Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quick Reflection

I have an acute allergy to that thing that drives so many people to want to be an artist these days: mainly it seems to boil down to a rather grotesque desire to be famous that far exceeds any willingness to put honest reflection or, God forbid, a generosity of human spirit ahead of itself.

I have a real soft spot for that thing that drives anyone to need to be an artist: a nearly overwhelming sense of being lost if they're not challenging themselves, solving problems, making work.

The later can exist outside of the art market/"art world." The former really cannot.

The irony though is that the later is what the art world is tasked with discovering, nurturing, and ultimately preserving, while the former flock like so many Whacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube People inserting themselves everywhere they can (mind you, even the most desperate of artists who only want to be famous can't hold a candle to most art dealers in this regard, but....).

I saw a man coming out of a restaurant in Chelsea yesterday holding a sketch pad, rubberbanded to a palette and other art supplies. He wasn't an artist I recognized. He looked a bit old to be still hoping for an emerging career, but perhaps not. [UPDATE: As I note in the comments, that last line was an extremely lazy bit of writing. What I meant was he seemed too old to just be out of art school and unaware that bringing your sketchpad into a gallery was not the best way to get a gallery show...suggesting that his having it with him was not part of a "hit the pavement" and get a show campaign.]

He had that thing...that look in his eyes...that disposition that convinced me he was perhaps only accidentally in Chelsea, the commercial center of New York's art world (it was Monday after all...the galleries were closed). What I saw in his face (or thought I saw) was that need to challenge himself...that need to make work (hence, his slogging around with sketchpad in tow). There was no arrogance in his face, no sense of determination to become famous. There was a simple, gorgeous curiosity. And more than that...the rarest of qualities one finds on New York's streets: a vulnerability.

I don't know who he was. Perhaps just a Sunday/Monday painter. But I found the lack of obvious ambition in his body language and facial expression refreshing. Yes, perhaps, I projected a narrative onto him, but it still quickened my step and renewed my determination for what tiny role I'm getting to play in the history of art. Just that look on his face totally made my day.

I've been thinking about this quality in conjunction with the highly anticipated Willem de Kooning retrospective at MoMA. Here was an artist who, by his own words, felt there was no time period in painting's history for him. Yet he kept painting. Over the course of 70 years he challenged himself, he solved problems, he worked (and worked, and worked).

This is the only practical approach to greatness, in my humble opinion. Humankind reserves some of its highest honors (acknowledgement, respect, and preservation of contributions) for its artists. Such honors are not something one deserves for some trendy innovation. They're certainly not something anyone is born entitled to.

Murat and I will be extremely busy the next few weeks getting ready for the London Moving Image (which, we're delighted to report is coming along brilliantly!). I'll blog as often as I can, but can't promise to get to it each day. If all I can manage is a quick reflection or two, I hope you'll bear with such indulgences while we get this new venture up and running.


Labels: reflection


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He looked a bit old to be still hoping for an emerging career . . ."

And how old would that be, exactly? Sadly, Ed, that line belies the entire thesis of your post. Art is either good or it's not, despite one's age, education, or pedigree. The great artists of the mid-century (Rothko, Newman, even Pollock, not to mention de Kooning) didn't begin to show their work until about their forties. (I know, it was a different time, post-War and all that, but true nonetheless.) What's more, as someone who has established a pretty extensive art collection, I can honestly say I have never - not once! - purchased a piece of art because of someone's resume, education,
gallery affiliation, or youth. I buy pieces that resonate with my spirit, pieces I want to live with. I know you intended no harm in writing that, but it does reflect a gallery-dealer bias that, really, all of you should exorcise from your respective game plans.

9/20/2011 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Sorry, that was an extremely lazy phrasing...trying to do too much at once.

What I meant was he seemed too old to just be out of art school and unaware that bringing your sketchpad into a gallery was not the best way to get a gallery show...suggesting that his having it with him was not part of a "hit the pavement" and get a show campaign.

9/20/2011 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Ben Stansfield said...

Anon and Edward:
Thanks for asking, and for clearing that up. As a 41 year old painter, it was the only part of your post that made me a bit sad.
And thanks for writing it in the first place.
I've been drawing for 38 years, painting for about 15, and I still get people (some are even ones who supposedly know me) asking me about how famous I want to be (in reference to making stuff). Perhaps it's my Asperger's syndrome, or the thought that anybody would look at me and think 'that guy wants to be a famous artist', but I'm flummoxed when the topic comes up. Being famous is far from my mind, and I would be quite happy to toil away in obscurity on my work, assuming I had some way of paying for food, shelter and copious art supplies. Recognition, if it meant sales, which means being able to continue to work, sounds wonderful, and occasionally gratifying, but doesn't figure in why I paint or what I paint. I just gotta make stuff.
Merci Edward :-)

9/20/2011 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Pam said...

@Ben - Yes! Although I'm a decade younger than you, my motivation for making work is because I have to and want to not because I want to be a famous artist. Yeah, it would be great to have a show/substantial sales so I could leave this crappy job that I have to pay the bills, but I get to make exactly the work that I want. And, I lug my work back and forth to my job so I can sneak work-time in during the day.
I had a conversation in a bar with an artist who was in grad school, when I asked him why he was going to such-and-such grad school and why now, he said so that he could become famous.

