Home > Article > Blog > I wonder if this is the worst time to be an artist in decades, or maybe ever.

I wonder if this is the worst time to be an artist in decades, or maybe ever.

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I’ve been looking at Instragram over this last week, and the deluge of pics of Miami Basel was overwhelming, sycophantic, repetitive and shallow. I’ve been there, I know art fairs. There’s absolutely nothing heartening in this scene for the artists, except for the couple of dozen who are okay with being hot for two years before their work is dumped en masse at auction.

I wonder if this is the worst time to be an artist in decades, or maybe ever. Some conditions for many artists haven’t really changed for centuries: Misunderstood, overlooked, overworked, underpaid, ripped off, debt-ridden, trapped in an unnatural system once driven by church and religion but now driven by the religion of money. I think it’s all just getting worse and will continue to do so until artists can somehow reclaim it. I wouldn’t switch places with an artist, not even one who’s “doing well,” because it means his work is primarily being treated as an investment rather than a piece of humanity.  I don’t think what’s going on out there is really art anymore, anyway. It’s showbiz. And most artists aren’t born with a disposition to play that game.

I think the environment for nearly all artists has eroded and we’re left with a shambolic, hypocritical, irrational system sending mixed messages about what an artist is meant to be, what kind of art they’re meant to make. And the percentage of good art worth spending time with hasn’t gone up with the population of artists, because, I think, artists aren’t encouraged to make art that requires time to understand. People looking at art don’t have the time, no one has the attention span. If the art isn’t instantly gettable, forget about it. Literally. So now on with the flood of those who thirty years ago wouldn’t have been called artists; they’re actually graphic designers who’ve figured out how to make conceptual-lite work, and most of the galleries are just retail spaces for this trendy kitsch. Certainly art fairs are.

I realize Miami Basel is not the entire visual art world, and plenty of people have already written their screeds against it, so I won’t continue here. But the New York-based artist Paul Slocum (of the much-missed Dallas gallery And/Or), in a video we posted yesterday, is asked by Glasstire why he didn’t visit Miami Basel over the weekend. He said that as images flooded his Instagram, he decided “This doesn’t look like where I  want to be right now.” He continues: “It’s all the same tricks. After a while, you’ve seen all the tricks, over and over and over again.”

Gimmicks. Even the good artists are being forced by the market to play this way.

I believe good artists are born to be artists; it’s built into their molecules. Artists are compelled, by some combination of nature and nurture, to create and react. There’s evidence, through brain imaging research and mental health research that artists brains are different from non-artists brains, and that creative people’s brains are making connections and associations non-creative people’s brains do not, regardless of background and education. They are intellectually more curious and prone to be autodidacts.

We can’t ask an artist to suddenly not be one, any more than we can force eye color or sexual orientation. But I wouldn’t want to encourage a really creative little kid to grow up to be a visual artist these days. I’d say: sure, be creative, but do something else. Write, design, compose, direct, collaborate. Be a storyteller, or a comedian. Make art in private. But don’t subject yourself to “the art world” as it stands, “the art market,” the MFA game, the gallery system. No one seems to be actually enjoying art anymore—the stakes are too high and always moving—unless there’s absolutely no money at stake, and that’s not sustainable for an artist who wants to eat.

I’m concerned about the showbiz version of art infiltrating Texas as the economy continues to grow. The eccentric, undefinable ecosystem of Texas art has enjoyed, up until now, a period of independence, but the showbizzy nature of the larger market is creeping into the cities here and I don’t think anything can be done about it. The money doesn’t favor mystery, rumination, subtlety, strangeness. Things that make art worth your time.

I even worry that the ArtPrize is exactly the opposite of what Dallas should take on right now because Dallas is already too susceptible to showbiz bullshit. I realize I wrote recently that I thought the ArtPrize could help solidify one trend I’m liking these days, but so far my hope for it stops there. Dallas and Grand Rapids are very different kinds of places; bringing a lot of art to Grand Rapids might be like giving a good art survey book to your uncle who’s never thought much about art. Bringing the ArtPrize to Dallas, I fear, would be more akin to giving some Real Housewives a Botox party and a box of wine. We’ll see.

I don’t have solutions; the world is in so much flux and the digital revolution is in full swing. I don’t have a crystal ball. Writing all this out isn’t going to help any artists. But the Art Basel Instagram feed was so deathly I was compelled to write it out.

 

Ed note: On June 27, 2017, Glasstire published Rees’ follow-up to this op-ed.

also by Christina Rees
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84 Responses

  1. Joanie

    “I’ve been looking at Instragram over this last week, and the deluge of pics of Miami Basel was overwhelming, sycophantic, repetitive and shallow.” – Wait, are you telling me that what you saw on Instagram was overwhelming, sycophantic, repetitive and shallow? No way!

    “And the percentage of good art worth spending time with hasn’t gone up with the population of artists, because, I think, artists aren’t encouraged to make art that requires time to understand.” – or, you might not find contemplative art (with didactics provided) on the infinite scroll of Instagram.

