The Estheticist (Issue 11, May 2011)

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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.

To see previous issues, click here.

Dear Estheticist,

I make autobiographical work but my emotions sometimes get on the way.  People tell me that the work is too sentimental and even corny at times, but I feel that if I don’t insert my feelings and my personal life in the work, the work is dead. What to do?

Romantic

Dear Romantic,

Self-portraiture, or autobiographical work is a perennial subject for art, and there is a lot of successful autobiographical, even confessional work out there. At the same time it is an extremely difficult kind of work to do — for every interesting autobiographical work there are hundreds, if not thousands, of over-indulgent, uncritical and naïve works by mostly amateur artists who think they are more interesting to the world than they actually are. The temptation to present yourself in a better light, to make your life a great epic, is too great and requires great maturity and detachment to see oneself coldly. This is why to give free range to your emotions when you are making a work about yourself may end up turning people off. You should consider some “detachment” strategies, like thinking of other subjects as proxies of yourself, which may allow you to gain some distance and perhaps even to discover more things about yourself. Like Flaubert, who claimed ‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi’, practically every artwork we do is a self-portrait.

Sincerely,

The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist,

My work is about challenging the system of art, but how can I engage the art world if to engage with it is essentially against my rules? Either I stay isolated forever or lose the integrity of my practice.

Sincerely,

Outsider, California

Dear Outsider,

My suspicion is that you never really wanted to be outside in the first place.  If you are so concerned by the acknowledgement of the art world for the kind of work that you do, most likely you regarded your supposed rebellion against art as some kind of vacation from the system, but always with the hopes that they system will come back to embrace you. It may be better for you to come to terms to that fact, and once having established that, think about how you can still challenge the system by still being engaged within it. If, on the contrary, you find that your philosophical stance really takes you outside of it, you will not miss it much.

Sincerely,

The Estheticist

Dear Estheticist,

I am a scholar focused on a very specific period of art. There are very few people in my area of interest and as a result it kind of gets very competitive. I have a colleague who I feel is always looking over my shoulder of everything I do, always asking for references and information that it has taken me a lot of hard work to compile, and I always feel she is imitating my work. Is there something I should say or do? I don’t want to be rude, but…

Sincerely,

Anti-copycat

Dear anti-copycat,

You are right in that it is not fair for your colleague to reap the benefits of the information that you have worked hard to obtain.  Because this is a person that you are likely to keep running into in the future (given that your field, as you yourself say, is so small) it is not appropriate, nor in your interest, to be too confrontational toward her.  You may want to be a bit more private about the research you are doing at the time, and be ready to share it only once it has become fully public (e.g. if you have published it somewhere, etc).  At the same time, you can continue being helpful to your colleague, but instead of giving her your full bibliography, let her show you what she has so far and only help her in solidifying the information she has compiled already. If you truly are a step ahead of her, you should not worry too much — the person who really has done the work is usually recognized in the end.

Sincerely

The Estheticist

Dear Estheticist,

Some of my friends- we all make art— feel uncomfortable using the name “artist”. It sounds so… pretentious. Some people use the term “image makers”, or “cultural workers”. Is the whole idea of the artist dying? Is there an alternative to the name “artists”?

Sincerely,

Art Laborer

Dear Art Laborer,

You point out to a phenomenon that has gradually been taking place since Barthes’  “Death of the Author”. Artists have gradually grown uncomfortable with the historical baggage of the term as it has been associated with individuals who are ‘illuminated’, or are perceived to exist in some sort of higher spiritual realm. Instead, we have favored terms that favor professional, technical or even labor connotations (“worker”, “practitioner”, “maker”). In the end, none of these terms quite works in describing the full scope of what an artist does. We may have to spend a while still figuring out a replacement, but in the end we may have to simply revert to the old fashioned term and maybe try for the time being to live with the preciousness it denotes.

Sincerely,

The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist,

I am a young artist from a small country with no interest in art. I have migrated to a different country but now I feel weird and don’t know how to go about meeting curators or galleries.

How should I approach the artsy nest in this big city?

The Immigrant.

Dear Immigrant,

It is normal to feel weird after you immigrate: nothing is the same. You will never be the same. You are going through a process of adaptation that will take several years, if you do choose to stay where you are. Because you are undergoing that transformation, you should not impose on yourself huge tasks that may be hard to accomplish. You should see yourself as being part of a long-term process of development that will feel very slow at this point, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t advance. In order to do so, there are three things that you should consider doing: the first is to go to openings and art-related social events to meet other people. Do studio visits with other artists. Use the traditional channels of showing work- participating in competitions, call for entries, etc. even if you don’t get selected, you are sending the work out.  Secondly is to focus on work: make as much work as you can. The third is to not turn your back to your country of origin: even if you think it doesn’t care about you, it will always define who you are, and you will become a better artist by trying to figure out that relationship.  Take things slowly; set realistic goals to yourself for each six months and touch base with yourself after each cycle. Slowly you will be moving forward.

