Tag Archives: New York Times

Artists: What Do You Think About The Art World Today?

critiquing art work by a group member

In a review of the Frieze Art Show in New York, Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Frieze show artists as “worker bees in an art-industrial hive.  Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.”  He distinguishes between the art he saw at Frieze and art one would find in “studios, or going to offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”

I asked the members of my monthly artists’ critique group what they thought about the hive metaphor for the art world.

Q:  What factors are contributing to the “art-industrial hive”, as described by Cotter?

E:   Art has become an industry that starts in art school now, manufacturing art.  Before, artists were told, “Express yourself” to the extent that the teachers didn’t actually teach anything.  People tended to grab onto their “gimmick” in order to show they had an artistic identity.

Now, there’s a move away from hands-on connection with art; it’s  all about where’s the next big thing.

J:  I think it’s very natural to have shifts in technology over time.  Whoever’s got the resources decides what people see.

G:  Art schools now think in terms of involving the engineering school [in creative projects, just so they can get grants] for funding.

C:  But, painting is looked at as quaint and not serious.

Q:  What do you think about what Holland Cotter’s description of the Frieze show?

E:  Art fairs are like a big box store for art.

C:   I get the impression art is marketed, packaged [and designed to] pull in investors.  I have heard some people who are running galleries now have financial backgrounds, not art backgrounds; it’s all part of this set up to sell the art work as another type of commodity.  Small dealers have been driven out of business.  Galleries in Connecticut [for example,] became an art destination where people would go when they got out of New York in the summer.  The dealers all knew the artists, they were friends; they had a real dialogue and relationship.  These galleries have been closing.  People with a genuine passion for art have been driven out.

Years and years of stripping art out of the schools has the result that people aren’t educated about art.  Their art choices are based on decorative or financial considerations.  People aren’t culturally sophisticated.  There used to be a respect for the humanities, no longer.

Architects and designers have become involved in designing interior spaces, to the extent of what people put up on their walls.  I have been stunned to learn people have a lot of money, yet they have blank walls, and they have to hire somebody to decide what goes on the walls.  Their choices are driven by status or decoration.  They’re either afraid to make choices of art or they have no opinion, no taste.  It’s cowardly, but also ignorant–  out of not having education, not having exposure to art and experience with it.  For people who don’t have lots of money, museums are often too expensive.

An alternative to the bee-hive: E and I attended an opening reception June 15 for “Facemask”, a juried group show, curated by Sergio Gomez, at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, which fits Cotter’s description as one of those “ offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”  (One of our critique group members, Gabriella Boros, has a work in the show.)

The work was fresh, provocative and varied, and the energy and dialogue among the artists/attendees was palpable.   E and I left feeling inspired and energized, eager to get our hands dirty in our studios.

Artists:  what do you think of the art-industrial hive?  How do you want to reach the public with your art?

Who’s In Charge Here?

"Interior With Cubist Chair," by Susan Chertkow

There has been much debate lately in the advanced painting class I teach at the Art Center, Highland Park, over whether or not an artist should explain “what she meant” when she created a work of art.  Stephanie looked at Susan’s series of paintings and asked her, “What were you thinking about?  What does this mean to you?”  Susan replied, “It doesn’t matter what it means to me, what matters is what it means to you, to the viewer.”  Stephanie made the case that it is interesting to know what the artist’s intention or story is.

I weighed in to say that, as the creator of a work, I don’t feel that my version of what it “means” is any more significant than anyone else’s.  In fact, once I finish a painting, what it means for me usually changes.  I’ve been painting long enough to have people show me works they bought from me decades ago, and not only do I not remember what I was thinking when I made it, occasionally I don’t exactly remember the piece!  (This is a rather disorienting feeling, since I remember selling it to them, and I can easily recognize my style, as familiar as looking at the shape of my own fingers.)

Serena Kovalosky, in her blog “365 Days Of Everything I Love About Being An Artist,” addressed the idea of interpreting art by saying:  “I’m not particularly attached to my translation of a piece and I find it fascinating to learn how my work affects others.  I’ll offer my version, discuss my influences as I was creating it, and I’ll gladly share the technicals.  But what people will remember most is how my work made them feel.”

I go a little further than Serena.  Not only do I enjoy hearing what other people bring to my work, I have found that sharing my version seems to quash their creative response.  Once they hear my “version,” they no longer feel theirs is valid.  I always hope that the engaged viewer actually has a creative experience when reacting to art, whether it’s visual, music or literary.

The great literary critic William Gass explores the notion of the “self” in art in his new book, Life Sentences.  As discussed by reviewer Adam Kirsch in the New York Times, Gass says:  “‘What works of art testify to is the presence in this world of consciousness, consciousness of many extraordinary kinds,’ he writes…  But this is ‘not that of the artists themselves, for theirs are often much the same as any other person’s…  It is not the writer’s awareness I am speaking of but the awareness he or she makes.  For that is what fine writing does:  it creates a unique verbal consciousness.'”

This is a fascinating idea:  that art creates a unique consciousness in the viewer’s experience of it.  This goes beyond what I tell my students, that the art should always “speak for itself.”  What do you think:  do you prefer to know the artist’s story behind his/her work, or would you rather experience it without explanation?

Blogging and Art: For Love or Money?

While discussing social media and internet publishing, people often ask me how people make money off their blogs.  The New York Times has a very informative and detailed article on this topic, entitled My Blog Is Also Paying My Bills.

My favorite quote in the article comes from a financially successful blogger named Steve Pavlina.  His comment mirrors exactly what I tell people about being a professional artist:  “I tell people if they want to start a blog just to make money, they should quit right now,” Mr. Pavlina said. “You have to love it and be passionate about your topic.”

In discussions about getting art out in the world and making money from it, I always end up saying exactly the same thing.  In the end, an artist must be primarily motivated by the love of making art.  There is a lot he/she can do to promote the work and bring it to the marketplace, but in the end, there are a lot of easier ways to make money than being an artist.  In fact, almost any way is easier.  Sensible people don’t choose to make a living as an artist.  Art chooses you, and you learn to live with (and sometimes by) it.