    “I realize Miami Basel is not the entire visual art world, and plenty of people have already written their screeds against it, so I won’t continue here” – you already did though?

    “He said that as images flooded his Instagram, he decided “This doesn’t look like where I want to be right now.” He continues: “It’s all the same tricks. After a while, you’ve seen all the tricks, over and over and over again.” – That Insta-research is #trending in the #artworld.

    “But I wouldn’t want to encourage a really creative little kid to grow up to be a visual artist these days. I’d say: sure, be creative, but do something else. Write, design, compose, direct, collaborate. Be a storyteller, or a comedian. Make art in private.” – WTF are you even saying?

    “No one seems to be actually enjoying art anymore” – edit: “I don’t seem to be actually enjoying art anymore” – Er, I mean…if youuu really #believe in what you just wrote.

    Unfortunately, artists, artworks, and the art world are not sacred as some people wish it to be. In order to make a living as an artist (in US) you have to work within a capitalist economy. There are more artists making work than there are 1%ers buying that work so naturally artists have to figure out how they can make/sell production works in fairs, auctions, and such to support their overarching arts practice. Or, they can get a day job doing anything from teaching (kind of), using their skills in a corporate setting (advertising, framing), or jump from residency to residency to fund their production. That may like a serious bummer to some folks, but try and find an example of any other creative occupation that comes with the privilege of living solely off that income. Designer, writer, composer, collaborator (?), storyteller, comedian…those showbiz examples are just as difficult of careers as it is to be an artist and the industry for those occupations can be just as brutal and disheartening.

    The idea that Basel, NADA, whatever-fair, is ruining the artworld is nuts. It’s also nuts to say that artists aren’t making works that are complex, contemplative, and culturally important for that matter, just because your Instagram feed doesn’t reflect that (my Instagram feed reflects that the world is 95% food, 2% freshly painted fingernails, and 3% puppies sleeping). If you want to learn about those artworks, those artists, and those venues that support the ideas you’re looking for you should totes check out books, museums, galleries, alternative spaces, and artist-run orgs. There are a ton of really amazing and culturally progressive things happening and as a member of a press you have the fortunate opportunity to turn heads the right way.
    Reporting on those would really help support that artworld you’re talking about – you know… instead of pandering by way of an op-ed about one of the most populist art events in the country that takes up a whole week of the year.

    Writing all this out isn’t going to help any artists, but the article was so deathly I was #compelled to write it out.

      1. E-man

        Not at all Rusty. I think that I proved that Joanie didn’t “nail it” in my comment below.

        This article absolutely made my day. Christina said things that I’ve been dying to say for years. The truth is that being an artist in the gallery system is highly political and you can absolutely ruin a career that you’ve been working on for your entire life with one slip of the tongue. That is why I really appreciate that someone is out there to say these things that I only talk about with my close friends.

        I also acknowledge that it’s hard to be an art critic and it’s probably just as political. Some art critics get threatened with all kinds of things just for doing their job well and sometimes the more they tell the truth the more likely they are to be crucified.

        Have you ever noticed that a lot of art critics are far more likely to be pandering than critical? Ever wonder why? We need more critics who are willing to say “no” to bad art. I’m an artist myself. I don’t want a bad review but I would rather that art criticism was fiercely honest and risk the possibility of a writer “missing it” and see them complain about my work in the press instead of having a system that can’t be critical of itself. It should be more open and more honest. Moreover, If someone writes about my work and misses it, I should be able to make a comment on that persons article and say why they missed it. Instead, we have a system where so much is simply artificial. It’s wrong. It’s broken and someone needs to say it like it is.

        Christina, I have all of the right degrees and I go to the galleries every week. If you ever need someone to write some brutal art criticism that’s honest to a fault then just say something here in the comments section and I will contact you. (:

  2. I understand some of the disillusionment. I will say that celebrities can bring in the money as annoying as it can be. Any successful enterprise usually has a financial bottom line. If we, as an arts community, take the reigns of these big arts fairs, require a good mix of our own galleries/artists, it would be a more accurate and supportive event. Unfortunately, the press coverage in Miami focused way too much on the celebrity this year. It was like picking a painting to match the sofa. We need these big art fairs but they need to be influenced by our own people.

      1. Michael Morris

        I’m not denying Schnabel’s that films are great, and I care about them much more than his paintings, but he’s a pretty conventional filmmaker. My point was more that “experimental” or “avant garde” or “underground” filmmaking has more or less existed without a market of any kind since the early 20th century. And it remains that way.

  3. E-man

    “The idea that Basel, NADA, whatever-fair, is ruining the artworld is nuts.” –

    Nobody said that they are which means that you came up with that idea. If you think that it’s nuts to have that idea then wouldn’t that mean that you just called yourself “nuts”?

    “It’s also nuts to say that artists aren’t making works that are complex, contemplative, and culturally important for that matter, just because your Instagram feed doesn’t reflect that (my Instagram feed reflects that the world is 95% food, 2% freshly painted fingernails, and 3% puppies sleeping). ”

    -She didn’t say that either. Stop calling yourself names!

