Monday, June 14, 2010

The Luxury of Safety and Free Speech and its Resulting Art : Open Thread

Deadly violence has returned to Kyrgyzstan, with Kyrgyz thugs in the South burning homes and murdering Uzbek families living there. Speculation about what's fueling the violence runs from poverty and its subsequent scapegoating to intentional agitation by former Kyrgyz president (currently in exile) Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has denied involvement, but hasn't condemned the violence either. This is, of course, very disturbing for us personally. Bambino's family live mostly in the north and east of Kyrgyzstan, but he does have some relatives in Osh, the city that's apparently been reduced to ashes. Word from there yesterday was that people from the North were preparing to head down to join in the fighting (on which side exactly wasn't clear).

Violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of Kyrgyzstan erupted in the early 1990s as well, but that time the Soviet Union sent soldiers to quell it. Hundreds of innocent people died then (the count might reach that number this time as well). The image above is from a series of work called "The Shadows," which Kyrgyz artists Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev made in response to that earlier violence.

When thinking about the sort of art that emerges from truly dangerous places in the world, I generally have two responses. My unkind, knee-jerk response to is feel disgust at the petty concerns of artists who term the relatively minor disappointments they have about their careers as "suffering." We had a few artists use that word in #class discussions. They were "suffering" because of the perceived inequalities of the art market (which usually translated as they weren't as rich and famous as they thought they should be yet). Bambino and I discussed later just how pathetic that sounded in the context of artists working in other, truly dangerous parts of the world.

When I stop to be a bit more thoughtful (and admittedly generous), however, I realize that while some art that emerges from conflict regions is amazing, not all of it is. The most conducive environment for making great art (if history is any indication) is a calm and safe one. Even if the art making environment is safe, though, the exhibition environment can still be treacherous in some parts of the world. Via artnet.com I found this story in the Financial Times (you might need to register, but it's free) about how much of the contemporary art being made in Iran today is hidden from officials:
Some, fearing punishment, prefer private displays or to send works abroad – sometimes under false names. A prize for contemporary Iranian art will be awarded at the Royal College of Art in London next year after a global search to identify the “most talented emerging Iranian artists”.

A sculptor says: “Art, in particular new media art, has been gradually going underground as rap, rock and hip-hop music did.”

Some university professors estimate that about 20 to 30 per cent of the works of young artists during the past year are secret. Of about two dozen art galleries in Tehran, only a few have shown works related to the unrest. To date, they have not experienced specific harassment. [emphasis mine]
In this context as well, it's hard to compare the "sufferings" of American artists with those of Iranian ones and not feel a bit embarrassed, but that's not what ultimately matters the most. How good is the art being hidden in Iran? That's the question history will care most about.

I don't have any conclusions about any of this. I'm too heartbroken over the violence in Kyrgyzstan at the moment to really process it all. I simply wanted to get this out of my system. Consider this an open thread on the luxury of making art in safe environments and the results.

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44 Comments:

Blogger Pam Farrell said...

Most days, I keep myself aware of how fortunate and privileged I am to be making art in a safe environment, one in which I can move about freely and interact very comfortably with other artists, dealers, curators, etc. Luxury is an appropriate word for my well-equipped, comfy studio. Some days, however, I complain about the need for more space, the limited opportunities in my state relative to other states, and the overall effect of the economy on sales.

So thanks, EW, for this post, which serves as a reminder that there are so many artists who persist in their creative endeavors despite potential threats to their safety.

Hope all are safe in Bambino's family.

6/14/2010 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Many artists are visionaries and idealists, struggling to see and create beauty where there is none to be seen. Sometimes they are compelled to look at reality and reflect it as it is, with all it's ugliness, sadness and hatred. Because often their role in society is to arouse feelings of positive exaltation, when artists reflect the negative, it can invoke an uncomfortable feeling at the observer/listener, which serves the purpose it was meant to provoke. War is disgusting and terrible wherever in the world it happens. So are social injustices such as lack of freedom of speech, and the excessive gluttony of capitalist society. Yes, the grievances of unknown artists in an affluent, peaceful society seem pathetic, but when looked at from a distance, seeing the big picture, the whole world looks pathetic, with pity conflicts over properties, pieces of land, difference in cultures/religions/dynasties.

I'm sorry to hear about the conflicts in Kyrgyzstan, hope Bambino's family are safe.

6/14/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...



When you're lovers in a dangerous time
One day you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all
Never a breath you can afford to waste
When you're lovers in a dangerous time
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight --
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
When you're lovers in a dangerous time

Bruce Cockburn '83

But to then conclude that "regular" romance doesn’t measure up to that dangerous time, I think is trying to judge legacy by immediacy.

Art that isn’t teetering on the balance of life and death, of light and dark, that doesn’t issue forth from the struggle to exist may seem petty and less significant then the stark immediacy of the raw values of life over death expressed in war survived arts.
Yet the measure of art is likely in the rising above the vulgar, our day to day existence. Reaching and aspiring towards more, to do that in a life of war is much more focused and clear cut, yet the aspect of rising above remains a constant in the two conditions. From within a life of struggle or from within a life of luxury, to rise above whatever the plateau of the quotidian is the measure. Maybe it’s the reaching, the becoming that is the value, not what is overcome.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that art can only be of value if it springs forth from a specific source/condition.

peace to all

6/14/2010 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Here we go again Edward. I'm flabbergasted that you would make such a comparison.

