Monday, April 22, 2013

Venticinque | Open Thread

A quarter of a century ago, I was living in Milan and heading toward birthday number 25, which caused a bit of embarrassment because, for some reason, I had a mental block about how to pronounce that number in Italian. Eventually a pop song came to my rescue, though, when I realized venticinque had the same number of syllables and syncopation as the refrain in "Panic," the relatively new song (at the time) by The Smiths. It helped that it rhymed as well. After that epiphany, any time I needed to say venticinque, I'd first quickly sing along with Morrisey in my head:
Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ
and swap out the lyrics for 
Ven-ti-cin-que, ven-ti-cin-que, ven-ti-cin-que
E Ecco! Parlo Italiano (or something more comprehensible than before anyway).

More recently, I've had a different sort of anxiety, as I now head into my second 25 years of life on this rock. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "panic," but like no other milestone birthday before this I've been reviewing where I am and measuring it against where I always imagined I would be. It's been weighing on my mind and rather annoyingly distracting/depressing me.

Then came last week. 

If the world's seen a more hellish 7 days in my lifetime, I honestly can't remember when. From the catastrophe in West, Texas, to the horrendous earthquake in China, the floods through the Midwest, the undeniable corruption in Congress, and of course the surreal insanity in Boston, the constant barrage of breaking news of people with real problems snapped me out of my pity-party-for-one and helped me make peace with turning 50. 

But my maudlin self-absorption about age was only one of the preoccupations that, as you may have noticed, brought about a bit of writer's block for me recently. The other contributing factor has been a similar string of heart-breaking or revolting news coming out of the art world. From the truly unsettling news that the brilliant Daniel Reich had taken his own life to the "I told you so's" and calls for more regulation in the wake of the Helly Nahmad Gallery-related indictments, there's been a sense that the status quo in the art business simply cannot persist much longer. 

Now, imo, Benjamin Genocchio has adopted the right attitude toward what all the uncertainty could mean: 
I have this gnawing feeling that the time is ripe to make something new and exciting happen in the art world. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but I’m convinced that fairs, galleries, auction houses, even museums are changing the way they do business and that the art world we know now will be almost unrecognizable in 20 years’ time.
And yet, in conversations with a wide range of artists lately about what they see when they look at the art world today, I've heard another refrain that reminded me again of the lyrics from "Panic":
Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life
I haven't wanted to write about these conversations, because they involve individual artists and/or galleries, and it's not my place with my limited insights to toss stones at anyone else, living in a glass house as I do. But I would like to find a way now, given how many times the issue has come up recently, to gingerly start a conversation about it.

In my humble opinion, the most important appraisers of any artwork are other artists, because its potential influence (or not) on them will play a role in the future of art history. The dialog among artists reigns supreme among my interests in the art world. Nothing else comes close to being as exhilarating or eye opening. So it's upsetting to hear that "sterile" is the word often used to describe what these artists report seeing in the galleries. 

What they say they mean when pressed on this is a response more precisely aimed at the generation of rising stars who had once excited them but who, upon reaching higher-tiered galleries, seem to have lost their edge. The pressure to produce more and larger work to fill the cavernous spaces of their new dealers is painfully obvious to their contemporaries. These once inspiring heroes have gone fully into Production mode, or so it seems, they say. And it's depressing them because now they're not sure now what it is they want from their own careers. They used to think they wanted the big galleries and the flexibility and the "freedom" that seemed to represent, but now they're not so sure it ends that way. They know they don't want to have to simply phone in series after series of market-ready trophies for the endless art fairs in between obviously rushed solo exhibitions. That's not why they became artists.

Of course, it's easy to dismiss their observations as envy, or it would be if I didn't know these artists better than I do. I'm not sharing any names, so you'll either have to take my word for it (or not). But the potential influence of this, let's call it, professionalization of art making on the type of art that gets shown or made seems undeniable.

I realize this is opening Pandora's box, but I have moderator control and I'm not at all afraid to use it, so consider this a request for "polite" opinions on what it means today to become a successful artist in one's lifetime and the impact that may/may not have on art history:


Blogger lynnxe said...

