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Connecting—in the dark, in space, in time

Some of you are part of the Jerry Saltz Facebook Tribe. And what a tribe it is, nearly 4600 strong and growing daily. For those of you who are not, here’s my take on what Jerry is doing on Facebook: By operating as more of an art advocate than art critic (Saltz does in fact write art reviews for New York Magazine) and by being such a sincere, passionate and personal voice, he has hobbled together the most diverse, non-hierarchical, lively artist community on the Web. He’s the best art troubadour I’ve ever known. And as one commenter pointed out, FB is perfect for artists—“you can participate in the discussion but then step away when you want to work, all the while in your pajamas. And you don’t have to smile.”

A few days ago Saltz posted this message:

Mia Pearlman asks “about the REALITY of being an artist. NOT career stuff, resume, etc. But the day-to-day stuff no one EVER tells you about: the studio; finding inspiration; fallowness; fear; isolation; rejection; being broke, hating yr work; creating community. What do you know now about the reality of being an artis…t that you wish you knew then? How do you sustain the rollercoaster craziness of being an artist?”

So far that question has garnered 427 comments, some of them so insightful, inspiring and wise I had to assemble by own abridged version to refer to when I’m feeling blue. Perhaps you’ll find some solace in these comments as well. (Out of respect for the respondents. I have omitted individual names.)

hmmm, not sure I would have even understood “then” what I know now. But, even the crummy moments are mine – all mine – and that ONE piece, or ONE moment, or ONE inspiration makes up for all the other stuff. Well – most of the time anyway. OK, well SOME of the time. Oh, every now and then.

That it never gets easy. You can never really relax, you’ll never feel like you’ve made it, no matter what you achieve it will never be enough. In some ways that’s great, some ways it’s torture. Also, if you want to have a family, and you are SURE you want to have a family, then go ahead and make babies. Don’t listen to anybody’s BS about how having a family will ruin your career.

I draw at least 2 hours everyday whether I’m inspired or not. It’s a part of my routine like the way other people go to the gym. I don’t believe in inspiration or muse at all.

One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to build faith in my process (and myself), that it would lead somewhere good eventually, even if I felt totally weird about my work, or hit blocks, or got rejected from 7 residencies in 2 months, which happened, or couldn’t get anything done for one reason or another, or wasn’t interested in what everyone else thought was cool. I gave myself a lot of grief and agony that was just wasted energy. And once you get the faith you have to keep it going—its an ongoing process over many, countless, ups and downs. But it makes those openings wayyyy more fun!

it seems counter-intuitive, but I now consider a good day job to be one of my most important tools: it enables me to be an artist by paying my rent, supplies, healthcare, time-off etc. My energy/anxiety is now spent on making the work rather than how I’ll afford to live. I’m much freer to really explore where my curiosity and imagination lead me, which is one of the true beauties and joys of being an artist, IMHO.

What I wish I had known earlier: that you can’t just create, you have to put yourself in people’s faces so much that they have to pay attention to you and what you’re doing.

i don’t ask if its sustainable, i just show up everyday and work hard as hell.

when i get depressed/emotional/feeling inadequate (often), i remind myself that i am blessed to be CHOOSING this wondrous and crazy intense life/style. and that that choice is actually empowering. and then i find a way to get back to work.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am creating a talk for art students, artists, etc about this very topic, because I think most of us are totally unprepared for the reality of being an artist. No talk can replace going though it oneself, and its different for everyone, but at least people can feel less crazy and isolated in the process, like I did. Plus, aren’t we all curious what other people do in the studio, how often they go, how they come up with ideas, etc? SO: I would be happy to quote anyone here and give full credit, but if you do not want your name to be used that is fine, just let me know.

I totally agree about inspiration—or as my Mom, who is a writer, always said: TUSH IN CHAIR. Or, you can’t write if you’re not at the desk. That said, I get most of my ideas when I’m cooking or on a walk—I find time away from the work to be absolutely integral to my process. And I no longer feel guilty about it!!

My advice follow through on every hunch- trust. Be resourceful use street smarts, appreciate others, know thyself to thine own self be true. Show up, get busy and work for the cosmic good. Surround yourself with people who you are a support to -and are supportive of your talents and abilities. Let others help you. Love what is.