Apples to oranges. Perhaps a stubborn Taurian response on your part (and on mine to reply to it).

In the context of #class artists were remarking on the difficulty of having work seen by a wide audience.
In this capitalist; Or let me make a bit of a leap here: in this post-capitalist era in which large corporations, established industries, established financial systems own everything, and more pertinent to my argument- already established artists and galleries have an overwhelming amount of power to crowd out other lesser known art and artists there is a frustration within the unknown artist due to an inability to gain a toehold in a closed-loop system of the current artworld. There are many small collectives of artists throughout the boroughs and outside of New York City but these are not self-sustaining because there is little to no feedback or support. It can be said that it has always been this way, but today there are more artists than ever before and the venues and opportunities have grown but not enough in relation to the amount of artists.
With your position Edward as a gallerist in Chelsea with limited resources and a full roster of artists it is to your advantage to shame the frustrated artists out there as selfish and pathetic as an attempt to quell efforts at changing the current gallery system.

Why make a comparison to deadly violence and struggling artists? The two are exclusive to their context and situation. My heart goes out to those stuck in genocidal conflicts and my sympathies go to Bambino and his relatives. Separately my frustration is shared with those other artists out there who endlessly pour emotion into their work with romantic notions of expressing their innermost feelings to a non-existent audience.

6/14/2010 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Here I go again, but for the last time Bernard. After this we'll have to agree to disagree.

In a nutshell, I think the artists of which I speak protest too much and produce too little.

I think anyone who attended #class and had the gall to use the word "suffering" to describe their disappointment needs a serious reality check.

Had they said "frustration" or "anxiety" or whatever, I'd have been understanding (and was, I will note), but with real "suffering" in the world, to use that word was truly offensive to me.

My point here is to highlight the absurdity of equating what is relatively speaking only self-pity to actual suffering, with the ultimate hope that that kicks some of the self-pitying artists in the ass enough to where they ramp things up and spend more time making better art than worrying about how existent or non-existent the audience for their innermost feelings is. (Seriously, that framing of the issue makes me vomit just a little. Who cares...other than them and their mom...about their "innermost feelings"? Keep your feeling to yourself. Show me the ART!!!).

6/14/2010 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

AGREED
Edward doth protest too much me thinks.

6/14/2010 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I daresay that even the art dealers among us refer to difficulties, problems, and struggles that would be absurd to characterize as such on the battlefield.

Suffering is a pervasive, constant component of human existence and it ranges from stubbed toes to being made a target of genocide. I suspect that even the most self-entitled artists understand where their suffering fits on that scale.

I wish health and safety to Bambino's people.

6/14/2010 03:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...with the ultimate hope that that kicks some of the self-pitying artists in the ass enough to where they ramp things up and spend more time making better art ..."


Ed, can you say with a straight face that the art world is any kind of a meritocracy? It isn't.

What pisses many serious artists off is the perception, correct IMHO that the system is rigged - a few powerful gatekeepers make or break careers, and once an artist has been sufficiently validated they become "too big to fail"

I'm with Bernard on this one....

6/14/2010 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I daresay that even the art dealers among us refer to difficulties, problems, and struggles that would be absurd to characterize as such on the battlefield.

Of course I do.

But I'm not both referring to my struggles and charging other people with fixing them for me. :-p

Thanks to you both for your wishes for Bambino's family, btw. Much appreciated.

6/14/2010 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What pisses many serious artists off is the perception, correct IMHO that the system is rigged - a few powerful gatekeepers make or break careers, and once an artist has been sufficiently validated they become "too big to fail"

I'm with Bernard on this one....


Sorry, but that reads like you think that because the art world (like the rest of the world, I'll note) is unfair, you should be able to make whatever art you want and still get all the recognition you crave?

That's absurd.

Yes, my poor, working class, unconnected darlings...the deck is stacked against you. Get used to it.

The only weapon you have in the fight for recognition is to make BETTER, UN-IGNORABLE art.

I mean, if moaning about how unfair it all is would make your dreams come true, I'd support it no end. It won't though, so I will never agree that it's valid or understandable or anything other than a total waste of your time.

6/14/2010 04:01:00 PM  
Anonymous beau said...

Not to say that some of the superficial complainers you're criticizing don't deserve what you're dishing out, but in the face of the suffering you authenticate here, are all other complaints simply petty? I.e., tremendous economic inequality might not be as bad a problem as violent repression of speech, but it's still a pretty serious problem. On preview, another commenter already mentioned that it's clear that the art world is no noble meritocracy.

Having safe spaces for art is not merely a coincidental, luxurious result of the vast economic surplus generated by our totally awesome Western, capitalist culture. Those spaces and the activities which take place in them (including the superficial complaining you're complaining about) are constitutive of free society, not just a byproduct. This is why repressive governments are so afraid of them, and why they are necessary.

6/14/2010 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Gosh. I thought I'd had my short say and then butt-out, but I just can't seem to stay away.

