“Gentle artists” get eaten alive, and/or fade into obscurity

John Cecil Stephenson

Detail of work by John Cecil Stephenson at the Durham Art Gallery.

“Until last weekend, John Cecil Stephenson had been largely neglected with no public gallery or museum staging any exhibition of his work in almost 40 years – an injustice finally righted by Durham Art Gallery, 47 years after his death.” (Mark Brown, Guardian arts correspondent)  Read the full article.

You see what we have to deal with.   Artists now are expected to be human self-promoting machines.

And you’d better be slick with your personal presentation.  If you’re a woman, you’d better be as beautiful as possible.  (Men get to look like whatever, because they’re considered actual humans, not decoration.)

All this feverish marketing and social game-playing sucks up so much energy; what is left to go into the art?  What sort of art world do we end up with?

We end up with a stifling, closed system where everyone is breathing everyone else’s rarefied air.  Everything is “ironic”.  Everyone is jaded.   Egos are so swollen, you can hardly see past them to the truth:  How can such an environment be anything but a hindrance to creativity?  Is it really a surprise that it is glutted with such banality,  such vividly colored emptiness?

“Once upon a time artists mostly produced art. These days, however, artists are supposed to put on shows; curate shows; deal with media, with marketing, with galleries (and with gallerists!), with designing their own websites, with photographing their work, with not dressing like a slob, with paying rent for both their apartment and their studio; buy supplies for their art; do their own carpentry; know their own cultural context; understand art history; be hip to whatever current famous European philosopher is popular (was Derrida, now it’s Slavoj Žižek); be aware of what’s going on in the art scene (extra points for knowing what’s going on in the literary scene, too); maybe speak at least one other language (two is better — and having basic working knowledge of a guitar or piano is another plus); be able to outdrink other artists and, if need be, have enough stamina to stay up all night at parties. ”  — Chris Cobb.  Read the rest of this article.

Artists are expected to be performing seals.  Or lose their place in history. This is the way things are now.  Or so everyone tells me.

But the stubborn idea persists in my mind that this is not the way things have to be.

Clyfford Still told the world to go to hell.  His paintings have recently sold for 20 million plus and he’s got his own museum now.  I grant you, this didn’t happen in his lifetime.  But he’s proof that artists can turn their back on the world and go their own way.

When a well-known art-market dude opined that Vermeer would never make it in today’s art market, I said, “What about Clyfford Still?”

I was haughtily informed that Still was a “unique market phenomenon”.  In other words, art market professionals are not wrong unless they’re wrong, in which case their wrongness is a unique phenomenon which in no way suggests they are wrong.  Capitalism must have been invented by Kafka.

How much can you stand to participate in a system that makes you sick?

Ideas? Questions? Answers?  You are warmly invited to tell me about them in the comment box below.

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2 thoughts on ““Gentle artists” get eaten alive, and/or fade into obscurity

  1. Sadly, it is the same everywhere: self-promote or get lost in the fray. I’m not sure how new this problem is in the art world, but it does seem worse in the age of anti-social networking. Great headline, by the way.

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