    “If you want to learn about those artworks, those artists, and those venues that support the ideas you’re looking for you should totes check out books, museums, galleries, alternative spaces, and artist-run orgs. There are a ton of really amazing and culturally progressive things happening and as a member of a press you have the fortunate opportunity to turn heads the right way.
    Reporting on those would really help support that artworld you’re talking about – you know… instead of pandering by way of an op-ed about one of the most populist art events in the country that takes up a whole week of the year.”

    You should “totes” check to see if she does write about the local art scene before you start accusing her of these things. It wouldn’t have been hard for you, especially if you checked the space right between where she wrote her insightful article and where you wrote your silly comment, where it says “also by Christina”.

    You’re right on Christina. I love what you wrote. The art world is a broken mess. You are right in pointing it out. Everything that you said in here was right and it needs to be said until people understand it.

    Real art suffers, real artists suffer and the public suffers because of the chicanery and silliness that goes on in the art world. What is supposed to be a bastion of good taste tastes more like Oscar the Grouch’s droppings.

    I also think that artists tend to be sensitive people who often lack people skills and have difficulties making the proper social connections. People skills and social connections seem to be the major requirement in order for an artist to find any kind of success in the art world. If the best artists are supposed to be at the top of the game and the worst artists at the bottom, then the art-world is a miserable failure.

    1. UGH. WTF is “real art”, and who decides what it is, if there even IS such a thing. Do you like it? Does it make you happy? Would you like to live with it for a decade, or five? Then buy it! Who cares who made it, with what and where it was made, as long as you love it and the artist made money (BTW – any artist who puts themselves out there is a REAL artist, whether you happen to beiieve it or not.

      1. E-man

        In the context of what I was saying, real art is art that pushes boundaries or says something meaningful about the human experience and it’s art that moves us. There is such a thing and you should be able to distinguish it from “art” that says nothing meaningful, adds nothing to the conversation, moves no one.

        In the context of what I was saying, a real artist is someone with the heart of an artist. Someone who makes real art.

        Christina is right when she points out that artists are different. They are. She is right when she says that it’s been proven scientifically. It has been.

        If a person doesn’t make real art, he isn’t a real artist.

        Just because you classify both a Jackson Pollock and your babies vomit on the same level doesn’t mean that they are. Jackson Pollock was breaking ground in the conversation that has been taking place amongst artists. He was responding to Picasso and to his fellow abstract expressionists. Your baby was responding to a pickle.

        You can call it art but if you had any sense you wouldn’t keep it on your wall.

        You can even pay your baby for it with an extra helping of Gerber goop but that doesn’t make the vomit into anything other than vomit and it doesn’t make your baby into a real artist.

      2. Terry Mahaffey

        Art is an idea, and “banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.” (Sol Lewitt). If what you make is dense with meaning, if it impacts our understanding or perception of our time or place, if it foments public discourse, if it’s reflective, contemplative, introspective, or instructive in any way, then it’s art. It doesn’t have to make you happy for christ’s sake. If what you make is all rainbows and unicorns, then you’re not an artist – you’re Jeff Koons.

          1. Terry Mahaffey

            If you don’t know from reading the previous paragraph, explaining it to you would be a waste of time.

      3. a thought

        there is real art Mel, just like there are real and fake smiles or diamonds or anything you would like in this world. and the problem is that people, like you, think that anything can be art just because it’s there.

  4. I don’t agree that the art profession is upside because of the need for people and social skill vs. art making. Both skills are required equally just as they are needed to achieve excellence in any other profession in a contemporary context.

    1. E-man

      You are free to disagree and thereby number yourself amongst people who are wrong on this issue but I highly recommend that you reconsider.

      Artists who are excellent artists aren’t excellent artists because they are excellent social BSers unless you think that art is BS and it’s people who think that BS is art that are clogging up the pipes.

      Artists who are excellent artists aren’t excellent artists because they appear happy and only say the things that you want to hear.

      Artists who are excellent artists are excellent artists because they make excellent art, not because they are excellent at playing the social game. Moreover, the people who tend to be excellent artists tend to be people who aren’t great at playing the social game.

      Take for example the fact that an artist is probably going to be a passionate person with a strong drive for self-expression.

      Everyone knows that in the social game there are three things on which you should never speak, sex, religion and politics. For many artists, this is unbearable. Imagine, these are three of the most important and interesting things in the world and this passionate, expressive, caring, sensitive person can’t speak about them!

      An artist who cares deeply about the world and it’s struggles will probably end up brooding, grumbling, complaining. These things are completely unacceptable in polite society and who wants to be around this kind of negativity?

      This artist’s career never takes off the way that it should, even though his work is incredible. He breaks new ground. He says things about the world that desperately need to be said. No one cares. They are busy talking about Miley Cyrus. He gets a full-time job helping disabled students and after a while begins to come home too emotionally drained to make artwork. At 40 he can’t take it anymore and blows his brains out.