Edward Edward Edward, you seem to suggest that if an artists work is not getting attention that it simply is not good enough. Are there not numerous examples throughout art history of this not being the case?

An artists goal is to make the best art they can regardless of the environment.

In a society of over-abundance of wealth these artists simply want to feel they have a fair shot at getting their work seen. When an artist is at their best but it does not matter they will complain.

6/14/2010 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The only weapon you have in the fight for recognition is to make BETTER, UN-IGNORABLE art."

Better and Un-Ignorable are not the same thing. Anyone can do bombast. And sometimes (usually) the best work rewards repeated viewings, much makes it pretty easy to ignore.

I once heard a dealer say that the work that they showed "created its own opportunity".

That is complete BS. No work creates it's own opportunity, no matter how good it is. In order for art to find an audience, it needs someone in a position of power to go to bat for it - a powerful dealer, an influential critic, whatever. Otherwise no one will ever see it. And who goes to bat for whom usually has nothing to do with the quality of the work.

6/14/2010 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

No Ed, artists' job is not to "get used to it". just the other way around, it's the artists' role to have society get acquainted and familiar, and 'used' to the art they are making. I agree with you though - no one deserves recognition for making whatever they want, and we do need to make better, un-ignorable art. The argument and complaints seem to be about what is the definition of 'better art', and who is qualified to determine what is. Artists have personal issues and grievances which are no concern to the public, just like everybody else, but in regards to what should concern everyone and what most artists complain about is the general state of the artworld and the fact that success is often based on other things other than merit. I think artists speak to that matter as critics, not necessarily saying that they, personally, possess the talent or ability to be the best, but also not seeing the talent in those more successful then them. I can speak for myself here, I don't think I'm great as an artist, or that my work is the best, I think I have a lot more to learn and progress and improve, but when I look at some work that is very successful (some, not all!) these days, even after giving it more time and learning about it, even after trying a lot, I still find myself shaking my head.... However, this may be due to my personal taste, and others may respond in the same way to what I like. So who decides?

I think usually, it's the ARTISTS who decide, by pulling in a certain direction, facing negative criticism initially but carrying on, at some point some critics/dealers catch on and eventually the public.

6/14/2010 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Bernard,

I meant it...I'm done arguing with you. Do your homework to find the gallery that's right for you and network to get into it. Or don't. Only you know whether you want it bad enough to do the work you know you need to do to make it happen. What I know is that your willingness to play the victim isn't working for you either, so consider trying something else for a while.

Iris,
I never said it was a "job" to get over it. I simply said "get over it."

Anonymous,

No work creates it's own opportunity, no matter how good it is. In order for art to find an audience, it needs someone in a position of power to go to bat for it - a powerful dealer, an influential critic, whatever.

A thousand times "no."

What powerful dealer or critic created Banksy's opportunities for him? You may or may not like his work, but he certainly created his own opportunities.

Let me see if I can explain this another way. Back in my pre-Bambino days a good friend of mine explained to me that the problem with dating in New York (for gay men) was that there were more men looking for their knight in shining armor than there were men willing to be someone else's knight in shining armor. All you need is to do the math to understand the misery that follows that scenario.

Dealers and critics are waiting for the next great artists to show them what they should be looking at. However, if all the artists are waiting for the dealers and critics to say "yes, you're great, first" well, then nothing happens.

The art has to come first, then the dealers, the critics, and the audience will follow.

That's not to say great art isn't sometimes overlooked, but that's hardly the rule. In fact, I'd bet big bucks it doesn't happen anywhere near as much as would needed to justify all the self-pity and resentment offered up in this thread.

6/14/2010 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mab MacMoragh said...

