The Estheticist ( Issue 10, April 2011)
The Estheticist is a free ongoing service of art consultation around practical, philosophical and ethical issues around the visual arts profession. To ask a question, email estheticist [ at ] aol.com. Participants accept that their questions may be used for a printed publication that will serve as a professional development tool for emerging professionals in the arts. Your question will be confidentially and the question will appear as anonymous unless you specify otherwise.
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I am a final year fine art student/ emerging artist interested in the art world market. I am torn between passion (traditional painting) and conceptual art – which I also enjoy. Is it “selling out” to go down the commercial art route with painting? Is this wrong? Is conceptual art right?
You are making lots of innacurate assumptions. Conceptualism doesn’t lack passion; making traditional painting doesn’t guarantee commercial success; and there is no “right” medium. If your desire is just to make money, you are indeed selling out, regardless of what work you make.
Your situation is not unusual. Many emerging artists who are graduating have to negotiate a number of apparently opposing aesthetic stances, being seduced by all of them at once. “Traditional” painting —and by that I understand painting rooted in XIXth century aesthetics and techniques— may feel like a safer choice, as it is grounded in those familiar terrains, but the truth is that it is equally difficult to produce innovative work in any medium. You likely are not ready to make a choice yet: you need to resolve your assumptions about conceptualism vs. painting first by continue to experiment, make work and look at other artists who have addressed both painting and conceptualism. You can only know what side of the spectrum you are in by making work, and only by making work that you truly believe in you can hope to be satisfied. Commercial success may follow.
What is the point of a poor derivation/ version of “Untitled Film Stills”?
Dear Brooklyn Potter,
Your question seems less a question than the downright statement that a poor, derivative work (in this case, of Cindy Sherman’s “untitled film stills”) is pointless. In any case, let’s see if that is actually true by unpacking your question/statement in two parts: 1. Is derivative work pointless? and 2. Is a poorly made work pointless?
If by “pointless” you mean that it doesn’t contribute significantly to advancing the discussion or dialogue in art, it would be a hard thing to prove. Sherrie Levine’s work is all built on derivation, but that is indeed its point. But without going to such extreme: is art done under the influence of a particular “school” pointless? Let’s say it is, but then I am afraid that encyclopedic museums would have to discard most of their works. Part of the problem of saying that a derivative work is pointless is that it is almost impossible to determine when a work stops being indebted to past artworks and becomes its own original “self”; in fact the consensus is that it is practically impossible to make an artwork that does not derive some of its references to previous art. In fact, one can argue that a work can be both derivative and innovative: think of Picasso in how he would “steal” from other artists and yet produce his own original works. Innovation can occur by using existing structures.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that the notion of “derivativity” as applied to art is a modern creation: not all historical periods, or cultures, have always praised originality as the highest aspiration for a work. And even today, if you read Marjorie Perloff’s “Unoriginal Genius”, she makes a strong case for contemporary writers who intentionally, and successfully, question the very notion of originality as inextricable to meaningful art.
As to whether there is a point in a poorly made work, that depends on the eye of the beholder. If you consult the Museum of Bad Art, you will see that the curators have found great value in some of the most aesthetically offensive works ever made, effectively turning them around to make us enjoy them as masterpieces of naiveté.
If you know a lot of information about a dealer, is it ethical to tell your friends or should I keep it to myself? Dealer not too honest..
It partially depends on the personal/professional relationship of yourself and your friends to the dealer. If you currently were working for this dealer, and have a lot of access to information to the dealings of the gallery that you feel uncomfortable with, the ethical thing to do is to confront the dealer directly, or quit. As an artist being represented by the dealer, a similar situation applies —if you are going to badmouth someone who represents you, it may speak more about you than about the dealer. If you, however, are an external observer, and you know of people who may be harmed by this dealer’s dishonest practices, by all means you should let them know.
I am an artist who works with several different mediums. One of my most personally favored mediums is singing, although I don’t use it primarily in my current work. I am losing my voice, as a result of a cigarette addiction. When singing certain types of music, the loss is not very noticeable. When singing other types, it is very apparent to me and to people who know me. At times, I feel like I have very little control over my vocal expression– like I have these great ideas in my head, but am rendered dumb to express them by a deteriorating artistic ability.
All of this has little direct bearing on the work I’m developing right now, and yet it has some bearing in a psychological sense: The fact that I increasingly can’t perform the artform that I have worked with for the longest in my life, an artform that in many ways has defined me, makes me feel incapable as an artist, even though there are other mediums I have used and continue to use with proficiency. Incapable isn’t the right word, actually– It makes me feel like I’m losing a huge part of the soul behind my work. This doesn’t even entirely make sense to me, and yet here it is.