9/20/2011 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It' true. The Italian artists also seem to live a bureaucracy of creativity. The artist role is contaminated by a cloying romanticism and narcisism. Probably we need a radical role redefinition.
Luca Rossi

9/20/2011 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NY needs to realize that NY will not always be at the top of the art game. As it stands most in the arts view the mess YOU PEOPLE created as a joke. Ed, didn't you used to have a few older artists in your stable? Where did they go and why did you push them out? Ageism is alive and well in your gallery.

9/20/2011 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's amazing you can type with your head up your ass so, Anonymous. The average ages of the artists we work with has never been higher. You really should know what you talk about before making such charges.

9/20/2011 02:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a stupid argument.
Whatever one 'wants' that allows or pushes them to make work is ok with me. Fame sucks anyway.

9/20/2011 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't disagree that wanting fame can serve as a strong motivator...I just don't think the rest of us should feel compelled to applaud it or pretend it's not obnoxious. As I noted, I personally have an allergic reaction to it in the raw form its on display in Chelsea so often.

9/20/2011 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I make art to dull the Pain.

I am also after Respect That's the Ultimate. It would be nice to be remembered... even if its only one person.

9/20/2011 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Rico said...

Sometimes the comments baffle me. What I picked up on in your post was mostly in the last two paragraphs, which I found -for lack of a better word- inspiring.

Looking forward to seeing the de Kooning show.

9/20/2011 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Sometimes the comments baffle me.


I find that mostly with the anonymous ones, apparently written by strong-opinionated folks without the conviction or courage to sign their names to their insults.

Such is the blogosphere.

9/21/2011 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Bird Monk Party said...

Dear Mr. Winklman:

Thanks for the most recent post. I recently emailed you about a request from an article writing website that said they wanted to pay me, on your behalf, for posting an article on my blog. Do you do this? Since I have written to you before about the same incident(s) does your not responding mean just simply no I didn't do that. You can't make this stuff up.
Lawrence Philp

9/21/2011 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Not the same Anon as before)

If you want to be famous, DON"T be an artist. Be an actor. A musician. A race car driver. A politician. Anything but an artist.

There are no living artists, worldwide, who are household names among the population at large, and there are no artists, worldwide, who would be recognized while walking down the street anywhere other than perhaps in Chelsea.

9/21/2011 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

"the later is what the art world is tasked with discovering, nurturing, and ultimately preserving"

you didn't talk to him, asking if he had representation, asking to see his work, he could be an undiscovered genius, the lost 2011 MacArthur Fellow in art. and you let him walk away.


I asked him why he was going to such-and-such grad school and why now, he said so that he could become famous.

you should have lovingly put a hand on his shoulder, slightly cocked your head to one side and in your most compassionate voice (with a subtle pinch of sarcasm) said "Ooh child, Fame isn't Love."

9/22/2011 06:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

a nice quote from over at

“First Be a Photographer and Maybe the Profession Will Come After”

Michael Zhang · Sep 21, 2011

" Is it your dream to become a professional photographer? Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson says you should focus more on the word “photographer” than the word “professional”:

Forget about the profession of being a photographer. First be a photographer and maybe the profession will come after. Don’t be in a rush to pay your rent with your camera. Jimi Hendrix didn’t decide on the career of professional musician before he learned to play guitar. No, he loved music and created something beautiful and that THEN became a profession. Larry Towell, for instance, was not a “professional” photographer until he was already a “famous” photographer. Make the pictures you feel compelled to make and perhaps that will lead to a career. But if you try to make the career first, you will just make sh*tty pictures that you don’t care about. "

9/22/2011 06:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watch this motivational video from Anthony Hopkins Twice a day and I guarantee Victory in your art world endeavors.


9/22/2011 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Anna Stump said...

Over here in CA we're having the start of a most wonderful season: Pacific Standard Time. Dozens of exhibitions by artists in their 70s and 80s who have been making work here for years. It. Is. Great!

9/23/2011 02:19:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I have to say there's been nothing more freeing than saying forget New York and the commercial art scene more generally, and just making and showing and being. I've always been more artist than careerist, mind you, but I came to realize that New York seemed to signify the height of arts research and dialogue for me for some reason - where it all happens, and thus where I needed to be. Now, it's not that I want to say F.U., and desire to be completely outside of the commercial gallery space forever, no matter what (I in fact do have regional representation elsewhere); but I just don't see my relationship to "galleries" and "New York" (whatever those signify) as a measure of success. I'll admit this happens for me in phases and moods, and I've gotten my hopes up then said goodbye a few times now, but this last year made me realize that I actually already have the art "career" I want: always making and showing and in dialogue (and often with completely non-sellable work that I'm very happy with), and with - thanks to a university gig - a livable income for my family.
It's a bit of alright.

9/23/2011 09:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Increasingly when we see an older person do something that's really incredible, we realize it's because of their age, not despite it." Dr. Gene Cohen

9/23/2011 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

I don't know I really did not see this post as being about age at all but merely about the motivation to be an "artist" superceeding a passion for "art". I agree with the point. I feel kinda lousy after leaving a comment bout an artist but it was true. IF you are young cool. and turn out enough of a body of junk you are often given recognition just for that effort. The desperation to find the next great thing doesn't aid much either.

9/23/2011 04:47:00 PM  

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