It took me about twenty-five years to realize that being an artist is being a self-identified member of a tribe. Your importance, relevance and status in the tribe depends on how much you support the tribe. Petty squabbles and disagreements over aesthetics and other artistic stuff is fine, even fun, but if you’re looking for affirmation from outside the tribe, forget about it because most of those people couldn’t give a crap about you, unless there’s money involved. The only people capable of appreciating what you do as an artist are your tribe members. It’s a weird tribe, but it’s our tribe.

Here’s one: if you think while making a piece that “this’ll be the one that makes me a success/gets me a show/everyone will love (or hate)/will take me to the next level” that piece WILL SUCK. In other words, its like sex: don’t over think it.

Yes, every time I think I have really struck gold–no one else ever sees it.

See the glass as half empty and convince yourself that only you have the genius to fill it to the brim. Be uncontained by the logic of others. Never censor what comes freely. Quit living within the expectations of others. Never allow yourself to get comfortable. Never confuse your idea of personal success with formulae belonging to someone else. Feel encumbered by the need to make work so badly that you wish you could die to escape the finality of completing the work. Be thankful that you are not dead yet. Be delighted by something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, once a day. Once a night. Once a week. Once in a while. Recognize delight when you experience it. Name your own terms and keep them to yourself.

I wake up relieved that I trusted myself to know that I wanted to make art. I never really feared being poor, so being pathetically broke at times is manageable. Even though I have never experienced any kind of success as an artist, I remain excited about the next painting. I am happy knowing that my drive to create is not dictated by the need to be an art star. I would tell myself as a young artist not to worry, you will be o.k.

The reason I say we have a good life is because we are choosing it. No one would be an artist unless their life depended on it. The rest is individual and to each his own. I remember my crossroads decision to step into that arena about 20 years ago but I was making art since childhood and knew my life would be defined and sustained by something creative. But it is not about “fame” or “money” although that can be the carrot at the end of the stick. It has to come… See More
from the daily work and pleasure of sharing,receiving and making a creative life. I think that there was a book with a title like “The Art of Every Day Living” written by Gerhard Richter.

I had been working hard in my studio last week and yesterday I could not pick up a brush. Ten minutes moved like 2 hours of agony, I felt frozen. I realized that the work is mental and my brain did not want to work. Then I started cleaning up the studio, and then… it clicked. I worked I found a slightly different rhythm than I had previously. I am in a different stage in the work and the transition was hard. It’s not verbal or terribly predictable. I found myself coaxing myself with: “You know this feeling”

Learn your craft. Bond with other explorers. Love their success. Don’t be swayed by trends. Know that critics, curators, etc. are the scaffolding. Read widely but include Clausewitz and Sun Szu. Embrace mystery and revel in ambiguity. Be kind. Never give up.

Art chooses us- we do not choose it. It is not a profession but a life. If one is fully committed day in and out and can find supportive friends, mentors and peers it is never lonely. It is often difficult to be the artist and the business person because they require such different hats. I believe we should do what we each do best and collectively will be happier and most successful. Part of more is better than all of a little.

what i have learned. never give up. if you throw in the towel, pick it up and use it the next day. dont skimp on materials. if you have no money, use what is at hand or make it about that poverty. invention and experimentation. sabotage every other career path so that art making is only focus. find your comrades. dont wait around, make your own opportunities. always have a studio even if you have to drywall over a window in the rented apartment. romanticize your life.

For myself art has always been a primary relationship- and all that entails. Love, suspicion, fascination, surrender, growth, commitment, disgust and on and on. But always there, loyal and demanding. It grows when I give of myself and has never let me
down, even when I’ve pimped it for cash.

What I find the trickiest part of all of this is that it is so individual. Each one of us has our own work, our own vision and our own path. Not knowing is part of the process. It takes a LONG time to ripen and arrive, if ever. Being sensitive and being bold just seem like incompatible qualities yet these are just the 2 pieces that are required to be an artist. Never quit.

it’s weird, when i think about my life, i’ve always been capable of LONG periods of isolation. and I still am. but out there, in the fly over zone, i only wanted to associate with the coolest people, and those people i love being around. your peeps. and the best thing about the art world is EVERYONE is a TOTAL SNOB!…and opinionated as hell, argumentative, sexy, (a little crazy) and REALLY COOL! that’s what i mean, it’s a community of cosmopolitan hermits!

While my snob side thinks I’m an “artist”, the down to earth side is more “a worker in the arts”. Because of my background and the process of grinding out work though, the side that wins out is “the worker in the arts”.

