Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's youth got to do with it?

Louise Bourgeois, Fugue, 2003
Screenprint, 30 cm x 42 cm

On a Facebook friend’s wall the other day:
I have erased a black cloud eating my stomach with an unknown weight. I am young, 34, but I am not young within the context of New York. The black cloud is from the perception of myself I feel from others. There is this, what I would, call "petit bourgeois" view of success that runs through the art world. A false belief art is a career that can be measured by degrees of success that correspond to age. I have been around art long enough to know in reality most artists do nothing until their thirties or later. But I face day to day the idea I am too old.
My comment: “If this even crosses your mind, it indicates that you're looking outside yourself for validation. The best art is made by people who don't care what others think.”
Even though he’s part of the OWS movement that’s causing such great change so quickly, he’s stuck in the assumption that the art world and its values are always going to stay the same. Again, we can’t predict! The only thing we know for sure about the future is that it will be different. And isn’t that fun? Wouldn’t it be boring if it stayed the same, if we knew exactly what was going to happen? Therefore, since the art world has been predicated for two or three decades on the coming of The Next Big Thing, a concept that has everything to do with money and speculation, perhaps once we get off our current financial merry-go-round, it will come to reflect more meaningful values.
I recently saw the first one-person show in NY of another artist, who happens to be around the same age. He is tense with ambition; his desire and extreme need are palpable, evident in his every word and gesture—and it would seem that he’s done everything right. A deft marriage of painting and sculpture, the work is competently executed around a concept that comes off as smart and cool when described in a press release. Not too big, not too small, perfect for people who want contemporary art on their walls that’s not threatening, it lacks only one ingredient: soul. 
I know people in the art world who, while not particularly talented, attractive, smart, or even nice, have “made it” through sheer persistence. I could also point out some who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, whose ideas merged with those of an important exhibition or Whitney Biennial, which set them on a path for life. Unfortunately, it is not a meritocracy. But then there are those, like Louise Bourgeois, whose work was of such value that it couldn’t be ignored, regardless of her age, gender, and prickly personality.
For true success to happen, an artist has to make art that’s not only exceptional, but is a reflection of the needs and desires of his time. The first is more or less in our control; the second, as adroitly described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, is not. The reason you can’t pay heed to what others are thinking, doing, or making, is that they’re stuck in the present, while you’re creating art for the future.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, in 20 years, when our FB friend has reached the ripe old age of 54, everyone will be wanting art that enhances their lives, takes them to a higher place, the kind of work that, in most cases, only a mature artist can do. And he’ll be the right person for the right moment, glad he didn’t burn out at 34.


wylie goodman said...

Well said. So hard to live by those words in a culture in which we're expected to be marketing and promoting work while simultaneously doing the inner/interior work to produce it.

Rob said...

Yes, well said. I also find it sad when I see curators simply rehashing soul-less market successes. It is human nature to be a follower, so much safer. It is counter intuitive to think that the same attitudes are a pervasive in the art world but true creativity is probably just as rare in the art profession as others (or maybe just unexpectedly rare).

deb said...

so nothing changes - Baruch Spinoza
“sed omnia praeclara tam difficilia quam rara sunt" Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.

MMH said...

Well said. I see artist's capturing the moment so often and so much of the moment is banal no soul no chances taken but so often it's what sells. And today, isnt selling the measure of 'good'. So pleased that I found your blog.

MMH said...

Well said. I see artists capturing the moment so often. Much of the moment is banal. No soul. No chances taken. But so often it's what sells. And today, isn't selling the measure of 'good'. So pleased that I found your blog.

Carol Diehl said...

Thank you! And keep commenting!

gonzales said...

Very well said indeed! i'm 36 myself and just moved back to the Southwest from NY. as an artist i have many peers that are so anxious to "make it" as if time is running out before they miss their window. admittedly, i have been under the spell at times (how could you not in today's climate?) i'm a true believer in persistence. i would be painting regardless if i was able to make money or not, that's just what we do. fortunately, as of January i've gone full time as a painter. i paint what interests me. it could be plain luck, who knows. either way, i see there's a lot of growing to be had on my part and my peers as well. we live in a time of impatience.

thank you for your blog Carol. Huge fan.

Frank Gonzales