Interview with Jessa Crispin

Marek Sullivan

A transcript of this interview is available as a downloadable PDF at the bottom of the webpage

Why do we take it for granted that contemporary artists should have an MFA? Why are there no professional builders or cleaners who are also contemporary artists? What is art for? These are some of the questions raised and definitely not answered in this conversation between me (Marek Sullivan) and the writer and critic Jessa Crispin.

I first became interested in Jessa’s work after reading ‘The Topeka Fools’ (2020), which dissected America’s difficult relation to class and the erasure of the working class from mainstream liberal culture through the example of Ben Lerner’s novel The Topeka School. At the time I read the piece, there seemed to be very few people interested in engaging in an honest conversation about art and class (Natalie Olah’s book Steal as Much as You Can being a notable exception). Where class was mentioned, it was often in parentheses or as a dimension of intersectionality through its interaction with race, gender, sexuality and other identity markers. While I agree that it is difficult to treat class in separation from these, I have also noticed that intersectionality can – and is often – deployed as a deflection shield allowing people in power (including people who identify with minorities) to avoid a serious confrontation with class inequality. It seemed like the time was ripe for an intervention; I had just finished the first draft of ‘Class Criticism’ and ‘The Topeka Fools’ was the final key I had been missing.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The cozy relation between universities and galleries, and why that relation is a problem
• The politicization of art (good and bad sides)
• Different forms of knowledge, and why certain forms, i.e. intellectual forms, are valued over others
• Lying
• Portrait of a Lady on Fire
• Dirt
• Interpretative freedom and class-based linguistic impenetrability
• Morgan Quaintance’s essay ‘Looking Back in Anger: Part II’

and much more…