I’m still trying to figure out how the Hell I ended up doing this. Oh, yeah: I saw Bill Davenport’s response to Houstonia’s “The Five People You See at an Exhibition Opening,” and found myself ranting away in the 15 minutes that I should have used working. Then I made the huuuuuuuge mistake of hitting “SEND.”
Will I never learn? Fortunately for me, the editor (Mr. Davenport) had not yet posted aforementioned rant and agreed not to; unfortunately for me, I had to commit to writing something not so ranty and stupid. As much as I am capable of doing such a thing.
I had to ask myself—why did this post prompt me to dust off the keyboard? Then I realized: I love lists! I love categories! I love breaking things down systematically. It lulls me into the comforting thought that there can possibly be order amidst all of the chaos. David Letterman’s old “Top Ten.” Glamour magazine’s fashion “Do’s and Don’ts.” Stephen Colbert’s “Word.” Paul Fussell’s great book, “Class.” As offensive as stereotypes can be, they can also be accurate and, well, funny.
Anyway, I saw the original list and Davenport’s corrections (“Hipster”/”Artist;” “Yuppie”/”Young Collector”—who the hell says “yuppie” any more?; “Alcoholic;” “The River Oaks “Matron”/”Patron;” and finally, “The Arts Writer.” I guess Bill Davenport has a little class himself and couldn’t bring himself to be as idiomatically outdated as Houstonia’s Michael Hardy by translating “Alcoholic” into “Poor Unfortunate Struggling with Substance Abuse Issues and Embarrassing Him or Herself in Public as a Cry for Help.” It’s just not as catchy.
While I thought Davenport did a great and entertaining job lampooning that one, I decided that the original wasn’t as long as it could have been and that Michael Hardy is perhaps not seasoned enough to spot a few of the less obvious of the Houston art opening stereotypes. I don’t know Hardy, so I don’t know if he should be faulted. As a lover of lists, I see Hardy’s as the product of one who is simply not well informed—an equivalent to a birder looking to the sky and then rushing to report the spotting of a grackle.
I decided it simply wasn’t complete, so I ventured forth with a few additions of my own. I hope Davenport will follow up with a post zinging my sorry ass with corrections. Then I can post a spirited, witty retort. We’ll go back and forth like this for months until Bill finally calls me an ignorant slut.
Before I begin, though, I need to confess a couple of things—a pre-list list, if you will:
1. I say this all the time, it’s true now more than ever: I am completely out of it. I have no right writing anything at all about art. A few weeks ago, while being led through a small alt space in which I’m slated to exhibit, I blurted out, “I’m gonna hafta really think about how to make this interesting, because you couldn’t show me one fucking interesting thing going on in a white cube these days.” I looked up and remembered that I was talking to the curator of a white cube. Oops. I lost interest in new movements after it occurred to me that “crowdsourcing” had already been done—by Twain’s Tom Sawyer.
2. I don’t understand why Houston, Texas needs two art fairs. I don’t understand why Houston, Texas needs one art fair. Come to think of it, I don’t understand why anybody, anywhere needs an art fair.
3. Finally, every single issue addressed here boils down to money, and that’s uninteresting and depressing and as frustrating and infuriating as what’s going on in the White House and ultimately not worth the bother.
So hey, consider the source and follow along as I smugly identify some of the less obvious (to the layperson, anyway) species in their native or non-native habitat. WARNING: some are not easy to spot until you recognize their distinct warbles…
1. The Not-For-Profit Panhandler
This is an educated and well-intentioned breed, usually donning plumage that says, “I’m stuck in an office, but I’ve got some flair!” A brightly colored scarf or shawl for the ladies; a wild tie or button down with a zany print for the gents.
Face it: even the biggest art institutions these days are hurting/hemorrhaging financially and doing everything they can to appeal to the common denominator who, statistically (when you have a few extra hours, check out studies by the Alliance of Artists Communities, Americans for the Arts, NEFA, NYFA, as well as the Ford, MacArthur, Joyce and Irvine Foundations), think Art, Literature, Theater, Cinema, and Music simply materialize through osmosis. It’s sad, but there are only so many art dollars to go around, and only so many people who can (sort of) comfortably support these spaces.
