Comfort and Memory: Artist Kit Keith and the Oral History Process

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2020-05-11

Authors

Mutrux, M. L.

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Abstract

This paper explores the career of St. Louis-based, self-taught artist Kit Keith and the development of my personal relationship with the artist through the interview process. While telling Keith’s story and exploring her art, I analyze my use of an oral history methodology. The paper is broken into four parts, following four days of in-person interviews (two in September 2019, two in January 2020). Part 1 opens with our first day of official interviewing and explores Keith’s permanent return to St. Louis in the late 2000s and several major events in her career around 2013, including her inclusion in the New York Armory Show, her award for Best Local Artist in St. Louis, and the screening of The Comfort of Memory, a short documentary about Keith’s life, at the St. Louis Film Festival. Through analyzing events during 2013, I grapple with questions of “greatness” and categorization in art history. Part 2 explores Keith’s childhood spent performing in a circus troupe, her diagnosis with bipolar disorder, and her move from Sarasota, Florida to St. Louis, Missouri. I introduce the difficult beginning of our interviews, brought on by unclear boundaries and painful memories. Part 3 analyzes our second day of interviewing and takes the reader into the 1990s, when Keith developed a signature style and began to have professional success in New York City. Part 4 jumps to January 2020 and my return to St. Louis to interview Keith, following her story into the 21st century as we viewed The Comfort of Memory and several reviews of her work together. I expand on the relational changes which occurred through the interview process and the disintegration of my art historical categorization framework. Throughout each of these sections, I expound on the changing dynamic of our conversations as we ventured out of the range of an impersonal, art historical narrative and analysis. Ultimately, the project attempts to demonstrate how the personal relationship between interviewer and narrator—preexisting or not—becomes inextricable from both the process of recording oral history, and the character of the resulting narrative itself. It is an addition to an expanding body of literature grappling with feminist and “human-centered” oral history.

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