      “Elley” on the other hand makes boring little abstract paintings that break no new ground at all. He’s a graphic designer who paints little boring pictures but because he’s a good salesman his little paintings of circles and squiggles take off. You see his silly little shallow paintings all over the place. He reproduces several times.

      No, that isn’t the plot of idiocracy, although it sort of is. It’s reality. That’s the problem.

      Then the New York Times writes an article complaining about why art has become shallow.

      Being an artist shouldn’t be like “any other profession in a contemporary context”. It shouldn’t be like being a politician or salesman. It should be about the art.

      If I had to pick between seeing artwork by a tremendously talented painter who was also a terrible jerk versus a talented salesman who was a terrible artist, I would always go with the talented artist because to me It’s about the art. If you care about art then it should be the same for you.

      1. frome the age of 2

        E man I right. I have always been told I’m a great artist from people who don’t know me but I have yet to make a red cent for my work. Why? Because I’m not a social butterfly. I don’t try to sell my work vocaly. But I see people sell crap that a child can make with no depth no soul. Could I pander to that mess? Yes but if we as true artists did that art would truly be dead. We would be dead.

      2. andrew

        Sorry but playing the game IS PART OF MAKING EXCELLENT ART

        If a tree falls in the woods

        Why is this so confusing for people?

        …pre-war romanticism?

  5. Iris AG

    What a pity this much energy was put into writing such a bleak, discouraging & inaccurate piece. In this case and in this case only, I’m glad that youth are not reading.

  6. I wonder if one should write an article about an art event without having been there. it reminded me of a writer at the Dallas Morning News who wrote that Central American countries have improved their safety when Honduras and El Salvador are number one and three as the most violent countries in the world. He cited statistic data as his source. I lived the civil war and go back to my country almost every year. The writer doesn’t have a clue of what is really happening if he has never been in those countries in the last years. Is like writing a critique about a show without seeing it.

    Not all gallerist push their artist to produce “works that sells”. I do think that all art is political. If we keep making a distinction between art that sales and art that doesn’t we are discouraging collectors from acquiring experimental works and new media. And that is exactly the line that some galleries are trying to blur.

      1. Eman

        Many critics attend the show before or after the event so that they can take time with the work, often accompanied by the gallerist. I’m pretty sure that this is what Christina does. I’ve seen her at openings. Also, I’m not a lawyer, but it sounds like you are perhaps making some libelous accusations.

  7. Dan Havel

    Quote from Jason Farago’s review of recent MOMA painting exhibit;

    “Might it not more decently be conceived as a desperate flailing, an irresistible but impossible effort to find a way out of a situation where art’s only value is economic? Instead of recoding a lack of progress in art as the new progress, maybe we should take a hard cold look at where we are, accept the fact that we’re stuck, and ask how we got here and why. Being stuck is no vice. If art seems not to have a very bright future, at least that means it’s of our time.”

    Lets get unstuck together…..

  8. Unfortunately people are not buying art because they like what it looks like anymore…the reason it was bought, stolen, conquered etc for millennia. They THINK of it now as an investment, a means to status and prestige , or decoration (foisted on them by decorators, architects, consultants and advisors). Well it AIN”T an investment and 99.99% will never get their money out, and will be stuck with crap they NEVER wanted to look at, And as to prestige and status, There just AIN”T none to having a Dot or Butterfly painting, or an electroplated canvas, or an 8 inch square black and white Andy Warhol flower which cost over $300,000. Those buyers will be seen as abject fools!
    My friend and one of the great art dealers, Leo Castelli said to me in 1964,”Louie, there are 500 collectors in the world. 250 in the USA and 250 in all the rest of the world (for contemporary art) and there will never be any more” He was very right. Today we have hoards of buyers, investors, decorators and accumulators. No intellect at work, all attempting to have the SAME few things perceived to “enrich” them.
    True collectors, such as my wife and I are, have uniquely visioned collections from which future generations will LEARN and benefit. We have over 100 such collections developed over decades and unduplicated by ANY others. ALL will be donated to museums which WILL WANT them. Most of what is being made and accumulated today will ultimately be accumulated in the garbage dumps.

  9. Joe Spurlock

    Everyone outside the art community thinks artists and art are a waste of money. Corrupt art markets, arts leaders (at AFTA and on a smaller level HAA) as well as unethical collectors screw everything and strengthen the general public’s detain or disinterest in the arts. Artists need to stop talking to each other and explain your concerns to your non art friends. Artists should be heard by council members and let them know the creators of this city are not pleased with the overall plan and cultural support. Artists need to know they have more power than just painting a picture matching a couch.

  10. Dolittle

    Painting to match the couch, i.e. applied art, isn’t so bad – nor is disinterest in power.

    It’s always a wonderful time to be a poet.