Shutting down a non-profit that is basically doing the same thing as another non-profit in a small-ish community isn’t like shutting down the damned government; it’s like closing Gimbels because Macy’s is more popular.
One would think that creative types could dream up a fundraising solution other than the tired art auction to convince folks who consume culture that they might want to support it. Apparently, one should think again.
It’s starting to feel like I have handed over my product, gratis, more often than I have hand it over to someone who’s actually paid for it. I think they should next ask the homeless to volunteer in a soup kitchen. It makes about as much sense, and if I say “no,” I’m treated as if I don’t care about the community.
What’s even more tiring is that the work these non-profits are asking me to donate that will make them money at an auction are works that are not edgy enough to be shown in an their cutting edge spaces.
Why can’t they ask the chick sticking a yam up her ass to contribute something for an auction? Oh, yeah…not a big ticket item…
Which leads me to:
2. The K-Mart Shopper
(Hard to initially distinguish, as they are known, in scientific circles, for their camouflage or mimicry. Also recognized for their remarkable agility and speed when baited with a ball point pen and sheet of paper at a silent auction.)
Art auctions that ride the backs of conventional 2- and 3-D art make it easy for anybody to collect art! Swell! Everybody wins…?
The fact is that it sure IS swell—but for whom? I’m the sucker cow who’s handed over the milk for free. Why would anyone bother to buy my work in the gallery where it’s sold for a marginally fair price when they can snatch it up like a knock-off Louis Vitton bag on Canal Street? What a bunch of smart shoppers! And a bunch of dumb artists!
I’m not against the idea of art auctions for a good cause, but how many goddamned good causes should I be responsible for when I need a new transmission?
3. The “Hey—This Gives me an Idea for a Screenplay-ers”
Can be identified by their demeanor of unbridled enthusiasm—note the casual stance and the air of an Amway salesman)
Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate anyone who is inspired by my work. But I have, more often than not, been cornered by the guy/gal who thinks what I’m doing is so fabulous, it would be even more fabulous if I did something else with it. What if I take what I do and do something really interesting with it? Like transfer it onto a big slab of concrete and let kids skateboard all over it? Or transfer my original design onto a big scrap of shag carpeting?
This variety is just a friendlier, less dangerous version of: The “I Can Draw Spunky!” or the “I’ve Bought the Dallas Cowboys! Hand Me My Helmet!”
(This breed’s a bit like the Mynah. Observe the wise nod indicating a keen, watchful eye—this one’s a quick study!)
Naturally, I love that people are interested my work enough to buy it, but I’ve noticed that many view a purchase as not a ticket to a front row seat or an opportunity to learn more about the game, but as a way to establish themselves as a fellow player.
I had a lobotomy last year. It was great and it fixed my brain. Since then, I’ve taken to schlepping over to the med center just for giggles to do a few procedures of my own. Who cares if I’m not a trained professional and didn’t bust my butt for a degree or license? I’ve seen a zillion reruns of House, Chicago Hope, Doogie Houser, M.D., and Scrubs. With an X-acto, a glue gun, and a Singer Sewing Kit, I’ll get you in and out before some asshole has a chance to invalidate your Obamacare.”
5. The Conventional Subversive
(Like the peacock, easy to spot—if the peacock used too much product or sported Buster Browns.)
What could any artist do these days that would be truly provocative or shocking in an art space? If you can answer that question for me, I won’t get so bored with those who think they’re doing just that posing as enfants terribles.
These folks, of course, fall correctly into the “Hipster” subspecies, but I feel that they’ve been slightly misclassified. How hip can they possibly be? If they are seeing themselves that way, maybe the skinny jeans are cutting off the circulation. What is a bad boy or girl doing hanging out in an art gallery, anyway? Why do they stand around in their permanent states of ennui in the very spaces they are pretending to be too smart for? We all know that once the art world starts recognizing their talents, they’ll justify their selling out as part of the performance.
When asked, “What are you rebelling against?” none of them can pop off like Brando any more with the “Whadda ya got?” It’s a drag when ya realize, well, ya got nothin’.
And as long as we’re on the subject of those wacky adolescents, let’s go to the impossible to ignore:
6. Custodians of the Mini Terrorists
(Another common, easy to distinguish species. Note the fatigue. The stained clothes. The necessary blow-n’-go hairstyle. The Ziploc bag filled with healthy snacks.)