Sincerely

The Estheticist.

Dear Estheticist,

I run a non-profit alternative space/kunsthalle where we produce ambitious projects for artists (we don’t have huge resources, but we fundraise hard for each project). In the town where I work it’s pretty much my space and a successful gallery which represents some of the most prominent artists here. As as result it has become inevitable that I would work with several of them. Each time, we have paid for the entirety of the work, and almost always, the artwork goes to some art fair where the artist gallery sells the piece and makes a pretty good profit from it. At the same time, the gallery never offers to help financially in any way, yet they wind up benefiting enormously for the fundraising work that I do. I am starting to feel like the private fundraiser of that gallery. Should I demand that if the work is sold a percentage of the investment should be given to my space?

Sincerely,

Fundmaster

Dear Fundmaster,

I know it is frustrating, as an administrator, to see the commercial side of the art world benefit on the work that you did.  However, you need to recognize that part of the problem lies in your own choices. I am not sure that it was so inevitable that you would need to work with the local artists who already have a system of support (i.e. the gallery).  Instead, you could work with artists who are emerging or yet in need of representation, and who could benefit from the kind of wonderful opportunities that you offer in your space. It is not a good idea for a kunsthalle to get involved in the commercial side of things: it is not your territory, and you can easily get distracted from the important things, which is to put a strong and experimental exhibition program, whether the works are unsellable or hugely profitable. It is also important to remember that as much as artists and galleries have gains, they also have losses: lots of works never sell.  You, in turn, may not keep the cash, but no one can either take away your reputation.

Sincerely,

The Estheticist

Dear Estheticist,

I am a collector with a small but — I think— decorous collection. There is an artist that I have supported over the years of whom I own several pieces. Recently, a piece that I had from ten years ago got damaged accidentally and I asked the artist if he would be willing to take a look at it and perhaps fix it. The artist took it to his studio and when I got the piece back, to my surprise, not only had he  “fixed” the said problem, but he had added new elements to the piece and altered a whole section completely. I felt this wasn’t right as he really now has turned the piece into something else, and I told him so; but the artist argued that he had never really liked that certain section and wanted to fix it once and for all.  Do you think the piece has now lost its value? Was he in his right to make such alterations?

Sincerely,

Dumbfounded collector

Dear Dumbfounded Collector,

Sol Lewitt once wrote that artists should always be allowed to modify their work. I, for one, disagree with that assessment, as would most museum conservators. An artwork, for better or worse, is a representation of a period in an artist’s career, and to come back five, ten, twenty years later and change what we did then not only distorts the record, but obliterates the older piece replacing it a present work. In that sense, your piece may have indeed lost value as a representative work from that period by that artist. Next time you experience a similar problem I would probably go to someone who specializes in conserving works, not making them.

Sincerely

The Estheticist

The Neologist

Lame curator

Someone who usually works for an institution and bears the title of curator but has little or no decision power.

Arte al dente

Works that emerge at the exact moment of the height of a particular trend.

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2 Responses to “The Estheticist (Issue 11, May 2011)”

  1. martyr whore says:

    dear estethicist,

    I’m a conceptual artist in a third world country who still cant live off my art. i tried to sell photographs but collectors here are still dubious about the medium and still cling to the idea of a unique artwork. I’m not complaining about having a day job to support myself and my art, but the resentment for artists who don’t need a day job inevitably creeps in sometimes. After seeing The Grirlfriend Experience and reading about Andrea Fraser’s work about being procured for sex by a collector for money and treating that as an artwork ( though i really really hate her, everything about her), im now contemplating on doing the same (or completely whoring myself ) just to have an edge and a bigger slice of the art market. I know those kind of under the table transactions are not new but will it really be worth it in the end?

    the martyred whore

  2. admin says:

    Dear Martyred Whore
    Fraser’s piece is about using conceptual strategies to make completely explicit that subservient relationship that artists and galleries can end up playing to collectors. It is very different from turning your entire production over to the whims of whoever you think may like your work. First, you should not compare yourself to artists who don’t have a day-job- each artist has a completely different set of circumstances in their lives and it is impossible to draw useful parallels. Your collector base may reside outside of your country, and there is also an advantage to living in a distant place from major art capitals. But under no circumstance should you sacrifice the integrity of your work: it always is so much better to have a day-job than start producing substandard or commercial work for the market.

    As an aside, I would offer that the reason you dislike Andrea Fraser so much is because you identify so profoundly with her work. Its an old symptom amongst artists.