Quit Marginalizing Yourself

Today we continue our week-long series Force of Failure. Stay tuned we have 4 more articles to present…

FORCE OF FAILURE: DailyServing’s latest week-long series

There are two main artist archetypes popular in our cultural ether. There is the pretentious, avant-garde artist whose genius can’t be explained but who commands a hefty fee for his work, and the stoner artist who lacks ambition and digs things that are ‘trippy’. I, however, have trouble placing myself or any other artist I’ve met into either role. Perhaps the only way to generalize us would be to describe artists as creators with perspectives that we want to share with others, yet the popular notions of the profession rarely stray from those mentioned stereotypes. We have lost control of not only how we are represented as people, but also the presentation of our larger artistic goals.

Jeanloup Sieff. Yves Saint Laurent, 1971. © The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff, Courtesy of NRW-Forum Dusseldorf

We seem to be struggling with the notion that our culture doesn’t care for, or value us; ingrained in us from the first time an elder exclaimed “But what are you going to do for money?” to follow up their initial ‘What do you want to be?’ type question. In fact, I initially hesitated as I typed the word “profession” to describe an ‘artist’ precisely because of the profound impact these nay-sayers and, admittedly, my current art income level have had on my understanding of the term.

Perhaps because of these misconceptions, we seem to have resigned to this fate of being the forgotten souls of society. Struggling to earn a living, many must relegate art making to the realm of hobby. Grants do come up, although not often enough to keep up with the demand, and showing opportunities are usually quite competitive and compensation is a rarity. There are ways to earn a living, to be sure, but permanently aligning income with art making can seem like an unrealistic goal that hardly merits any serious amount of focus.

The fundamental issue here is that we assume that people don’t care and won’t care. We continue to go out to openings and other events to support our colleagues at alternative art spaces and non-profit artist run galleries, but these seem to draw out the same crowd every month; an entire collection of people accepting the normalized version of an artist’s life.

These hot spots of artists are effectively social clubs where everyone at least recognizes everyone else, and no one buys any work. These gallery spaces may in fact cause us to marginalize ourselves and insulate our communities. Locating exhibition sites and events is simple if you know about them already, but can be difficult to seek out as an outsider, resulting in a homogeneous, choir-preaching, artist crowd. Certainly, if a little effort were made by the would-be patrons they could locate events themselves, but leaving the onus on them has been proving itself ineffective as a strategy of integration. If art is not presented as a worthwhile pastime in their minds, they will find other ways to spend their time and money.

One can play all their cards right, get discovered by a Charles Saatchi type and be set for life, but this is an unlikely future for most of us. Instead, we need to think about who we want to align with to disseminate our message in a broader sense, and target them. This opportunity, however, hasn’t be seized, and I would liken many art centers to churches in terms of patronage: aging or dwindling members and artists without the means to buy art coupled with unsuccessful outreach/no development strategies in effect. Perhaps the past can offer us a model for changing this downward spiral we seem to be caught up in.

Ron Galella. Lester Persky, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, New York, December 1978. © Ron Galella, Ltd., Courtesy of NRW-Forum Dusseldorf

Currently, NRW-Forum Duesseldorf is showing Zeitgeist and Glamour, a private collection of photographs encapsulating Celebrity of the 1960’s. Along with movie stars and rock stars stand designers and artists in a myriad of private and public settings. Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Robert Mapplethorpe and others are represented in front of the camera as often as they are behind the scenes of the images. This status and visibility made artists and their commodities relevant to mass culture, and made art cool and a worthy pursuit for some. Today, for whatever reason, there has been a significant shift the media’s presentation of and influence over art and critical thinking. Gone are the days of the Ayn Rand in-depth television interview with Mike Wallace.

In much the same way that the alignment of artists and entertainers made the public take note, we now need to appeal to a new audience in order to shape future cultural values. Big cities, where artists seem to gravitate, breed young urban professionals, essentially our peers, who are educated and intellectual, well-respected in their fields, and the ‘future leaders’. If we’re really concerned with promoting the discipline as a whole, we need to foster connections with these people who have some money and potential for increasing affluence, who value education, expertise, culture and politics. They are us (plus a job for which they were specifically trained). They are a sought out demographic and have the ability to produce and shape cultural values, and to not be interested in joining forces with them is ignorant and unjustifiably elitist.

Perhaps in the quest to validate ourselves as intellectuals, we’ve insulated and marginalized our community. Be it elitism, lack of pride, ignorance to the issue, lack of means for publicity, or something else, art cannot move beyond it’s role as something vital to few but the butt of many a pot jokes without a broader audience. We need to extend our reach outward to find people who will find our material relevant and come with the additional benefit of being valuable outside resources of critical and enriching discourse.

There are two main artist archetypes popular in our cultural ether. There is the pretentious, avant-garde artist whose genius can’t be explained but who commands a hefty fee for his work, and the stoner artist who lacks ambition and digs things that are ‘trippy’. Neither of these seems to capture the essence of me, or any artist I’ve ever met, yet the stereotype continues to influence popular opinion on the profession.