I find this species hard to pick on because it, like its kin the Not-For-Profit Panhandler, is a victim, more than the other breeds, of societal and economic decay. I feel terrible for the bedraggled looking parents of these kids…but when the fuck did the art space become Gymboree?
I get it. Really. I grew up in the safety of the suburbs. We weren’t allowed to come inside the house until the street lights came on, and the babysitter got a dollar an hour and a Popsicle. Man, have times changed. Nobody can afford a sitter, so kids are trundled into art galleries where they’re bored and there’s nowhere to expend all that energy. I once saw a kid jump up and down while smacking at an unframed drawing on a gallery wall. When the parents were asked to make him stop, the mother—an artist—said, “It’s not a good drawing!”
But hey! Why, really, should we give a damn about an art dealer or the space that he or she has to pay an exorbitant amount of rent to occupy and who has to peddle a lot of shit that looks like something your “kid could do” in order to provide a place for cheap wine consumption and the Junior Olympics?
This phenomenon has led to the most boring, bourgeois attitudes, and it has made it acceptable for people who ought to know better to spout the art-world equivalent of “Kids Say the Darndest Things!”: “My Kid Could Do That!”
Kids say the darndest things because they’re not educated and your kid could make a Jackson Pollock because anybody can throw paint around—but that wasn’t the raison d’être or point of Abstract Expressionism…was it?
I love children, especially my friends’. But making every art event family-friendly dumbs everything down, which is really depressing. For my next show, I’m going to fill the whole room with party-colored, germ-covered plastic balls, just like at McDonald’s, and I’m going to administer flu shots at the door while lying naked on a remnant of customized shag carpeting.
Since this whole article has been half-assed and in no uncertain order, I’ll conclude with my personal favorite:
7. The Pen Wielding Painter
Forget that a surplus of artists writing about art indicates a lack of interest from people outside the art world. Forget that a review of an artist’s work penned by his or her studio mate is a sycophantic insider-y snooze. Forget that most of the writing, especially in a small community, is done with a complete conflict of interest. Forget everything. If you remember what art writing is really supposed to be doing, you’ll only get angry.
Why the hell are so many artists dying to write? Don’t they realize how excruciatingly painful and difficult and a true drag it really is? Of course not—they have the same “My Kid Could Do That” mentality about it that makes them, with an exceptional few, pretty irksome. Some guy from an improv troupe once told me that I was being a baby and that writing was easy. My writer friends unanimously responded with: Not if you’re any good at it!
The blogosphere has given anybody with a keyboard who wants the world to know he or she’s not just some dumb fuck slinging paint and a true intellectual a license to spew unedited crap. It’s also made it impossible to get paid. Now that everybody’s a writer, it’s a breeze to let the world know how smart and talented your friends are, or what you’ve eaten for dinner or what your cat just coughed up. And it’s all just about that interesting.
Your kid could do that.
To be clear, I think that an artist does have a unique perspective on his or her craft that someone who doesn’t know the art world can learn from. But who, outside of the art world is reading this besides all my friends? Let the circle jerk begin.
I could go on. I’ve hardly scratched the surface on this topic. But I’m tired. I, unlike the simultaneously Painting (art making, really, but I like alliteration) and Pen (keyboard) Wielding, don’t think writing is easy or fun.
And like I said when I started this thing, it really boils down to money—and though Glasstire PAYS ITS WRITERS BETTER THAN ANY PUBLICATION I’VE EVER WORKED FOR, it’s not a “real” job, so if I spend time making my own work, I just don’t have the energy to sit down and write about somebody else’s. I’m so all about me.
I should also say that while they’re fun to classify, I find the most challenging types of people at art openings are, well, the people themselves. Why? Because I like talking to folks and catching up with friends or making new ones. It’s one of my few social outlets. But I also don’t get to really look at the art, and I rarely have time to revisit the space during gallery hours and properly take it in. I technically don’t, for whatever reason, even have a chance to appreciate what my peers are doing. Therefore, out of all of the illustrated types in this rendition of The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, I, the Entitled North American Thrift-Store-Clad Screeching Loser, might be the most irritating of them all.