Thursday, August 30, 2012
Thoughtful Thursday-The Art World
I just read Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton and found it both a fascinating read and food for thought. She describes her writing as ethnography, "a genre of writing with roots in anthropology that aims to generate holistic descriptions of social and cultural worlds." The book is made up of seven chapters, one for each day: The Auction (Christie's in New York), The Crit (Michael Asher's Crit Class at CalArts), The Fair (Art Basel), The Prize (The Tate's Turner Prize), The Magazine (Art Forum), The Studio Visit (Takashi Murakami's studio in Japan), and Biennale (the Venice Biennale). Prior interviews and research make rich and detailed portraits within the compelling storytelling format of the one day. I read The Prize chapter at the beach and was so caught up in the drama of which of the four nominees Yoko Ono would announce as the winner that I didn't notice the incoming tide until I was wet.
I have been an artist for a long time but the "art world" has always been a very separate one from mine. I have always had mixed to antagonistic feelings toward it from afar. Some of those feelings I am sure come from the fact that it is a world that I don't feel welcome in, but some are also basic to my world view. I have always felt that the art world is too elite and too much about money. I've concluded that a big part of the reason is the fact that artists traditionally make their livings (or not) by making and selling one-of-a-kind works which therefore must be expensive. Paintings and sculptures are sold to people who can afford them, which by and large (Herb and Dorothy Vogel and others excepted) are people with money.
Reading Seven Days in the Art World did nothing to discourage my opinion of the art world being very much about money, but it did make me feel much more kindly to it. I came away from the book believing that most of the people in that world are there because they truly love art.
I also had a better understanding that my feeling that it is a foreign land is not just about the money. There is some underlying conceptual, intellectual thought structure about the approach to art in that world that I can't put words to but I know is different from mine. For a long time, I thought that being an artist meant aspiring to be part of that world. I no longer think so. I am happy with the work I do. I think it has a directness and emotional resonance that may be because it doesn't have that underlying conceptual base that I can't verbalize. As I say in the promotional material for my Artist's Journey talk: "I believe that the only work you can do better than any one else is that which is truly your own." And I do believe that I do work which is truly my own.
The challenge of all artists is to make the work and then take that work into the world. For some, it will be the high powered, high stakes "art world" with all its competition and challenges. For others like me, it will be a different path filled with challenges of its own. More food for thought.