historically it's not always in the artist's lifetime that transcendent art is recognized for what it is, there's a difference between creation arising from an artschool/artmarket focus and creation born from a personal milieu but what effect will they each have on posterity? only time and process can tell (and maybe certain poets)

~~~~~~

Archaic Torso of Apollo  

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Tr. Stephen Mitchell

6/14/2010 09:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm reminded again that no matter how entitled artists feel, the same entitlments, magnified, are enshrined into the contemporary art museum. If the subsidies and tax exemptions enjoyed by these institutions were abolished, they and their supporters would scream. They would pen editorials, citing the long history of these entitlements and their alleged success, that would analyze why America hates culture and declare the end of serious visual art in this country. You would be spared having to deal with this in the way you have to deal with artists with delusions of genius - one brat at a time - but there is no difference in their expectations except that the museums make them appear acceptable.

There are three problems with telling artists to make better, unignorable art. The first is that better art and unignorable art are incompatable projects in the contemporary art world as it stands. The second is that the contemporary museums are not under commensurate pressure to put on better, unignorable exhibitions. They are instead under pressure to appear sophisticated and populist at the same time, which are not only incompatable projects but the wrong projects. This is causing museum art to move towards something I recently labeled Interactionism, which is one part critical theory and three parts funhouse. The third is that you're condemning feelings of entitlement (on behalf of artists, who are the least perpetrators thereof) in a system that runs on entitlements and is only a meritocracy to the extent that some people are better at attracting those entitlements than others. Joe Blow's conviction that he deserves a museum show is nothing compared to the museum's conviction that it deserves tax exemption. The entitlement to public largesse and scholarly regard felt by Dakis Jouannou and the Rubells is on the record in their own words. Even the dealers who want a certain kind of reputation are obliged to woo these institutions, thus creating a social meritocracy, not an artistic one, and some of them are so adept at it that critics have become obliged to call them out.

You're extolling the virtues of collard greens in a world that runs on cupcakes. And saying that Banksy created his own opportunities is like saying that John Dillinger created his own revenue stream.

6/14/2010 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Ed, I don't think it's fair of you to consider the replies on this thread as 'self pity', 'resentment', or 'playing the victim role'. In previous posts there were discussions about artists being emotional when facing rejection, but here the discussion is not personal. We are generally talking about what we think the state of the art today is. Every person is entitled to their personal resentments (regarding war or society, personal feelings of pain and suffering, regardless of financial or social situation, whether living in affluence or in conflict - we all know money doesn't cure all human suffering). However, making these discussions into a personal issue is really distracting away from the matter at hand.

In my previous comment perhaps I shouldn't have used the word 'job', what I meant to say was the artist is not a follower, the artist doesn't need to 'get used to it', or 'get over it'. The artist is the one who calls out, who dictates the direction of the art, and in fact you agree with me: "Dealers and critics are waiting for the next great artists to show them what they should be looking at".
The only change I would make to your statement is instead of dealers and critics waiting for 'the next great artist to show them' why not let just 'good' artists show them. No one can tell what truly 'greatness' is besides time, but good artists will show you who they do respect. Great artists throughout history have been revered by other artists long before critics or dealers even noticed them. Here in this forum (your blog) many artists try to explain something, which is beyond personal issues and 'self pity'. Artists are trying to 'show' you. Maybe we don't know right now where is the 'next great artist' located, but at least we can say where *not* to look - doesn't that count for something? We speak to you, but it's nothing personal towards you, it's only because you provide this forum, so we relate to you as if you represent the 'institution' of the art world, but of course you don't, and this institution doesn't even exist except for symbolically.

We are saying things directly, and we are saying things indirectly, repeating over and over again. You (and everyone who reads here) read them over and over again. Yet no one seems to listen. Maybe it's wrong of us to expect of you to listen, but you do keep posting those interesting questions in your blog and we take the bait. We really should go and make better art instead of discussing here repeatedly. Or maybe we really should 'get over it' and stop even trying to communicate our ideas. And there's not a drop of self pity in my words, honestly.

To get back to your initial post, it's true, there is a lot of real suffering in this world, and some of it is not even as far as beyond the border, it could be your next door neighbor's abused child. We really shouldn't compare our minor sufferings to those, instead we should count our blessings. Nevertheless, there's no need to dismiss any human pain, justified or not, whether it's emotional, imaginary or physical and concrete.

6/15/2010 12:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I tend to digress a lot, yet I really like the metaphor you offered here Ed.


... there were more artists looking for their gallery in shining lights than there were artists willing to be a gallery's light of shining art.

It's easy to overlook - forget it's a reciprocal relationship with similar needs/wants.

6/15/2010 06:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"orget it's a reciprocal relationship with similar needs/wants."

i disagree. without artists there can be no galleries. it is easy, however, to imagine other means of exhibiting work than commercial galleries. The only thing that makes it seem reciprocal is the unequal power relationship between the few galleries and the many artists.

6/15/2010 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

already established artists and galleries have an overwhelming amount of power to crowd out other lesser known art

This makes a FALSE assumption that the lesser known art is being crowded out. I defy anyone to provide examples which show this is the case on a continuing basis (rather than a one time exception.) I've been around for awhile, and I have come to the conclusion that what you describe as "being crowded out" is a convenient excuse for other failings.

Further, I suggest that much "lesser known art" is derivative and/or poorly executed and is therefore competing only with itself (bad vs. bad) for the "leftover" exhibition slots.

and artists there is a frustration within the unknown artist due to an inability to gain a toehold in a closed-loop system of the current artworld.