  11. I’d like to be constructive in my criticism of Christina’s article but there is just too much “naturalism” floating around, too many villains everywhere you turn. What’s the point of saying “artists’ brains are different” or “good artists” are being forced to “act this way” because of the market, if there is no solution possible other than to step away from the whole circus (including MFA programs: why?). This is just more navel-gazing that perhaps does no more than to vent frustrations and assuage disappointments. Where did the expectations about art come from in the first place? Read Ad Reinhardt’s complaints about his peers and the art market and the world of celebrity and corruption . . . circa 1950 – 1967. (I know, whenever I have something to say about anything, I say: “read Ad Reinhardt”. And why not? He was articulate, passionate, and spot on.) I’m not saying the world of art hasn’t changed . . . I’m just saying our situation is not new in terms of the broad outlines. What is new is the intensity, the complicity, and the level of saturation. We have global art fairs, global biennials, global artists, dealers, museums, collectors and curators. And we have cities using artists to shine, to address social problems that should have been addressed a long time ago by the politicians who couldn’t give a shit about art ten years ago when it wasn’t on the trendy-trendy-sparkly agenda. The sources of our frustration — and I include myself in this — have transformed, just like global capitalism has. This new structure, this new identity of the so-called “ARTWORLD” (sic) (Arthur Danto’s legacy will haunt us till the end of our days, I fear) is alien and frightening, as it should be: because we didn’t make it. Not the biggest parts of it, not the systems that spawn the art fairs, the international mega-museums, the vanity museums of collectors, etc. All — or most, anyway — of the objects of my frustration and yours seem to be given to us and appear as great gobs of abstract, crystallized shit. Where there is no detail, how can anyone see a way forward? When it’s a matter of being “forced” into “being” a certain way by an agency as vague and abstract as “the market”, then you might as well believe in ghosts and get the pants scared off of you. Adorno and Sartre are no help here? (Who? I hear the yahoos baying, “WHO????”) Yes, existence is a matter of what you chose NOT to do (Sartre); resistance is a way of escaping total reification and despair (Adorno). Consumers always have a gripe, and so do the “producers”, the “makers”, the “us”. Try to see the difference between complaining about “shallow art” (the consumer’s gripe) and complaining about unbridled exploitation (the maker’s gripe). The clearest indication of the ethical core of the dealers at Miami Basel was the look of absolute disgust on their faces on Sunday, the day that the “public” overwhelmed the convention halls. These great unwashed masses — who happen to be at work or attending school, Monday through Friday, and Saturday, too for some — were interested to see what contemporary art looks like. They were greeted with almost universal disdain, rudeness, horror, and condescension. Do artists like feeling special because of their “different” brains? How far does the sense of entitlement go? Profoundly deep, I’d say. And now some artists have the world that I believe they always wanted, deep down in their souls. At least Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst do, and probably Marina Abramovic, too (yes, she was there as well, providing succor in the form of a ridiculous rest area where a few poor souls could tune out of the art fair and the world) … and the list can and does go on . . . what some of us value about art can be specified, put down on paper, made real, materialized in this world at this time. But not without a fight. Not without the inundation of cynical common sense or sheer survival instincts gone made. The fact is most of these values we cherish do not a fortress make . . . certainly not an “institution” of the breadth, scale, complexity, and wealth of the “artworld”. The future of DEEPLY SATISFYING art is going to belong to those who can figure out what sort of stable, self-sustaining, institution THEIR ART VALUES can conjure up. Some of these people constructing the future alongside artists will be gallerists, collectors, curators, critics, and art historians. Just like in the past, just like in the present. . . But not the gallerists, collectors, curators, critics and art historians AS WE KNOW THEM. In the meantime, can we not spend too much effort on castigating the obvious?

  12. LOLI Fernandez (-A Kolber)

    Right on target Christina. You are a brilliant writer but best of all honesty. Anyone that has eyes, and want to use them, can see all what you have pointed out in your article. And, of course that anyone must not be t already hooked to the teat of the sacred cow of the phony art world of today.$

    Not everyone is born with the brain of an artist? Surprise, surprise! It seems that science comes to the rescue and , after all, not every one is born a good artist, and I made add born a visual artist or any kind of artist. Hallelujah, some absolutes are coming back!$

    So many artists? Sorry but there not that many more artists than before. One thing for sure, there a lot of people who were deceived into going to art school,-the sacred cow needs sacrificial victims after all to eat-, so they have their diploma and now ta taa! You are an artist! Or, you default into whatever in the art world for which money must be raised.$

    It does not take show business to be an artist, it takes show business talent to sell it which is not equal to art although it might be an art in itself. $

    So, playing the field is making art? Not anymore than actors making love in a scene is making love! One makes art, honestly, perhaps even bad, the rest is a whole lot other issues,$

    I was once told that countries have the governments that they deserve, well…perhaps definitely the art that they deserve,$

    Time to stop.