I think you need to stop worrying about what other people think of you and just ask or say what you want. One of my major rules in life (and art) is only listen to the people you respect. What the others think/do/say/etc I could not possibly care less.

Time teaches you to not be so up about success or so down about failure. To accomplish goals, it is better to remain on an even keel. I think of Clinton and Obama. They remained cool and on task throughout their trials and tribulations.

I don’t know what “Beauty and the devil are the same thing” means, but I do now that for a lot of artists of my generation the discovery that beauty was something to be embraced and not feared was a godsend.

My friends and family expect me to be a bad-ass prairie dog optimistic seeker of beauty.

Re- Beauty- I felt like art tried to make me feel alienated- like nothing- for so long- Personally, I don’t want to be made anymore alienated then I already am- I write this in my artists statement- there is so much ugliness in the world- I need beauty to pull me through- really- It can be strange and dark and real and haunting- and still be beautiful- I am not looking to turn over rocks to find ugliness so I can be a too cool for school artist- I need to find the beauty in the world- it helps to mitigate the deep sadness and cruelty I see in the world-

“Be willing to be stupid” is good advice for anyone. Seriously.

Another thing that no one really talks about, but it is absolutely true, is that how successful one is as an artist – measured by conventional standards of success- is determined in equal parts by your talent and by your ability/desire to be social. I wish someone had taught me earlier how to re-define the definition of success for myself to allow me to be less social. Not that I would have listened…

I didn’t do ANYTHING people are supposed to do and so far it hasn’t hurt me: didn’t go to grad school, read a bunch of theory, be friends/associate with anyone I didn’t actually like, go to lots of openings or art parties, live in an “artist” neighborhood, have a studio in a big studio building, join a crit group, sleep around, do drugs, kiss ass, etc.

Maybe trite but Walt Whitman: ‘If you can see (the path) laid out in front of you, then you can be sure it’s someone else’s path.’

Also, a professor alerted me to this, but I recognized it as the moment I maybe really was an artist. You look at other people’s work and love it, and kinda wish you made work like that, but in the end you are powerless to make any work but your work.

in times when I haven’t been able to make “art” per se I have done many creative things that have gotten me through. Being an artist is hard enough without people judging who is or is not an artist and whether you do/think/produce enough to qualify. I once didn’t have a studio for a year and a half and it was super tough but being an artist isn’t always active or visible—there is also a subconscious percolation of ideas, taking in info and inspirations, reading, learning and figuring shit out, without which the art could not happen. You can draw all day every day, doesn’t mean the work is any good.

I remember Delmore Schwartz’s “In Dreams Become Responsibilities” As I sputtered along that became more true, Also the puttering, the procrastination and anxiety of starting a fresh work. Worrying about the idea, the intent, the constant failure of the work, the corrections, again the responsibility of continuing because there is no other alternative. the conviction that you will get it right and the bifurcation that you and it will collapse into a total dung heap. The few instants of success keep you going through the miles of failure. I knew this with out knowing it when I was a crude nascent stick-in-the-mud student and the years of practice has led me to “Oh Yeah, I know what this is” a comfort and a curse.
I wouldn’t do anything else.

the art work has nothing to do with the art world although they share a common denominator- art

Walt Whitman’s poem “No laborsaving machine” answers what I grasp as our REALITY:

No laborsaving machine,
No discovery have I made,
Nor will I be able to leave behind me any wealthy bequest
to found a hospital or library,
Nor reminiscence of any deed of courage for America,
Nor literary success nor intellect, nor book for the bookshelf,
But a few carols vibrating through the air I leave,
For comrades and lovers.



If you take the cubist idea and really press it…what you have is what I was now being forced to deal with…In other words, the marriage of figure and ground—which is how they always term the cubist achievement—of necessity leads to the marriage between painting and environment; essentially they are the same thing, just taking it one step further. When I married the painting to the environment, suddenly it had to deal with the environment around it as being equal to the figure and having as much meaning.

–Robert Irwin

Night 2 with Robert Irwin wasn’t quite as scintillating and rapid-fire as Night 1 (see the posting below for that report), but it was still well worth the crisp evening walk to the MFA. In this second session I got a better sense of what in his material is the essential boiler plate (not meant to be dismissive but more in line with its original meaning of reusable text rendered in a durable form) and elemental to his argument. Hearing him run through his constellated world view again definitely took me deeper into his way of seeing things. And amazingly, his energy never flags. His passion for this material is palpable, like heat from a high tuned burner.

