Friday, January 10, 2014

Looking Past the Smoke and Mirrors: "Living and Sustaining a Creative Life"

I'm constantly still amazed at how much of how the art world truly works remains a mystery to so many people who wish to participate in it. Perhaps that's the same for most creative industries, but I feel I have a stronger sense of what it takes to break into show business or professional sports or other fields I'm not at all involved in than many young artists or wanna-be art dealers have about how the commercial gallery system operates.

Then again, perhaps I'm overstating that. Back in college I had an unpaid internship at a local TV station and (yes, this is now embarrassing) actually appeared on camera twice a week for an opinion segment (yes, I was as opinionated back then as I am now). As a struggling college student, though, I still had to work, waiting tables, to make ends meet. Customers at the restaurant would frequently recognize me from the program, and most expressed surprise that someone they saw on TV would need to work another job. I didn't want to tell them the position was unpaid....I liked being perceived as "successful" so I usually laughed it off by saying I was a workaholic (which is true) and asked to take their drink orders.

I recalled this mostly forgotten memory recently, while reading a passage from the collection of 40 essays by visual artists on "Living and Sustaining a Creative Life," edited by the indefatigable Sharon Louden (who has a show up at Guido Maus' awesome gallery, Beta Pictoris/Maus Contemporary Art in Birmingham, AL right now, if you're in that neck of the woods). The exact passage was by our very own Jennifer Dalton, who wrote in her essay:
I remember the first time someone told me that many artists with apparently thriving careers and gallery representation still had day jobs. It was the first of a very long series of realizations that the art world is at least 50% smoke and mirrors. At the time I felt an almost personal betrayal at the realization that artists I had already perceived as incredibly, unattainably successful still had to find another way to pay the bills. Many years later, I still haven’t really gotten over it! Tons of brilliant and well-known artists (and curators, and critics and art dealers) are utterly broke, working full-fledged outside jobs, relying on money from their families, or some combination of the above. The art world is a hard place.
Anyone on the inside will confirm that projecting a perception success is a huge part of the way one becomes successful (that's why when you ask a dealer how they did at this or that art fair, they'll usually sugar coat a bad experience). For artists, too, weak sales during an exhibition are not something you usually want to share with the wider art world. It cuts into the perception that you're reaching your goals.

This is such an interesting topic to me (what Jen terms the "smoke and mirrors" of the art world), that I could go on here for hours about it, but if you're in New York this coming Thursday afternoon, I'll invite you instead to come hear yours truly and a fantastic group of others share a few more thoughts on this, as well as all the aspects of Sharon's book, at a talk at the 92nd Street Y. Moderated by Sharon Louden herself, and including collector Werner H. Kramarsky and artist/co-curator of this year's upcoming Whitney Biennial, Michelle Grabner, the talk will focus on the reality of how an artist sustains a creative practice over time. Here are more details on the talk:  

Sharon Louden with Werner H. Kramarsky, Edward Winkleman and Michelle Grabner: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life 
Date: Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 12 pm 
Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St 
Venue: Classroom 
Price: from $21.00 

For more information visit

It will, of course, include a Q&A. I hope to see you there!


Blogger curator999 said...

And if you are in Washington, DC on Thursday, January 23, the amazing Sharon Louden will do another panel on this topic at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at 7 pm. Featuring Sharon as moderator, the panel will include artists Jenny Marketou, Patrick McDonough, and Jeff Spaulding discussing this vital topic. My gallery, Curator's Office, is super proud to organize this event with the Hirshhorn and American University Art Department. And, because it's the Smithsonian, it's FREE! Do not miss.

1/11/2014 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to be there, but as an artist that has to keep a full time job to sustain my art and my life, I have to work at the time of this panel.

1/13/2014 09:54:00 AM  

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