    Well done

    LOLI

  13. Bill Nickels

    I am 56, an artist and a business owner in Tennessee. I make art in my home and then take it to my office and put it in a room. There it sits in the dark. Sometimes i sell a piece. To a friend or aquantiance. I remarked when aI was in school, 1982-6 that there were sure alot of art schools in Tennessee. Only one vet school. My wife made it through that one. I thought there should only be one art school too. Difficult entry and difficult cirriculum. My teacher had been hired when this art department first formed and was a vassel of the Abstract expressionists from that day. Many teachers were then. When the war ended there was a boom, in everything, and now we are left with a plethora of artists who maybe should be or maybe should never have walked into the doors of the newly created Art schools to become artists.
    I am one of them. My work stacks up. I traded the time look for a gallery (and it takes time) for time to make a business. I still have as much time to create. And so I do.

  14. Bill

    I agree with most of this. As a writer my entire career has been, “You’re not commercial.” “You’re too commercial.” “I don’t get your work.” “We’ve already seen this done.” “Why don’t you write something like …?” “Glad you won that National Book Award. Are you making any money?” BLEH. ITS NEVER A GOOD TIME TO BE AN ARTIST! You do what you’re called to do, give it your best shot and pray for some luck. Look, we live in a country where Thomas Kincaide is considered a “Great Artist”! We can either piss and moan about it or wish the bastard well and just keep slogging away because “we and a precious few” continue to honor the gift we have a crazy responsibility to fulfill in some way.

  15. I would like to amplify my remarks, above, so that they are not left hanging in a rather unsatisfactory limbo. One of the great confusions shared by many artists, art educators, and critics is that the artworld today is essentially a larger (global), more extreme (the “bad” bits are much more visible) version of the artworld of the 1980s and 1990s. In my view — and this is one shared by many commentators — this is simply not the case. To cite Lane Relyea, “a new system of standardization has arisen to compensate for the growing limitations of the former studio-gallery-museum system. Instead of a series of white cubes dictating conformity in the production, distribution, and reception of material art objets, today it’s art subjects who are produced in mutual conformity and interchangeability. And the institution that oversees this reproduction of “human capital” is the art school.” Don’t rule out the role of MFA programs. At the moment, some of these MFA programs are supporting the development of art practices that defy the white cubes and are therefore invisible to the denizens of the Miami Basel Art Fair and most other high profile art events you can name. For those still stuck in the white-cube-world, it’s a hall of mirrors . . . as reflected by the majority of commentary accompanying Christina’s harangue.

    1. drdavidsteele

      The lovely MFA programs that encourage writing over actually making anything? I was very happy when I heard you were removed as chair at SMU. You make nothing and write so eloquently.

      1. Michael Morris

        We’re lucky to have Michael Corris as part of our community. The fact that you feel justified in posting the toxic bullshit above makes me want to vomit.

  16. Hey,
    There are two or three art worlds out there, basel is just one of them and while it has alot of visibility it does not accurately represent the art world as a whole. Dont let the hollywood quality of art world get you down.

  17. Bill Goldberg

    Art fairs are commercial enterprises that exist to facilitate the sale of artworks and are not to be confused with art museums and other educational institutions. Think of the high end shopping mall where some are there to buy, others to browse and others are there just for the scene and socializing. I do find the fairs useful for in a short period of time I am exposed to artists and galleries that I don’t see if I stay in Houston. I can then educate myself further after the fair on what I have seen.

    From the artist’s point of view it would seem that if fairs help to expand the number of collectors and what they collect that should help the economics of being an artist. Of course the browsers and scenesters are not part of that equation…yet. They could become collectors.

  18. Great commentary from an artist out of Canada on the state of the art world. http://theenemyreader.org/money-cubicles-the-beast

    “By seeing every artist’s work in a small, carpeted booth in a shabby convention centre, with a lot of noise and no personal space, art has become utterly dehumanized. This is a bad time for art and for (most) artists.”

    “The idea that art fairs make art easier for collectors is based on a trio of assumptions. The first assumption is that these fairs are important and organized by serious, well informed, art educated professionals. The second is that, as a by-product of the first, only the very best galleries in the world are permitted to participate in these fairs. Third, this must mean that the most cutting edge, important and serious artists are to be seen at every booth. These assumptions may or may not be true. But what this triad does is create a sense of ease in the heart and wallet of the collector…The Fair allows people who want to own art to actually enact the cliché of buying work that matches the sofa. If you have enough money and space, collectors today can walk around Art Basel, picking out things that they find pleasant, that function as ornament…Works from prestigious fairs are triply pre-vouched, and coming with a whispered promise of future wealth…There is little to nothing about the pandemic of art fairs that is harmful to collectors in any way whatsoever. The harm is always inflicted on artists, and on art.”

    “The relationship between the object and your experience with that object is the foundation of all visual art. A return to discussing honestly how that works, intelligently pointing out what fails, what succeeds – paying attention to the work and returning life to the relationship between art and the viewer, refocusing attention and ignoring distractions, is the only viable remedy to the innumerable ailments art is currently suffering under.”