I've been thinking the same way as your artist friends, and it's been throwing my thoughts about my work into an interesting tailspin. I feel like I am constantly re-evaluating what "success" means, and even whether or not I want to focus on making objects that ultimately wind up as decoration in a wealthy person's home. I don't know what the answer is, but I know it feels to me (and I'm sure many artists) that we have become increasingly unimportant voices in an industry that wouldn't exist without us.

I'm glad you've opened this Pandora's box. I look forward to seeing what others have to say -- I know I have a lot of conversations lately with fellow artists about the future of the gallery and how to participate in the art world without feeling like you've lost your soul, so I think the time is very ripe for this conversation.

4/22/2013 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Ravenna Taylor said...

I so appreciate your opening of this topic, Ed; I will look forward to seeing how the conversation unfolds, both here and on your FB page.
The light of recognition came for me when you mention that many of us once aspired to the big-gallery representation, or at least held it in the spotlight as a living artist's highest ambition, and now many of us question that ambition and don't know exactly what to visualize in its stead. Such questions might have arisen at a certain age anyway, for those of us who reach that age without reaching that milestone; but I know that my aspiration to continue in painting and collage, and my resistance to "decorating" spaces (whether of the wealthy or not), is leaving me with a lot of unanswered questions right now about what is possible, and desirable, as an outlet for my work. Thanks again for taking the risk of opening the topic.

4/22/2013 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Thank you Edward.
You write this SO WELL

Happy Earth day
and Happy Birthday!

4/22/2013 11:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

I will probably comment at least one or two more times here offering my suggestions. I don't want to hog the thread and I don't want to write lengthy explanations for why i am proposing what may at first seem to be outlandish ideas.
Artists feel locked out of the dialogue (I, of course, do not claim to write for all artists everywhere, and it is a sweeping generalization but I think there is a strong basis for this claim). There are vastly more artists at the metaphorical gate trying to get in than are "in", and those inside rarely seem to continue any meaningful artist dialogue with those of us outside.

A modest proposal:
Once a year as many commercial galleries as willing open their galleries at the same time to show for at least a week artists they do not represent. A sort-of open studio event allowing non-represented artists a certain amount of space allotted as equally as possible. Gallerists, directors, assistants, and critics make a good faith effort to look at as much of the art as possible.

Part of the current problem is that those gallerists who may even be willing to find and show new artists (new as unknown by gallerist, not defined by age or art pedigree) may not have the opportunity to visit studios and make discoveries. This bring the art to them.

A donation could be taken to offset expenses, but not as a required fee. Perhaps this could begin based more on friends of friends with some regional limit, but an effort to be as inclusive as possible. If there is not enough room perhaps a lottery would have to be implemented. The two closest types of events to this I know of were the BYOB (Bring your Own Art) that happened at the X-initiative and a MayDay event at Feature, inc all were years ago. Hashtagclass also had similarities to this type of outreach. At their best events like these help artists feel they are a part of the art world at its worst it also risks establishing a sense of entitlement among the participating artists and a possible expectation of continued progress.

4/22/2013 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post feels like an early birthday present for me, Edward, in that it solidifies some of my own recent thinking. I am with two small galleries in two cities that treat me well - even if I only make small profits on my shows - and have a job that gives me some time to produce work I believe makes a difference in viewership (and enough of a living, if I live a tad frugally); I am highly engaged with a community of artists and thinkers and press, both locally and online, in all sorts of ways. I'm happy, and I'm all the better to know it.

When I was younger, I may have signed with a Big Gallery given the opportunity, and was desperate to find a job in New York so I could move back there - now, I would not, and I am not. One could always grow and do better, be engaged more and show more and make more, and write and think more, to be sure. But the kind of care and time and space it takes to do such things "right" is not what the current form of capitalism and utilitarian neoliberalism afford. And sadly, the big gallery and fair structure have to buy into the latter just to keep up.

