John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara had constructed for themselves — a life of poetry and writing about visual art, which was separate from academia.

In the interview, Yau discusses a wide range of topics, including ideas about critiquing masculinity, representations of Asian-Americans and Asians in pop culture, the persistence of painting as a genre, and the dialogue between visual art and poetry in his work and career.

Yau also stresses his admiration for artists or writers who do not have a style, or a branded, trademark mode:

An artist’s job is to be open to experimenting and trying everything — trying new mediums, new materials. I admire artists that don’t have a style. That was a big influence from the art world — that I didn’t want to have a style…

Alex Katz has a style that’s immediately recognizable, a brand. But, someone like Jasper Johns doesn’t have a style; he changes subjects, he changes the way he paints. Kenneth Noland has a specific way of painting, while Thomas Nozkowski doesn’t have a style. How do you give yourself enough room to move, but also — more importantly — move away?

Style, as the poet Robert Kelly says, is death. It’s better to have more possibilities — some of them even contradictory — than less. Collage would be a method. It’s good to have as many methods as possible: it’s your bag of tricks. It’s better to have a big bag with a lot of tricks than one bag with one trick. Best of all is make them, the tricks, into something more.

You can read the whole interview here.  Yau’s recent writings on art and poetry can be found at Hyperallergic:  Sensitive to Art and Its Discontents.

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