This is TRUE and sad because most of these artists simply do not understand business is business, and assume that just because they have a "product" a "shop" will be interested in selling it like jewelry or shoes.

6/15/2010 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

An artists goal is to make the best art they can regardless of the environment.

By what means does the artist determine what is best?

I suggested on my Facebook page (Notes) that while the artist can declare something as an artwork, it is the culture which completes this process by accepting it as art. A number of artists choked on this idea which suggests that they feel the audience is irrelevant, that art exists in a vacuum.

In defense of their position they elicited the "numerous examples throughout art history" defense. Not only is the example based upon incomplete assumptions about history it fails if translated back in time.

For example, if we time shift ourselves backward 100 years and apply the same argument we will find that the definition of the best art no longer includes the art which we are using today as an example we hold ourselves to.

In other words, an artist does not definitively know what is "best" or "good" and they are making assumptions based on history and their own experience. Unfortunately, if the artist does not include the viewer, therefore the culture, into the loop they are just talking to themselves. It is important to remember that the artist and other artists (peers) are part of the viewing audience and of the culture.

Most artists don't really want "feedback," they want to be stroked and hear how great they are.

6/15/2010 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

i disagree. without artists there can be no galleries.

For the record, I am not suggesting it should be reciprocal either. On the contrary, I'm suggesting artists should lead and galleries should follow. My objection (and I have to turn to other things, so this will be my final word on this thread) is to artists waiting for galleries to make their dreams come true. If that's not happening already for you, forge some new path yourself. Again, take the lead.

All the rest of this is semantics.

6/15/2010 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

historically it's not always in the artist's lifetime that transcendent art is recognized for what it is.

In the present day this is a myth.

6/15/2010 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The artist is the one who calls out, who dictates the direction of the art...

In principle yes, in fact it is the artist, not all artists. Most artist are followers and not really shaping the direction of art other than following along in agreement.

Moreover, there exists a retrograde desire to maintain the status quo, last years, decades, or centuries fashions as if stasis will insure quality. There's a gallery here in NYC which sells well executed impressionist style paintings which will never make it to the cover of Artforum.

As paintings we might distinguish that some are better than others, and that they fulfill a retrograde view of quality. Yet they utterly fail in the world of contemporary art, they are fighting a century old battle whose outcome we already know. In other words they fail to create the necessarily dialogue with history by linking the cultures past with the present.

The direction of art is determined by the dialog art creates within the culture. It requires both an artist and a viewer.

6/15/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Just put your art up on Youtube and you'll know pretty fast if people like it or not. Be prepared for a couple kids commenting "gosh, you're GAYYY!".
It's reality, not Chelsea.

Cedric C

6/15/2010 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Cedric, check out what the Guggenheim is doing with YouTube to find new video artists.
(Google it, I read this somewhere in the last 24 hours)

However, your response primarily addresses popularity and entertainment values, not whether or not the culture is accepting something as art.

6/15/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Edward has left the (symbolic) building! I agree with two of his final points, yes- "all the rest is semantics" and "forge some new path"

I'm not looking for pity, just for a solo show.

peace Ed.

@George,

You've picked apart my comments so I would like to respond to your criticism:
"crowding out" was a bad choice of words I admit, and after posting I re-read and cringed a bit.

To elaborate slightly with (I hope) a better choice of words:
Art Stars have a strong pull of attention. There is much advertising, criticism, and fanfare to gallery shows of art stars. You George, may be better than most at visiting the smaller out of the way galleries, but my assumption is that most people go to the big shows. A look at the guestbook, the opening reception, or on other open days often confirms my suspicion. Could it be that those days I am not there to witness that masses of people go into these smaller shows and have a look, maybe, but I doubt it. Calling it a FALSE assumption plays well into this idea that the best in art gets the most attention.

Calling lesser known art "derivative and/or poorly executed" is an assumption on your part. Perhaps you are looking in the wrong places.

We agree on "toe-hold"

An artists goal is to make the best art they can regardless of the environment.
"By what means does the artist determine what is best?" -I mean this in relation to the artist and their own conception of best. The is a different dialogue than on your FaceBook page (which I have also commented in) It felt appropriate to place in this context. An artist is aware of their environment and makes a work based on internal and external experiences, whether afterword this artwork receives acknowledgement from the art world becomes a matter of acceptance (in short it receives acceptance through networking, dialogue, etc. but that is the system of which I claim to be exclusive and closed.)

Of course art does not exist in a vacuum. My argument all along is that currently it is too academic, youth centered and celebrity obsessed. If others agree with me then lets change it. If no one agrees then I'm on my own in my opinion. It is not self-pity I am after rather to point out as objectively as I can where I see a problem.
I wouldn't mind being stroked or getting feedback, but about the actual artwork, not words on a blog because as Edward said- It is semantics.

A gallery is in a sense an attempt at a vacuum where the work is seen on its own terms as much as possible, this is in context to the world around it but separated more than as an outdoor sculpture, for example which is in constant dialogue with its surrounding environment. For many artists, this one included, the setting of a gallery invites a level of independence for the artwork itself which can spacially and visually offer more to a viewer than it could in other settings. This, to me, is not about stroking the artist, but about allowing the artwork to be presented in the best possible situation in order for the work offer new experiences to the viewer.

6/15/2010 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Art Stars have a strong pull of attention by definition, its what puts the Stars into Art Stars. Get over it, they all started out at more or less the same disadvantage as anyone else.