Night 2’s lecture, The Hidden Structure of the Art World, delivered less on that title’s lofty promise than on the next revelatory layer of the Irwin Cosmology. The quote at the begnning of this post is a fairly succinct description of Irwin’s artistic journey, and the search for that path is at the core of his presentation both nights. But to that end he also suggested a number of side trips worthy of exploration—Edmund Hesserl’s phenomenology, the figure/ground debate, deep space, determined relations vs particular form, the parity of intellect and feeling, the economics of identity, the devolution of hierarchy. Much of this can be had by reading his book, Seeing is Forgetting The Name of the Thing One Sees, but hearing him string these disparate ideas together, in real time, into a living, breathing, rhizomatic, all-at-once, everything is important structure is its own pleasure.

Walking home I felt a renewed connection to my earliest art making self—the extraordinary mystery that is sheer consciousness; the deliciousness of unbridled curiosity; the enchantment of seeing, hearing and tasting the world every waking moment; the often overlooked power of intuition, instinct and feeling; the challenge to be alert to what it is that moves us in this world and then to find the focus and discipline to translate that into a form that others can understand and relate to. It is a process that has often left me utterly speechless and intoxicated with the uncomplicated joy of it all. (At one point last night Irwin said, “For me, the crux of being an artist is to take something I know and make it comprehensible.”)

This passage from Piet Mondrian’s Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art (1937) captures some of the Irwinian view:

In spite of world disorder, intuition and instinct are carrying humanity to a real equilibrium…Intuition becomes more and more conscious and instinct more and more purified…The culture of particular form gives way to determined relations.

That last line is an extraordinary one—the “culture of particular form” giving way to “determined relations.” And so much in keeping with Irwin’s point of view.

And to whom I give the last shot:

My art has never been about ideas…My pieces were never meant to be dealt with intellectually as ideas, but to be considered experientially.

Ganesha, festooned with the dried flowers of a Hawaiian lei, in my studio

Holland Cotter wrote a piece over the weekend in the New York Times on the state of the art world, The Boom Is Over. Long Live the Art! This article was not unlike about 20 others on the same topic that I’ve read over the last few months, from UK publications like the Guardian to art rags like Art Forum. It is a major topic everywhere you turn these days, the overnight collapse of the world’s most overheated art market.

It is a peculiar place from which to watch this massive imploding, a vantage point that I share with a number of cohorts and friends as well: Artists who are basically DIY small business proprietors. We’re the ones who do it all, on our own. We do our own R&D as well as making, marketing, promoting, distributing, inventorying, funding and accounting. We’re the small subsistence farmers who watch while international commodity traders collude in the agribusiness of corporate-run mega farms.

It’s not as 19th century pastoral as that metaphor might suggest, just as the small organic specialty farm has found a new “heirloom” or “artisanal” cubby hole that makes their survival going forward viable. I have a few thousand clients who have purchased my paintings. Most of them have come back and purchased more than one piece. But my operation is definitely artisanal rather than streamlined, handmade versus production-savvy. And while business is slow for just about everyone and everything these days, my modus operandi hasn’t really been disrupted by an economy that went square wave up and then, in a free fall of staggering proportions, went square wave down. For me it is still chop wood, carry water.

Reinventing art education as Holland Cotter has proposed (see the excerpt below) is one of many ideas I’ve seen proposed. But I don’t think the problems we are facing in the visual arts world are rooted in failures of the art school continuum, nor can they be addressed by shifting the emphasis of pedagogy in the art profession. Just as there will always be very badly written books that sell well, there will always be a category of art that is promoted for no other reason than profitability and the lure of greed. Just as I need publishing (be it self-styled or institutionalized) to also bring out great books that leave me altered forever, I likewise need enough breathing room in this small corner of the art economy to make my work, find a receptive audience and keep on keepin’ on.

And on that prospect, anything is possible.

From Holland Cotter’s article:

Which brings us to the present decade, held aloft on a wealth-at-the-top balloon, threatening to end in a drawn-out collapse. Students who entered art school a few years ago will probably have to emerge with drastically altered expectations. They will have to consider themselves lucky to get career breaks now taken for granted: the out-of-the-gate solo show, the early sales, the possibility of being able to live on the their art.

It’s day-job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them — van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor — and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore.

At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own. Collectively and individually they can customize the machinery, alter the modes of distribution, adjust the rate of production to allow for organic growth, for shifts in purpose and direction. They can daydream and concentrate. They can make nothing for a while, or make something and make it wrong, and fail in peace, and start again.