I don't have answer for you (though I think you do great things within, and outside of, the current structure!), but do believe things can change. A healthy art engagement needs a balance between institutional support (museums, universities, etc), DIY art (on the margins, in studios, etc), and commercial galleries / sales. At various points in history, the balance has tipped enormously to one or the other of these three (think conceptual art in the 60s, and how museums and universities decided who was great, and galleries followed suit), in one city or another. Right now, it's NYC and it's big money (the opposite of the 60s: big name galleries lead, and museums follow). The disappointment some are having in the output of this tipped balance is a good thing. It means people like me can find happiness elsewhere, without "grass is greener" and ill-placed jealousy, and people like you can look and listen and change the system...

You often give great advice to artists on what they can do - in life and in their work - to get what they want from their practice, whether it's getting the attention of galleries and promoting themselves, or finding happiness in what they do and make. I'd like to flip that over. How can we help you (help us all)? What can artists do to change the current system? These are not idle or passive aggressive questions (nor am I ignoring that you've addressed much of this before, both in posts, and in practice at fairs and in shows) - but I see this post as an opportunity to brainstorm further. I am a teacher, writer and artist. In small ways, what I instill through teaching and writing, and my sticking with my small galleries as my own career has grown, have made a bit of difference (I like to think they have, anyway). I also buy art when I can, to support emerging artists, and because I love it. But what can I do, bigger? What can we all do? Individually? What about together - say, if I got a group of 10 or 20 relatively known artists to commit some of their time to something? What about bigger than that? I ask this of your readers, too - what have you done, or would you like to do, or have you seen others done, to help change that which many of us have become cynical about in the larger art world?..

PS Ed, I hope you don't mind my signing anonymously. I figure I'll be forgiven since it's not me hiding from a hugely critical post, but rather not wanting to spotlight myself in this :)

4/22/2013 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

I'm glad that you decided to write this Edward. I don't really care for the terms regional or provincial, but here in Kansas City, we have a pretty wonderful art community that continues to grow and produce really exciting artists and connections among artists - regardless of whether or not New York or anyone else notices. This makes it pretty clear to me that the notion of there being a "center of the art world" is completely absurd and self-important notion. I teach Elementary art and make art out of a context that suits the demands and realities of my life, so NYC, Berlin or any other hotspot will never be the center of my art world, but what goes on in my art world, most certainly matters to me. As far as how I measure success or achieve a sense of meaning within my own art practice, I would have to say that it all comes down to the element of seeking more meaning. I don't want to do something that doesn't have meaning, so all of my work is guided by the pursuit of more education and greater understanding of identity. Art for me is an approach to life more interior than exterior, so talk of art history and art worlds is a little beside the point as far as I'm concerned.

4/22/2013 07:07:00 PM  
Anonymous tyson skross said...

I'm glad to read this here Edward. And I wish I saw more of this kind of dialogue more often in other places where art is written about and discussed. This seems very timely to me, this is something I have been thinking about very much lately both in my own career and in the futures of the many art students I am surrounded by on a daily basis (both BFA and MFA).
I really liked what anonymous 4/22 had to say, and in many ways it seems they are living my fantasy life as an artist, one I have given up (not entirely out of choice) to live in New York. Having grown up in the nineties and entered the world of adult life in the early 2000's my naive ideal of success was informed by the culture that I was surrounded by close to what you have described in your post Ed, reaching a higher-tier gallery to gain "freedom" through financial success, going on to further institutional recognition and the respect of my peers. But I along with the artists you describe now see that that goal isn't really the type of success I desire. I think most artists have realized that money doesn't equate with success. That true freedom can't be bought. But they still haven't quite figured out what the alternatives are. They still have bills to pay. They still have the real problems that everyday people have to deal with.
For me it has really been narrowed down to the last of those three goals, the respect of my peers (which is something that goes both ways) and I don't mean pleasing them, or aiming for recognition, just a mutual respect that is maybe more workmanlike, that one is doing it. Doing it well is icing on the cake.
What this means for art history? Well who knows, its a well worn cliche that history is written by the victors, but most of us (me included) simply don't have the clarity to see what we're fighting for, much less which side we're on. And we could wake up tomorrow morning to some momentous event that could change everyone's perspective. Or not. So we each have to do the best we can.

I think that every individual must have their own idea of what success means for them and then follow that path. The most important thing is to see that there is no single way to measure it, and everyone has to reach for their own goals.