Aside from the obvious suggestion of quitting smoking (which is easier said than done, because I have tried a lot), what should I do, and why is this affecting my attitude towards the rest of the work I do, when I’m working with ideas and mediums that are mostly unrelated to singing?
Dear Existential Laryngitis,
In reading your question, the first thing that comes to mind is the case of Chuck Close, who as you may well know suffered a tragic spinal artery collapse that left him nearly paralyzed in 1988. He was once asked what would he have done if this incident had left him completely paralyzed. He answered: “I would have become a conceptual artist.”
Close is a remarkable case of an artist whose determination to make art helped him to remake his life and find the conditions under which he could continue to paint, under severely restrictive circumstances. His response to that question reveals that determination, and the sense that regardless of our physical (or financial, or any other) limitations, it is possible to find creative ways to continue producing, as long as our mind is alert. While it may be true that you may not be able to do coloratura in the future, I believe you are unfairly conditioning yourself to make art only if certain aspects of you remain the same, — something that is not sustainable in the long term: even if you are healthy, you will need to stop singing one day. Your challenge is to find the imagination and creativity to take what you have and make the most of it. And forgive me for saying it, but if art is that important to you, you should be able to place it over smoking.
How do you recommend artists without studios go about making studio visits? I and many artists I know do not have a studio space for various reasons including: transience; unavailability of affordable spaces in high rent cities; cost (who can afford a studio when you can’t even afford to pay your rent, food, student loans, supplies to make art, etc.). There are those who romanticize “post-studio practice,” yet the fact remains that most struggling, underemployed artists would prefer to have a studio. It’s also seen as a badge of commitment and seriousness rather than as a socioeconomic factor. Mostly I meet for coffee with people and bring my laptop to show images, or have them over at my dining table where I can bring out a few small objects / drawings and show the bigger things on my laptop. I am going to have a visit with a commercial gallery soon, and am wondering what I can do to demonstrate the quality and materiality of my work when most of it is in storage. And also how to give a sense of my creative character, which is also important when giving studio visits, and imparted by the space we create and the things with which we surround ourselves.
Impoverished Yet Ambitious
Dear Impoverished Yet Ambitious
It is important to remember that many important artists didn’t have a studio for most of their careers, or ever: Felix González-Torres would meet curators at a coffee shop. It is true that having a studio (and let’s face it, having a gallery) is some sign of status, of your commitment to your work, and a reassurance to the visiting curator that you are a professional. And as you point out, there are instances where nothing can replace to see the actual piece in a physical space. However, we are indeed living in a post-studio time, and more and more it is familiar to curators to work with artists who don’t have a physical space of their own, and most professional curators/dealers are able to envision a work though digital images without seeng the actual thing. An alternative, when you have to do a formal presentation at a studio-like space, is to ask to borrow (or rent) a studio space from a friend or acquaintance for the day. You can always also compensate by inviting people to meet you at places where you are having exhibitions, or apply for temporary residency spaces where you can also arrange for meetings.
I have recently returned to painting after years of working in sculpture/mixed-media installation. I had forgotten about how painting can be so agonizing- one little corner of blue, for example, had me in despair last night- I was clenching my fists and saying out loud, “what am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?”.
It’s amazing how a little square of wood, fabric and paint can have such an immense emotional effect. I guess that challenge is a big reason that painters are compelled to paint, and to be freaking out about colors and lines probably means one is passionate about what they are doing. But horrible stereotypes do come to mind of such angsty painters as Pollock and Rothko, and I find it a little worrying. I want to paint, but I don’t want to go crazy. Is there any way to enjoy safer painting?
Dear Nervous Painter
At an interview once, Gabriel Orozco said that he found his artistic voice the day he left art school and stopped trying to be an artist. Many times the reasons we agonize about making a particular work have nothing to do with our lack of creative potential, but to the fact that we are unconsciously blocking it by imposing crazy demands on ourselves. You appear to be terrified of not being able to create a great painting, and that whatever you engage in will not live to some kind of standard out there in the world.
You first need to remember that the studio is like an alternative Vegas: whatever happens there stays there — if you want it to. You need to regain the freedom of experimentation, and that can only happen if you embrace the idea that whatever you do in the studio does not need to be seen by the world. Experiment with easily disposable materials; don’t think of every brushtroke as a final statement on your fate. And in the end, rest assured, if the painting fails, you only need a bit of white paint and paint over it.
Making an art event appear really exclusive in order to ensure a large attendance.
Refers to the practice by some artists to take a finished work back to the studio to modify aspects of it. He rehatched all his works from the 70s.