Art schools can change too. The present goal of studio programs (and of ever more specialized art history programs) seems to be to narrow talent to a sharp point that can push its way aggressively into the competitive arena. But with markets uncertain, possibly nonexistent, why not relax this mode, open up education?

Why not make studio training an interdisciplinary experience, crossing over into sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, poetry and theology? Why not build into your graduate program a work-study semester that takes students out of the art world entirely and places them in hospitals, schools and prisons, sometimes in-extremis environments, i.e. real life? My guess is that if you did, American art would look very different than it does today.

I have a lot of artist friends who are dedicated, hardworking and optimistic about their work. But when it comes to the vicissitudes of the larger world, they are ass-dragging pessimists. And it is understandable, given an art world that lavishly (and to a certain extent, randomly) rewards a few practitioners but leaves the majority to survive on crumbs. Being an artist is not a path for anyone who can possibly do anything else with their life. You only do this because you can’t not.

So it was with a wry nod of consent that I read the latest piece by the very smart Jerry Saltz in New York Magazine about the Frieze Fair in London and the collapse of the recently too-hot-to-hold art buyers’ market. Here’s a meaningful extract from that article. (BTW, you can read the full article on Slow Painting.)

If the art economy is as bad as it looks—if worse comes to worst—40 to 50 New York galleries will close. Around the same number of European galleries will, too. An art magazine will cease publishing. A major fair will call it quits—possibly the Armory Show, because so many dealers hate the conditions on the piers, or maybe Art Basel Miami Beach, because although it’s fun, it’s also ridiculous. Museums will cancel shows because they can’t raise funds. Art advisers will be out of work. Alternative spaces will become more important for shaping the discourse, although they’ll have a hard time making ends meet.

As for artists, too many have been getting away with murder, making questionable or derivative work and selling it for inflated prices. They will either lower their prices or stop selling. Many younger artists who made a killing will be forgotten quickly. Others will be seen mainly as relics of a time when marketability equaled likability. Many of the hot Chinese artists, most of whom are only nth-generation photo-realists, will fall by the wayside, having stuck collectors with a lot of junk.

Much good art got made while money ruled; I like a lot of it, and hardship and poverty aren’t virtues. The good news is that, since almost no one will be selling art, artists—especially emerging ones—won’t have to think about turning out a consistent style or creating a brand. They’ll be able to experiment as much as they want.

But my Schadenfreude side wishes a pox on the auction houses, those shrines to the disconnect between the inner life of art and the outer life of commerce. If they don’t go belly up or return to dealing mainly with dead artists, they need to stop pretending that they have any interest in art beyond the financial. Additionally, I hope many of the speculators who never really cared about art will go away. Either way, money will no longer be the measure of success. It hasn’t made art better. It made some artists—notably Hirst, Murakami, Prince, and maybe Piotr Ukla´nski—shallower.

Recessions are hard on people, but they are not hard on art. The forties, seventies, and the nineties, when money was scarce, were great periods, when the art world retracted but it was also reborn. New generations took the stage; new communities spawned energy; things opened up; deadwood washed away. With luck, New Museum curator Laura Hoptman’s wish will come true: “Art will flower and triumph not as a hobby, an investment, or a career, but as what it is and was—a life.”

After several days in California, I’m readjusting to the stubbornness of a winter overlord who won’t give up New England. Succession planning? We’re working on that. Spring is off stage, bedecked in faille, fluttering her white and pink organzas, just waiting for an entrance cue.

I had some memorable moments last week, both indoors as well as out. One morning was spent at the Gilbert & George exhibit at the De Young Museum. These two have made themselves into art icons over the last thirty years with their provocative poises, proddings, posturings, promulgations. Even though I have not ever been what I would term a G&G advocate, their campy pranks aren’t just empty suit stunts and theatrics. There is more going on than that.

Death, by Gilbert & George

For example, the following statements by the artists were posted at the beginning of the exhibit:


We want Our Art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life and not about their knowledge of art. The 20th century has been cursed with an art that cannot be understood. The decadent artists stand for themselves and their chosen few, laughing and dismissing the normal outsider. We say that puzzling, obscure and form-obsessed art is decadent and a cruel denial of the Life of People.


Our Art is the friendship between the viewer and our pictures. Each picture speaks of a “Particular View“ which the viewer may consider in the light of his own life. The true function of Art is to bring about new understanding, progress and advancement. Every single person on Earth agrees that there is room for improvement.