I know that this is vague and not giving any real concrete answers, but that is my point. There are no easy answers, it is almost impossible to impose a model on an established system to create a desired change. So we each have to do our best to get through, and work with the ones were close with to help do that.

4/23/2013 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Amelia said...

this is such an eloquently written post (my first time here I believe from a twitter link!).

Living in London, UK and just out of art school (MA in Fine Art) although a practicing artist for a few years now, I'm intrigued by notions of 'success' in and out of the art-world. I realise there are many paths and ways, and careful observation and consideration of my own life's needs/requirements has fed my decisions about what defines success for me as an artist, based on what it is I wish to achieve - this is an ongoing enquiry which can change.

One thing that continues to strike me is the gate-keeping element of being an artist (i.e does one know the gatekeepers? or will one produce works that please the gatekeepers enough to gain entry to 'those' galleries?) Yet the reason I produce work of my own is deeply personal, political and probably spiritual (can't always put in to words) therefore I've felt strongly I would love to put my energies into creating a space of my own with other artists that allowed us to define our own parameters and reasons for doing/showing art.

After much time, energy, & skills-pooling, 4 of us from the MA have got together, found a space and are busy renovating and preparing to open a collective studio/art project space, with a show called 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' May 3rd, highly experimental in concept and execution (exactly reasons I wanted to do art) and all in the face of adversity: there are many cuts to arts funding here in the UK and people putting energy into what isn't working, yet I believe it's best to focus on what we wish for, not what one dislikes/disagrees with! ie. what do you wish to achieve? It's taken me years to figure it out and it's never an end place I get to, figuring out each of our's successes in the art-world is probably as much a journey as the process of making art itself.

I am excited about what we/I am doing, and intrigued to see where it will go, and as a single mother caring for a child with aspergers I feel even more strongly about defining my own way through life, and as an artist. There are many reasons why each of us could say that we can't achieve/do such and such, and yet where there's a will, I believe there's a way!

This is long, but thanks for a thought-provoking post. here's to success for all of us on all of our own terms :)


4/23/2013 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed...minor're entering your third 25 years, not your second. That happened when you turned 25.

(sorry...i'm not far behind anyway).

good thread....

4/23/2013 09:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Helene Mukhtar said...

I am not sure what the definition of "a successful artist" is. I just do my thing! As long as I keep on moving forward, I am fine with that. I feel blessed that I do not have to sell my work to put food on the table.

4/24/2013 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An Artist is a one man band. Painters have the most freedom they are spoiled children. Sculptors are trapped .

So look at your Musical Heroes . How many good records did they realy put out?? I think a eight or ten year run is about as good as it gets even for the greatest.

I wouldn't get to tough on your Heroes of the day. they are only ordinary men and women.

you know, Tom Cruise has never made a bad movie.

my favorite Band out of New York is Blue Oyster Cult.

Happy Birthday Edward.

4/24/2013 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Congrats Ed! The big Hawaii 5-0! Way to go!

Success, historical influence and why the trickle up theory leads so often to stale water.....

Have you seen Matej Pelijhan's littel prince series? Essentially photo works of an "immobile" child in poses that reflect his dreams of freedom through movement. What touches me about this artwork is that it empowers the subject. I think that is likely the measure of success in all art. That the great works touch anohter somehow.

Orwell wrote "Good novels are not written by orthodoxy-sniffers,nor by people whic are conscience-stricken about their own unorthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are not frightened."

So why are those artists you hint at frightened? Maybe the age old avoidance of risk. One has reached this point this way and so the tendancy is to maintain that stasis the same old way. Most great art takes the absurd risk of proving that a given moment is greater then all the rest and for some unspecfied reason deserves our attention. While time proves the contrary. all momomets simply follow and lead to another moment until they metamorphose into memories. Like the big 5 0 shall as well.

Being social beasts, I think that risk is rolled up in our being open enough to our chosen subject (that moment in time we deem worthy of others attention) - to place ourselve at risk. Conncecting with others is inherently anti risk avoidance. Love only guards those willing to be vulnerable. If you are trying to do risk management on your art career, you will have a tougher time being vulenrable enough to open yourself up to your subject, hence wont be able to touch another with your art - hence the sterile same old same old. Not that same old same old cant be worthy, just that the artist wont be open enough to that moment to justify our attention.

