Jennifer Samet has always been interested in paintings and the artists who make them.
“I can remember vividly being taken to the Met and looking at (the work of) Jackson Pollock,” she said.
In her senior year of high school, Samet began an independent study of art history. She got to take the bus from New Jersey into the city twice a week to interview artists and research feminist artwork.
From there, Samet went on to earn her bachelor’s from Barnard College, Columbia University and her Ph.D. in art history from the Graduate Center of City University of New York. Now she writes the Hyperallergic column “Beer with a Painter” and works at the Eric Firestone Gallery’s New York City location.
In her lecture, “The Space of Desire,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Hultquist Center, Samet will explore the conflict between explaining artworks and allowing for an intuitive understanding of them.
For Samet, one of the most compelling aspects of painting is that it cannot be fully explained. Painting is something that’s felt, she said.
“I’m talking about things that are really difficult to talk about,” she said.
As an art historian, Samet has the urge to “really unpack something and explain it,” but she’s also interested in how artists’ personal voices can be documented and included in art history.
Writing her column “Beer with a Painter” is one way Samet contributes to that effort.
She began the column about five years ago after being inspired by comments from her artist friends. They suggested that she make the interviews informal and allow artists to ramble.
“There were a couple of friends who specifically suggested, ‘You should do interviews over beer,’ ” she said, “which at first I thought was a really silly idea.”
Samet finally came around after repeatedly receiving the same suggestion, recognizing that bars and coffeeshops are gathering places for artists to discuss ideas.
“Over time, we recognize those places as significant and important to the course of art history and how movements and styles have been developed and have been debated,” she said, mentioning the Cedar Tavern of Greenwich Village and Max’s Kansas City in Manhattan as such landmarks.
Samet has interviewed dozens of painters, but she’s not struggling to find more to talk to. She chooses artists whose works she’s curious to know more about, artists who are repeatedly recommended to her, or artists whose work is not getting enough recognition in her eyes.
She generally prefers to interview older rather than emerging artists, as the older ones have extended life stories that make for more compelling reads. She’s also found older artists to be less concerned with projecting an image and more willing to be open and honest.
The most important thing for Samet about these casual interviews is that they become “a human experience,” she said.
“They’re really about a face-to-face meeting,” she said. “The actual beer’s not that important.”
Samet’s interviewees chose the location and the beverage, and Samet tags along for whatever the artist’s day entails. She’s gone for a swim on a hot day in Cape Cod when an artist wanted to cool off. Another time, when preparing for an interview in Los Angeles with Ed Moses, Samet was warned by the studio manager that they might be interrupted when actress Anjelica Huston stopped by. And Huston did stop by.
“Driving a Bentley,” Samet remembered.
Interviewing artists, she said, means “interesting things happen along the way.”