We invented and we are constantly developing our own visual language. We want the most accessible modern form with which to create the most modern speaking visual pictures of our time. The art-material must be subservient to the meaning and purpose of the picture. Our reason for making pictures is to change people and not to congratulate them on being how they are.


True Art comes from three main life-forces. They are: –

In our life these forces are shaking and moving themselves into everchanging different arrangements. Each one of our pictures is a frozen representation of one of these “arrangements“.


When a human-being gets up in the morning and decides what to do and where to go he is finding his reason or excuse to continue living. We as artists have only that to do. We want to learn to respect and honour “the whole“. The content of mankind is our subject and our inspiration. We stand each day for good traditions and necessary changes. We want to find and accept all the good and bad in ourselves. Civilisation has always depended for advancement on the “giving person“. We want to spill our blood, brains and seed in our life-search for new meanings and purpose to give to life.

Unfortunately saying doesn’t make it so…I didn’t find this exhibit of large format images to be any more accessible to the average viewer than most other contemporary work. There’s definitely an essential tension between these populist, anti-art world sentiments and the fact that G&G are driving their luxury car down the center lane of the Art World Circus Parkway, busily exhibiting their work in museums everywhere and merchandising a boatload of posters and printed ties.

But the sentiments expressed in these words, idealistic and naive as they may read when viewed in the hard-edged context of contemporary museum scale art, mean something to me. While I don’t want to flatten the complexity of the tangle of issues that exist in contemporary art dialogue today by promoting a bipartisan view of Art World vs Anti-Art World, it might be useful to make a few categorical distinctions. Doing so has been useful to me.

Here’s one set of demarcations that I have been road testing, and it seems to be holding together. Sally Reed, artist and smart friend, has borrowed traditional literary forms, epic and lyric, and applied them to the making of art.

Epic art, says Sally, deals with large arc issues like politics, philosophy, cerebral calibrations, identity and does so through installations in public spaces like art museums and international art fairs. It is often built on a strong narrative armature, with a heavy storytelling and/or content orientation.

Lyric art is more human scaled. Personal. Demanding a relationship with the viewer on an intimate level. This is art that usually exists outside of narrative, outside of time.

I make work that would be classified as lyric. But I have been amazed and moved by both types. Most of what gets written about and discussed however is epic. Advocacy for art that is intended to incite the intensity of a full body experience is hard to find.

More from Sally Reed:

No, I am not “telling a story” — for me it’s more like (how’s this for grandiosity?) creating a world. Or more modestly, creating a place, a “chamber.” When a piece is finished, it seems I am ready to invite people in. Or at least their gaze, their thoughts and feelings.

My problem with narrative is that it often is sequential and always takes place in time. I feel that when I am making art, when I am at my best, it takes place outside of time, as a dream does. For me, the experience of making (when I am in the flow) or experiencing art, is outside of time. I think this might be why many narrative based visual pieces that I like initially can bore me on a second or third viewing. And also why certain masterpieces are endlessly fascinating; there’s always a new way to approach, a new way to experience, to sort of “unfold” all the wonders with which they are packed.

There is more to say on many of these themes, which I will continue to explore going forward.

In responding to my previous post about theory and art making, Elatia Harris left a comment that is so full of potent issues I felt it needed to be brought forward, into the headlights. She touches on issues that many visual artists (including myself) mull over, struggle with and voice frustration about. I don’t necessarily agree with Elatia’s conclusion, but I also don’t have a hard and fast answer that satisfies me.

So much has been written about authenticity in aesthetic philosophy in all its various meanings, but here I am referring specifically to the use of the term that speaks to Peter Kivy’s definition of authenticity–faithfulness to the artist’s own self, original, not derivative or aping of someone else’s way of working. In this definition, authenticity is being committed to personal expression, being true to one’s artistic self rather than to the precepts of a particular tradition or -ism.

With as open-ended a definition as that, it is still fair to ask, What IS authenticity? How do you know when you have it and when you do not? There’s no answer that satisfies that question for me. I put it in the same category as a question that is often asked of painters and poets and that cannot be languaged: How do you know when a work of art finished? (Well, it feels balanced. It stops complaining. It hums. It radiates. What can I say?)

Similarly, authenticity in all its inchoate splendor is as close to a religious creed as I have when I’m in my studio. Like a lot of things in life–love, grief, ecstasy–we keep being tempted to define these powerful experiences in language, but they will not abide.