The art world is tiered with the Stars at the top. So what? This does not mean they crowding you out. It may mean more people go to see their shows but again so what?

I go to see what shows I can, I don't see everything but in general most art is "derivative and/or poorly executed"

I mean this in relation to the artist and their own conception of best.

I'm suggesting that ones personal conception of what is best is generally insufficient. That it's frequently referencing another artist (derivative), or poorly executed, or obsessively executed with the idea that craft alone makes it best. In other words, the artist doesn't understand his own dialog with the culture.

If you are complaining about an art world that "is too academic, youth centered and celebrity obsessed" then you are in deep trouble. These issues are not about the art, they are about the environment we live in, the state of the cultural moment from a particular point of view.

What you really want to change is the feeling that you are being ignored by the system. My suggestion is always the same, it's always about the art and how it is being viewed by others.

6/15/2010 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

George, what are you saying? on the one hand: "it's always about the art and how it is being viewed by others." then the other sentence: "you are complaining about an art world that "is too academic, youth centered and celebrity obsessed" then you are in deep trouble. These issues are not about the art, they are about the environment we live in, the state of the cultural moment from a particular point of view."

It's a contradiction.

I agree with you on this: we are in deep trouble. It's not about the art, but it affects it.

6/15/2010 01:28:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

I put this together to crystallize my own thoughts and figured I would take a chance on sharing it with you all.

Leaving aside the issues of the presence violence in Kyrgyzstan and artist working in acutely dangerous situations, it seems to me that the root cause of the frustration being expressed in this thread is that there are way more artists than there are “slots” for them. I get the impression that aspiring artists now go to NYC to make it in art the same way as aspiring actors go to Hollywood to make it in pictures. I realize that art has always had its centers, but is there precedent for the huge numbers of people they (and especially NYC) are now attracting? Is it simply a byproduct of our ever more celebrity-obsessed culture, or does it have a more mundane source, namely the proliferation of art school programs that has happened since WII?

Everybody seems to buy into the “many are called, few are chosen” thinking that underlies the current system, but how beneficial is it really? The artworld really just needs enough art to satisfy the acquisition desires of a limited number of collectors and museums, plus enough of a surplus to allow everyone to feel that they have been presented with choices and gone with some and passed on others.

It all needs to be good art, even the best art around; but is it really productive to sift through thousands of artists to find one to take art from? Does it yield more good art, better art, than could be gotten from a smaller but more carefully cultivated talent pool?

There’s an idea that’s come into prominence lately, that people are more likely to make a choice and be happy with it when presented with a small set of alternatives than a with large one, and that they can actually become unable to make a choice when the number of alternatives becomes very large. Does this idea apply to art? I think it does.

My take is that the role of the gallery is exactly to set the number of alternatives presented to collectors and museums to that which maximizes the making of choices (i.e. purchases) and the satisfaction with choices (purchases) made. The initial number of alternatives is extremely large, and the target number is fairly small, so the galleries have to do a huge amount of winnowing – a huge amount of saying no thank you – to get to it.

An alternative approach is to do the winnowing earlier, moving it from the galleries back to the art schools. This could be achieved by y (a) requiring that incoming artists have advanced art degrees from accredited art schools and (b) setting the number of degrees granted by the art schools to one that more or less matches (to within an order of magnitude) the number of artists needed.

My understanding (based on just a couple conversations, I admit) is that contemporary art in China actually works this way. The art schools have very small numbers of slots, huge numbers of people apply and mostly get turned down, but the ones who do get in are basically set.

As a typical American who believes in equal opportunity, including for late bloomers and outsiders, I don’t like the idea of rigid, gated, academically controlled career paths. And yet I have to accept the fact that that’s the way it is for a lot of professions, and that, for at least some of those professions, no other system really makes sense. (Medicine, science, and law are professions that come to mind; I know some people get into them through alternative paths, but they are a small minority.)

I wonder, does the increasing emphasis on advanced art degrees mentioned by various people on this blog actually represent the early, tentative stages of a shift towards a more regulated, more front-gated, system? Or is it missing the critical element of setting the number of slots to match need and therefore achieving nothing but the production (selling) of more degrees?

6/15/2010 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Iris, these things (academic, youth centered and celebrity obsessed + two etceteras) are about the culture in general and I am not referring to just the art world. This would suggest that they might, or might not, be a topic for art to deal with.

However, when they are used as an excuse for lack of success as an artist, I think that is just a bogus answer which is trying cover up some other deficiencies in the artists practice.

When I suggest that "it's always about the art and how it is being viewed by others." I am being quite precise. As artists we make something which we call art and then show it to our friends to see how they react. Our "friends" are part of the culture and what we do is intended to communicate with them.

Do not burden the word "communicate" with language for communication takes many forms. If an artist makes something beautiful, it may not be describable linguistically but the artwork contains the decisions made by the artist which are ordered in some fashion which causes the viewer to experience it as beautiful.

The problem occurs when artists just assume their artwork is 'good' without paying attention to how it is received in the cultural context. Again, be careful with my wording, "cultural context" initially includes yourself, your peers, other artists, and only much farther down the line the marketplace etc.

A real misperception is that the "Art Stars" were born that way. It is just not the case, they start off like everyone else, generally have a good group of peers with whom they have at least some dialog. In other words, they create their own little mini-culture which keeps them honest.

6/15/2010 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Bernard, man are you stubborn. It is always about the art, consider this first before you try to rationalize it as a flaw in the system.

