Last night I went to a talk hosted by WNYC’s Leonard Lopate at the Greene Space that was a discussion about what it’s like to be an artist in New York City. I had been pretty excited to go to the event all week and apparently I wasn’t alone; the event completely sold out.
The vast majority of the audience members were fellow artists who seemed eager to unearth some insight about what it takes to be successful in the Art Capitol of the World. All of the panelists were well known artists that include the likes of Fred Wilson and Jean Shin as well as curator Sean Kelly from the Whitney Museum of Art. Many of the comments were interesting, some amusing, but a lot of what was said didn’t seem new to me.
My biggest issue with the event was that it was told from a perspective from people who had “made it” in art world; i.e. they had gone to art school and had gone on to have their works featured in major museums, art galleries and were selling or being commissioned by people with deep pockets. What about people like me, who didn’t go to art school and have decided not to wait for validation for galleries and are making fostering their own art career, grass roots style?
Aside from this qualm, I did appreciate a few points that were made about some artist realities. Peter Campus, one of the featured artists observed that the artist world has become too “artist-oriented” in that students feel like they should become stars and making art becomes less important. His point goes back to a fundamental ideal about artists; that they create because they feel they have to, not because it will make them famous but because it’s about self-expression. Nowadays, everyone is caught up in being on the front page of every magazine or being the toast of the town. His point reminds me of an idea I was getting that in a prior post.
Another good point that artist Joan Snyder made was that the astronomical cost of living in New York City made it impossible for artists to devote a significant time to their creations because they were too busy trying to make a living. She argued that artists need that solitary, uninterrupted time to create. While that’s true, I still don’t believe that it diminishes you as an artist. What makes you an artist is not the fact that you do it as a 9-5, it’s the fact that you’re doing it, period. Making a living from your art is a luxury that many of us can’t afford, no matter where we live.
The overall panel was informative but what I really took away with from it was that you don’t need a bunch of curators, collectors and other artists to determine whether or not you’re an artist. You don’t need a gallery show to validate your abilities (and here’s a little tidbit of information that I learned last night: collectors and gallerists usually rely on other collectors and fellow artists recommendations to “discover” potential artists for their shows). You have to make your career and your passion what you want it to be, even if it means hosting your own shows and creating your own opportunities.
So with that said, take my observations with a grain of salt and go create and share!