Here’s Elatia’s comment:

For my painting career, I tried to remain outside theory while including it in my awareness. I didn’t want the pigeon-holes for myself, and wondered why anyone would tolerate them. This is quite different from failing to value consistency or vision, and it also never left me feeling at an emotional disadvantage when I painted or thought about painting. After all, if you cannot or will not say what you are as a painter or how you are affiliated with other painters doing work like yours, then you are trusting your instincts, and instincts tend to be rather unfriendly to theory.

But I have to look at where all this got me — all this rejecting of -isms and refusing to be an -ist. I created a great deal of confusion in the minds of viewers — critics and other intellectuals, friends, gallerists, potential clients. I seemed never to represent any “flavor of the month” they could believe in, or to be a part of what they could understand as the coming thing. And I misunderstood how much the classification mania of the art establishment drove the career progress an artist could make. Perhaps one can’t ever truly be outside the system — only irrelevant to it. Post-modernism engineered a slow breakdown of these taxonomies, but then became, itself, theory-ridden.

I saw the way I negotiated all that as the price of being authentic, and even from this distance I still see it that way. Authentic, yes. Intelligent, no.

Jeff Jarvis writes a blog called Buzz Machine that deals with blogging and the state of media practices. Like most bloggers, I am fascinated to watch the way the blogging phenom continues to propagate, morph and constellate. Jarvis’ blog is a good place to start if you want a catalog of opinions on where some informed types think this is headed and how blogging is interacting with other expressive forms.

This excerpt from Buzz Machine is by Andras Szanto (who teaches at CUNY in the journalism school):

The blogsphere today is more or less where the arts were circa 1975. It’s a realm of new opportunities, naïve expectations, and faux democracy. It’s smack in the middle of that euphoric moment that every innovative movement goes through before it makes its own peace with the status quo. Back in the seventies, it seemed everything was possible in the art world. Anything could be art and “everyone an artist,” as Beuys proclaimed.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this pluralist nirvana. Three decades later we are seeing an unprecedented institutionalization and commercialization of art. The entry fee into a successful art career is a $60,000 MFA. And while laissez-faire rules, aesthetically speaking, who can doubt that the artists being seen and heard are the ones who have the muscle of major galleries, presenting institutions, and distribution companies behind them. From the cloud of unbounded opportunity has emerged a new ironclad structure, no less selective and, in its own way, constraining than what had come before. To some degree, the very scale and openness of postmodern culture have mandated these new filters and hierarchies. And so it will go with the blogsphere. When the smoke clears, we will be back to listening and trusting a finite number of voices. We will depend on them, and we won’t have time for many more.

In the interest of full disclosure, Jarvis did not agree with Szanto’s assertions. His response to this excerpt was, “I’ll disagree. He assumes that there is still a scarcity of gallery walls. No, there’ll only be a scarcity of money.”

As always, it depends on your point of view. From where I sit, an oversupply of gallery walls is not the problem. (Could it ever be?)

Empty Space, By Anne Hamilton

I think that art should be allowed to go private. It should be a matter of one-on-one. In the last few years, the public has only heard of art when it makes record prices at auction, or is stolen, or allegedly withheld from its rightful owners. We need to concentrate more on art that sits still some place and minds its own business. We all hope for a strong response from art, but the kind of buzz that we have to live with nowadays is the enemy of art. Quietness and slow time are its friends. Let’s hope that their turn will come.

–John Russell, in conversation with Jason Edward Kaufman

This quote captures the essence of the idea behind Slow Art and the reason I started blogging over a year ago. Russell’s advocacy for a more personal one-on-one art experience–an art that has gone “private”–runs against all the tendencies of our culture.

The sentiments Russell expresses remind me of one of my culture heroes, Craig Newmark, founder of Even as his social networking site is valued in the billions of dollars, he is not interested in selling out. When asked why, this was his answer:

“Who needs the money? If you’re living comfortably, what’s the point of having more?”

He has talked about starting the site in his spare time as a service to the community, and it just kept expanding. “I believe people are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good.” By taking that approach, the site has become a massive force of its own.

When something authentic and powerful goes against the drag-it-down current of conventional wisdom, who knows what will open up? I long for these new points of view, new ways of thinking, a shift in the consciousness.

Thank you Elatia Harris for finding the quote by Russell and sending it my way.