  19. in reference to e-man’s comments on the social awkwardness of many artists becoming the impediment, if not destruction of their otherwise excellent art career, i’ll repeat what i said about year ago after another inexplicable exclusion.
    “It’s not about who you know, It’s about who you know and if they fucking like you.” which is sad. I know it’s made me very sad. I don’t say this out of arrogance and a sense of entitlement. I say this out of watching not just me, but others who have no day job but art, get beat out for press or awards or committee selections etc ad nauseum by folks who maybe have just been more involved in organising events or being available for things other than making art? ya know more on the scene being seen? if you get my humble implication?……… The folks that spend more time self promoting than doing art. The folks who can show up because they aren’t really busy doing much. I’ve often heard people say (and said myself) to others who query “why did they interview him/her about this/that?”…..”well i guess they were the only ones not busy making art at the time.” And god knows how many times I’ve said “why didn’t i hear about this?” and the response is always “well….if you spent more time scouring the myriad of websites and reading every blog or facebook group post…you would have been informed…but since you don’t care to do such things… too bad so sad.” Later to find the who thing was inexplicably under promoted at the last minute before deadline and then see some familiar and very interconnected names get the slots or whatever the grand prize for being omniscient (and extremely lucky to beat out others who did make the entry deadline) is. No worries. No big deal. I’ll just apply for food stamps and stare at my portfolio wondering WTF? am I delusional? am I arrogant? or am I just that annoying that……my artistic talent is trumped by my social awkwardness? I BECAME AN ARTIST TO EXPRESS MYSELF ….Now expressing myself is a career killer. “yeah the guy’s art is fucking great, but does he ever shut up at a party? jeeeesus”……..this close }{ to out on the whole fucking thing. Funny the same thing that drove me towards art? is now the very thing (besides poverty) driving me away at the speed of compressed horse shit.

  20. drdavidsteele@yahoo.com

    Now back up your argument about how Harry Geffert and Linda Ridgeway should have done something else with their lives. Is Thor Johnson the only artist you approve of?

  21. I’m not sure who “drdavidsteele” is, but he should know that I was not “removed” as chair, but resigned at the end of my first contractual period. he should also know that no MFA program I’ve ever heard of has pursued the absurd program he speaks of. It’s appropriate that he spreads his lies via Yahoo or internet blog sites or comments page. He has no profile anywhere else.

  22. there’s no argument or anything new ms. rees in what you said. the last paragraph spans the ages in this profession/obsession and the attempts at critical analysis and explanation!
    “I don’t have solutions; the world is in so much flux and the digital revolution is in full swing. I don’t have a crystal ball. Writing all this out isn’t going to help any artists. But the Art Basel Instagram feed was so deathly I was compelled to write it out”
    WE do it and we do it until we can’t!
    On any level we can make it, and make more of it.
    QUIT your objectification of something that you obviously don’t grasp or understand. Unless the publisher is paying you by the word! In that case, lucky you that ‘we’ have no inclination or wont to cease, ever!

  23. I wonder if the constant connecting with the world nullifies the artist as a person. The lone artist fighting their demons or reveries is now a thing of the past … their thoughts are constantly interrupted. Who can follow a thought pattern… make mistakes … suffer… and be insufferable when distracted.
    Worldly success is rarely given to the truly great. Truth in life as it appears in art is simple and irritating and its hard to bear.

  24. Art Fan

    I find that articles like this (or this opinion in general) are written mostly by outsiders who never learned how to participate.

    The idea that art should function as a “piece of humanity” instead of an investment reeks of fundamentalism. Art’s function is not absolute and the meaning is constantly negotiated between artist, patron, critic, curator, buyer, seller, and viewer. Even the most engaged collector’s understanding is drastically different than the artist’s intent. In fact, art functions well because of these countless meanings – that’s what makes it art, and makes it interesting.

    I wonder if this is the BEST time to be an artist in decades, or maybe ever. The global art world has never been bigger, more inclusive, and able to sustain all of its participants than ever. The successful participants figure out how to make it work instead of whining about it. If the writer knew how to make a buck or get some notoriety from a flight and a few days in Basel, then they certainly would have done so instead of writing this dreadful monologue.

  25. The fact is, the zeitgeist tends to win out every time. And because of its inherent “what’s NOW is best” nature, many, many elephants get overlooked. Christina lists but a few of them here. We could all name a particular elephant that has trod upon the field of art and crushed dreams and beliefs in its wake. The moneyed types and the celebutantes-of-the-day don’t perceive any elephants; they deny the existence of such.

    As with a previous commenter, I’d like to call out the wholesale demonization of an MFA, as if those three letters designate the root cause of the issues listed. The MFA program at Yale is markedly different than the program at, say, New York Academy; the same degree is given when the respective candidates finish their studies. I’m not saying one is better than the other (both are myopic in their own special, wildly different ways), but an advanced degree in art does not mean one is learning to “play the game.” I’m not sure what the author means here. You can go to business school with the intent to usurp small companies and make a killing, or you can find out how to make your family business run better. Same degree, different philosophies.

