A Tale of Two Artists?
There was a king with a sensational gallery and a cooking wife on the throne in England; there was a king with an ever-expanding gallery and a poaching penchant on the throne in America. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to those who remembered the 80's, that things in general were never settled for ever.
With profound apologies to Mr. Dickens, it struck me this morning that it must be maddening to read articles about the strength of the art market if one is an artist still seeking a place in that market. In particular I was prompted to parody by this article in the Toronto Star [via artinfo.com]:
Nice work, if you can get it, I'm sure many artists are thinking.
Kim Dorland, a Toronto artist enjoying his first blush of international success, has recently hewed to a rigid schedule: Get up. Paint. Sleep. Repeat.
"I'd burn out if I kept painting like this," says Dorland who, as soon as humanly possible, intends not to. But there are miles to go before he sleeps: Paintings are needed for a slate of fast-approaching solo shows in Chicago, Los Angeles, Milan and here at home. And then there's the art fair circuit, a gaping maw of art buying that needs more and more work to satisfy appetites.
Major fairs in Miami, London, New York, Los Angeles and Basel, Switzerland, have fed on a robust international art economy, attracting thousands of buyers and inciting acquisition frenzies.
"I've been painting as much for the art fairs as I have for shows," says Dorland, who plans to have a presence at the Miami fair next month. "They're a great way to have an international audience see your work. But yeah, I'm starting to get a little tired."
Dorland means not to complain: few artists are able to enjoy art-making as a full-time job, let alone one that's brisk-paced and profitable. But as Dorland, 32, has learned, in an increasingly overheated world-wide art market, the demands of a voracious — and growing — community of buyers is putting pressure on artists to produce more work, faster, than ever before.
There is, of course, a downside to all this that shouldn't be underestimated:
And while no one’s complaining about the profits, some artists are bemoaning the possible effects on their work—from overexposure to monotony.But I'm fairly sure that's a risk many struggling artists would be more than happy to take.
"So many artists become formulaic, and that’s because of the market,” said galleriest Jessica Bradley. “They become a brand, and they can’t change.”
Or is it?
The problem with discussing this issue (as with most issues these days) is our tendency to compare and constrast the extremes and then pat ourselves on the back as if we've done the subject justice. The issue of "too much success" has been framed, far too often, as though there were two options: be an artist in such demand that you're unable to keep up with the orders or be an artist who only wishes that described his/her career at this point.
But rather than two options, it seems to me that these extremes (while an effective dramatic device) don't tell the true tale, at least not in a way we should expect papers of record to tell it. The Star article does concede that few artists live off their work, but then continues to imply Dorland's particular circumstances are typical, by not qualifying the word "artist" consistently: "a voracious — and growing — community of buyers is putting pressure on artists to produce more work, faster, than ever before."
That statement (and artinfo's summary of the article didn't even qualify it in the same way the Star did) is still misleading. Perhaps "a voracious — and growing — community of buyers is putting pressure on more and more artists to produce more work, faster, than ever before" would be better, but I'm getting off course.
My point is really that today there's a spectrum of artists---from those who've totally sold out to those who have become very wealthy making what they want to those selling just enough to pay for their basic needs to those struggling to make enough to pay their studio rent to those perhaps not selling anything at all but still exhibiting widely to those not interested in selling anything at all---but the issue is being consistently framed in the press to suggest there are only two types (as Jennifer Dalton noted brilliantly in her recent piece at our gallery): losers and pigs.
And while that same false dichotomy applies to sports and business arenas as well, it's particularly upsetting to see it applied to the arts, in which artists often struggle not just against current measures of quality but also fashion (few folks really care whether a baseball player relies on "patience at the plate" or not or whether a captain of industry has a reality TV show, so long as he/she consistently knocks the ball out of the park or increases the price of the company's stock, but a brilliant abstract painter may have to wait for the fickle finger of fashion to point back toward abstraction to have his/her accomplishments fully recognized).
It's possible that when this overheated market finally cools down that folks will remember there are other measures of success for artists besides a waiting list, but until then, reject the framing...resist the false dilemma. As a few folks said when faced with Jennifer Dalton's bins of free bracletes (one choice reading "pig" and the other "loser") there is a third choice: not taking either.