I still measure my success by the last painting Ive done. (granted circumstances allow that more easily then for most) and I still appreciate that Picasso always took risk though I think not that necessarily implies new technique or subject. Simply a looking at a new, a freedom from stereotypes.

So is our "frightened" mental aspect because of terrorism, twitter imMEDIAcy, or an economy of vast riches we might miss out on, or our isolation from human contact in a digitally enshrouded augmented society? It might not matter, if we realize our art is nourished in our openess to reality, dreamt or otherwise.

(not sure if Van Gogh would have been on his artist peers list of the most likely to influence art historically ... ;)

4/24/2013 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Conncecting with others is inherently anti risk avoidance."

I realy like that Gam !
And the thing about love.

you know, the more people who Reject me tell me im on the right path!

On to Victory!!!!

4/24/2013 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow President Bush 43 front page news today The new Library is pretty spiffy. The cherry on top would be a Shiny Bush Sculpture with the Devils Haircut.

Got a devil's haircut in my mind
Got a devil's haircut in my mind
Got a devil's haircut in my mind

4/25/2013 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous brian said...

I think one of the good things about being older is that you understand success in new ways.

And as an artist over time you develop your work but also you begin to understand a small portion of the micro and macro levels of the art world.

If you can keep aware of this but also make good interesting work, and survive, than that's success.

Lenard Cohen was saying somewhere,[cant remember where now] success is survival.

So may good artists I know end up stopping, due to life and money, or lack of.

thanks for the ideas in this blog, really interesting reading.

5/01/2013 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

The concept of a "successful artist" is a mutated concept. This is because, along with other factors, the art market has changed it fundamentally. Additional confusion is provided by the speed at which contemporary life seems to happen. It may feel impossible to be able to express the pulse or zeitgeist of the moment, which I think is an important thing for an artist to attempt to do. There are multiple facets with equal or nearly equal need to be expressed (sounds rather cubist). In this fractured climate it is extremely difficult for artists to rise through the ranks.

Attention is focused on those artists previously "successful". Artists who are supported by powerful galleries with enormous resources. Occasional reviews and articles mention new, under-known artists but few of those artists or their representing galleries can usefully capitalize on those words. Some galleries, mostly blue-chip, have over time developed strong connections to media outlets, art collectors and museum directors and can weather difficult periods while the smaller galleries are left to struggle and whither.

I want to believe that artists can create their own "success" through innovative ideas, talent, hard work?, and perseverance, however I feel skeptical that is the case and observe it more as the gallery selecting an artist for whatever reason suits the gallery and promoting them to the art buying public which brings us back to the mutation where it seems that "success" is a matter of selling art to wealthy people. The art world is an eco-system and we are all connected, but the food chain is disrupted. If the middle-class were in a better condition, the eco-system could balance out. over time the middle class has been falling behind. Capitalism is not working for most of us.

A successful artist is one who can show us a new way to see the world. In a climate where prices determine quality and everything is curated this cannot happen. When art is curated always and everywhere it limits the possibility for new visions. "New" cannot be curated, like Duchamps' Fountain it will be refused to be shown, and only by lucky chance make its way into the world. Galleries subsist on rejecting artists, they help create a hierarchy of what they believe is great and through their bias help feed into those other rejected artists' desire to be accepted. The only recourse I see is for artist to forms collectives which are more inviting and offer a support network that the galleries have no intention of providing.

5/09/2013 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Terry Ward (GrumpyVisualArtist) said...

art success = you're in a museum.

it is nice if one can pay all one's bills with art, but certainly not necessary.

cashflow is not significance.

influencing art history is nice but not necessary.

no one needs to make copies of or work influenced by giacometti or by the vorticists or the rayonists, etc, to make the vintage art 'significant'. some art just won't influence anyone, and that's fine.

i love bernard's unrepresented-week idea!

5/09/2013 05:38:00 PM  

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