6/15/2010 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

George,
Ha! Yup, that I am. (I even wrote something to that effect when I first replied to Edward on this thread).

I agree it is always about the art, first and last. The inbetween slog of convincing a numb world that it IS about the ART and not a "social meritocracy" is the hard part, but there I go again wallowing in self-pity.

You agreed with the toe-hold part but seem to disagree with complaining about it, and I do not mean to put words in your mouth, but that is my read on it.
I have a problem with silence because it is easily equated with acceptance.

Art Stars- no they weren't born that way but managed to forge connections, connections like those do not exist in today's art world.
And yes, I am aware that the knee-jerk response is "make new connections" I'll let you know how that's going. (that's not to say that I want to be an art star, but that I do want gallery representation for my work)

John,
Your question: "I wonder, does the increasing emphasis on advanced art degrees mentioned by various people on this blog actually represent the early, tentative stages of a shift towards a more regulated, more front-gated, system? Or is it missing the critical element of setting the number of slots to match need and therefore achieving nothing but the production (selling) of more degrees?

I would say it is both. There are limited slots and a gallery wants to hedge their bets so they go with the most "promising". In the current period an advanced degree from an Ivy League school is seen as the most promising. Schools need to pay teachers and high bills so they need ever more students, I have doubts that much real consideration is given by the school (though it is by some teachers) as to whether those artists have a place to fit into. Trying to head-off the "tough shit" attitude of some commenters- let me just say that artists are artists whether they go to school or not, some may be more on the fence but the buffering of the art school "helps" hone and focus some of those people to where other options are ignored or avoided until the day school is out and their on the ass wondering why they can't do anything productive and/or rewarding. Perhaps it is a good idea if some limiting feature were in place earlier on in the process. I don't know what that could be though, in my own case if I didn't get into art school I would've kept making my art because I knew by then is was right for me. If I personalize this too much at times it is because I am using my own experience to better understand the situation, otherwise it would all just be a matter of false assumptions (as brought up earlier). I'm just a test case.

6/15/2010 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Bernard, pardon me for being blunt, but you come off like the world owes you a living but you don't seem to be able to hold down your end. It's working against you because nobody else gives a damn.

Life isn't fair, and that's the underlying metaphor of Kyrgyzstan. Yes, the playing field is not level but then no one is shooting at you either. If you make just average artwork, you are in competition for that mystical slot, with a lot more artists, just because there are a lot more average artists.

In order to convince anyone (in the numb world) that it's "about the art" you first need the art that will do that. While luck always plays a part, you have to be prepared to take advantage of the luck when it comes your way.

None of the successful artists that I know had connections when they were young that were any more special than an artist might have today. What they did have was good art which resonated with the historical moment. Moreover, most didn't achieve instant fame and success, it took decades for that to occur.

Studio arts PhD programs have nothing to do with what galleries are doing. Any smart gallerist will realize that staying in school long enough to get a PhD is an academic career path not a creative career path.

6/15/2010 04:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

@George,

After this I think I'm done on this thread. I do not think I mentioned money anywhere in any of my comments. I make a living. I don't see what you're saying as bluntness so much as missing the point.
Access (having work seen) is what I've been writing about. Again I see the assumption that if its not seen it's some failing in the artists work or in the artist.
I disagree.

On "underlying metaphor of Kyrgyzstan" yes, life isn't fair. Comparing deadly violence to "suffering" in the art world is a bad comparison.

Done

6/15/2010 05:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coming in late to this thread, but I am reminded of an essay I read recently, some food for thought.

“..Let us admit that a man is no more than an instrument in an orchestra directed by the muse of History. It is only in this context that the notes he produces have any significance. Otherwise even his most brilliant solos become simply a highbrow’s diversions. We are not concerned with the question of how one finds the courage to oppose one’s self to the majority. It is a much more poignant question that one poses to one’s self: can one write well outside that one real stream whose vitality springs from its harmony with the historical laws an the dynamics of reality? Rilke’s poems may be very good; but if they are good, that means there must have been some reason for them in his day. Contemplative poems, such as his, could never appear in a popular democracy; not only because it would be difficult to publish them, but because the writer’s impulse to write them would be destroyed at its very root. The objective conditions for such poetry have disappeared; and the intellectual of whom I speak is not one who believes in writing for the bureau drawer. …The publishing license he himself receives does not mean that the editor appreciates the artistic merits of his book, nor that he expects it to be popular with the public. That license is simply a sign that the author reflects the transformation of a reality with scientific exactness. Dialectical materialism in the Stalinist version both reflects and directs this transformation. It creates social and political conditions in which a man ceases to think and write otherwise than as is necessary. He accepts this “must” because nothing worthwhile can exist outside its limits. Herein lies the claws of dialectics. The writer does not surrender to this “must” merely because he fears for his own skin. He fears something much more precious- the significance of his work.

…I attended the artists’ congress in Poland in which the theories of Socialist realism were first discussed. The attitude of the audience towards the speakers delivering the required reports was decidedly hostile. Everyone considered Socialist realism to be an officially imposed theory that would have, as Russian art demonstrates, deplorable results. Attempts to provoke discussion failed. The hall remained silent. Usually, however, one daring artist would launch an attack, full of restrained sarcasm, with the silent but obvious support of the entire audience. He would invariably be crushed by superior reasoning plus practicable threats against the future career of an undisciplined individual. Given the conditions of convincing argument plus threats, the necessary conversion will take place. That is mathematically certain.”