    Not that I’m religious in any way, but I was raised as such, and the idea of “you cannot serve God and Mammon” comes to mind. I don’t think artists can serve Art and Money. It has been and will always be the root cause of artist’s problems. I don’t just mean economically (pragmatism is important) but creatively, as well. We market and slaver over the very limited brass rings dangled by the 1%, and subsequently, 1% of the artists obtain them (albeit for fairly short periods of time). The quality and approach of the work is affected, and the rest of the art world looks at it and says: “Oh, THAT’S what we should be doing!” — and thus we have Miami Basel and other art atrocities. Art is no longer art-centric. If it were, its value would be cultural, as opposed to something merely financial couched in the Trojan horse of fame. I could give countless examples, but Jeff Koons installing that inflated ballerina in Rockefeller Center is a good one. His follow-up to this widely touted, highly visible (corporate-sponsored!) installation was the firing of most of the staff that constructed the thing. Hollow symbolism, indeed.

    As a professor of art, I view this article with not a little bit of sadness. Not that I believe in it completely, but because some of my students will read it and lose heart, utterly. They will not go on to make art, nor “art in private,” as the author suggests. Good art requires real engagement on the part of the artist. And that engagement extends outward from the studio into the world. We cannot lock ourselves away and be a bunch of Henry Dargers, our work discovered only after our passing. If the community of art is fractured now, such an attitude would eradicate it utterly.

    1. Julie Speed

      I feel lucky to be one of those artists who is able to lock myself away in the studio “like a bunch of Henry Dargers” because it means I can string together hours and days of uninterrupted thought and work. I think that makes me more engaged, not less.

      1. That’s very lucky indeed, Julie. In fact, that sounds like much of a luxury when there are internationally acclaimed artists I know who are getting priced out of their Brooklyn studios. They cannot string together too many hours let alone days of making due to the general expense of living. As far as my comparative to Darger, my point was that he was discovered posthumously. One can’t be engaged too well with the artistic community when one has passed on.

    2. Erica Neumann

      Hi Rob Sullivan. Don’t worry for your students, teach them how to stand by their work, no matter what. We were taught to withstand exceptionally harsh critique at Art School, and also that our whole career would be a struggle, pretty much.

      I think art fairs, here in Canada at least, are a way to give fledgling artists show experience. Much needed, as galleries won’t look at you without exhibition experience. That’s for commercial work.

      What I find horrifying are the international art catalogues that have “chosen” the artist and charge the artist for a page. I’ve seen a few people crushed.

      As for decorative vs conceptual and deep, both are valuable soul-wise, and who says a decorative, illustrative painter won’t ever come up with some earth shattering work one day? After a lifetime of pretty little abstracts, they may come to some kind of massive point, or not. At the beginning we are taught to be true to ourselves. So does a decorative painter at heart choose to be a half hearted conceptualist? It’s all good, all of it.

      Simple/ lite work is engaging a public that had given up on art as too cerebral. People learn, they grow, and all types of work are waiting for all types of contemplating.

      As for mean trolls, I sincerely believe that there is a large group of terrorists out there who sit on the computer injecting hateful comments in conversations all over the place, just to divide us all. If only there was a hashtag to mark them.

      1. Thanks, Erica. I do have hope.

        Insofar as trolls are concerned, you don’t need to scroll down too far to see how the uncritical pollutes the dialogue with relative ease and aloofness.

        I do think the post-postmodern era of an odd sort of pluralist thinking has at first thrown us into chaos and allowed for more exploitation than normal. Perhaps it will suss itself out in time. The current state of affairs in the US has me thinking later than sooner, but historically speaking, oppression tends to bring about the most intense movements in the arts and sciences, government funding be damned (I think it is, anyway).

        No, I don’t believe we should throw our love for our own work under the bus for the sake of the new and lucrative. It is happening, but just because it is, doesn’t make it right or good or worthwhile. No, what lasts is truth. We’ve had more than a decade of irony skirting the truth, and culture has regressed. It’s hard to tell the truth, or more pointedly – it’s hard to be true to oneself when the world is attracted to the things that lie to us. But, lying to ourselves with our own art will never work.

        *Note* – in the interest of putting it out there, I see the link to my site in my initial post is incorrect, it seems. Here is were you’ll find me: http://robsullivanart.com/

      2. carolyn

        Fwiw, Erica, yes, large armies of paid trolls are in fact deployed by pretty much every interest group that can afford them. Find a classic guide to spotting them at https://pastebin.com/irj4Fyd5 – well worth the read, if you haven’t seen it. And back in 2008, Cass Sunstein, the guy Obama appointed to review NSA surveillance, co-authored a paper recommending that the government should hire covert agents to infiltrate internet chat rooms in order to influence the discussion.

  26. This is excellent. Whoever controls the money controls the art. Make your own money, make your own art, and god bless the internet.
    70,000 people saw my shit on flikr last month. and that’s just one site.
    so I have money, I have an audience, I have colleagues with decent critiques, and I have freedom to make whatever I damn well please.
    Fuck the gallery.
    It’s just slavery.

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