-Czeslaw Milosz, 1951, Murti-Bing (italics are mine -Saskia)

6/15/2010 08:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art is something I show you in hopes that you a) understand it, b) resonate with it, and c) are changed by it.

It's something I share with you, and hopefully you share with me, too.

Everything else... All this stuff about dealers and academics and artists who think the world owes them something... That's all external to the magical, spiritual exchange. It's a desperate attempt to bring the mysteries of the art experience into rational understanding.

And if you think I'm naive for saying this, then You Are Not An Artist.

Now: Art in the midst of real mortal physical danger is an act of bravery, even if the art is 'bad' (or merely 'not good,' which is, semantically the same thing to a lot of people). The bravery has to count, to those who haven't forgotten how to be human.

It is also an act of bravery to risk oneself simply by making real art (see definition above) in the first place. Again, even if the art is 'bad' or 'not good.' And again, that bravery has to count, to those who haven't forgotten how to be human.

Art exists as itself, and as the story about itself. I'm thinking about 'Guernica;' there's the story of the bombings, the story of Picasso, and the story of the UN covering the painting during the run-up to the Iraq war. Such is the power of Picasso's statement, and the event that led to it.

Does your art shake the world like that? So much so that the leaders of the world have to hide it lest they be shamed?

If not, then don't concern yourself whether some artist or another has suffered, or has risked enough, or has succeeded too much.

Also, regarding Iran: No One Knows About Persian Cats

6/15/2010 10:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

George, I'm ambivalent about a notion of entertainment versus the arts. If you're doing something interesting, and you don't mistrust the intelligence of your audience (not being too condescending about it), I don't see how you can't reach fascinating results, whatever people wish to tag them.

Maybe I'm more into "doing something interesting, whatsoever" than doing "art for the sake of it be named art" (which is also the trap that doing "art for art's sake" can lead you unto).


Cheers,

Cedric

6/15/2010 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Sorry to keep coming back to economics, but if art is so important, so valuable, so life-changing, why is directed to such a small audience?

The West has long had a large middle class, and the rest of the world is now rapidly developing theirs. We’re talking about a billion people, maybe more. That’s one hell of a big market. To sell to, and to deliver value to, to influence and change.

It’s my understanding that in the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th there was significant interest in art on the part of the middle class (or should I say the bourgeoisie?). When did this interest fade, and why? And what, if anything, prevents it from being revived? Is there any reason why art can't have a reach comparable to that of literature?

6/16/2010 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the economics... Thomas kinkade figured it out too. Recognition, money, plenty of buyers for/of his work. His work is average, a few pieces maybe even about average.

What artists among you would turn that down?

How important is it to you that the recognition has to come from MOMA, a blue chip or other higher level gallery?

None of the possible "success" scenerio's are what you think they are/will be. With success will come demands on your time - take you out of/away from the studio (and you're probably an introvert or loner anyway). Dinners/meetings with people you won't be able to stomach, and others you will heartily enjoy time with. If lucky, you will be able to continue making your work and not be influenced/affected by the success.

While you're imagining "it" (your artistic fame and financial security, great gallery, owner who DOES EVERYTHING for you), also try and imagine the flip side ("it" not being what you imagined it would be like). How after becoming "recognized" you might get "stuck", afraid - unable to start making something new from the success/pressure of "will this work stand up to the previous?" Now you're only as good as your last show, your last great piece, public or privately acquired by museum, collector or a nobody (as a poster).

Just a few thoughts.

O blog dee blog da.

6/16/2010 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Brandon said...

do you think actors have these debates? It seems to me that acting is somewhat a good parallel. A pyramid if you will. With the best and highest paying jobs at the top, and room for only a few. All the while tons and I mean tons of people below auditioning, playing minor rolls, working in summer stock and doing stand up at the Laugh Shack.

What I am saying is I see it as the same in any endeavor. You want to be chief of medicine, there is only one in each hospital, you better be damn good, good cred and good references. You want to be CEO, climb the ladder, you better befriend the right people or stab the right people in the back. You want to be manager at BK, work hard and have the district manager notice you or hook him up with some bootleg playstation games. I don't know, anywhere you go, the elite spots are hard to get. And often merit is not always the deciding factor, the board of directors and your personality just totally click, right, you certainly get the leg up if you both got MBA's from Harvard. Solo shows, to me are pretty elite too. Lots of applicants not many spots.

I think its funny that one can complain about how the system works until it works for you. In a very honest way I have had opportunities arise because of my relationships. Relationships that I made by being involved. Also though I feel that the opportunity was not there just because we had worked together or knew each other it was out of respect for the work AND the fact that we had connections.

Its complex and of course everyone thinks their art is the best which makes it hard. The very personal nature of creating art, its like being rejected by someone you love. If you got rejected in business you'd think what could of I have done better in my interview or can I make my resume better, how can I communicate better. Same as art, if your art isn't communicating how can you change that? Or sometimes it really isn't about YOU, its just that you weren't the right fit for the job. Doesn't mean your never going to get a job. Can we be just a little optimistic or do they teach pessimism at Yale these days?

Anyways, my word-iareha has to stop....

6/16/2010 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting take here: http://barneydavey.blogs.com/printmarket/2007/05/selling_out_is_.html

6/16/2010 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The economics question is easily answered. Art is a one to one business model. Music, film, books are all one to many. In the case of art, the amount of time it takes to make a work of art equates to a higher price since it is not divided up by copies (obviously the exceptions like prints exist)

I don't think there is any evidence that the art market is waning, to the contrary it is bigger than it has ever been.

6/16/2010 04:00:00 PM  

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