Thursday, June 05, 2008

Edward Winkleman has been asking his readership to submit topics for his Tuesday Asides on his blog this summer. A number of people apparently have written in asking for his advice on breaking into the artworld. In response, Winkelman links to a couple of previous posts—both of which seem to boil down to one thing: Context matters. Know your audience; know the galleries intimately; know what they’re showing and how your work might or might not relate to it.

This is actually a subject I’d hoped to put into a panel discussion—an artist’s survival guide for Washington, D.C. I was asked to put one together for Artomatic, but unfortunately couldn’t make the scheduling work out (yes, we’re a little busy right now.)

The panel would’ve been a discussion of the D.C. art scene: its architecture, most visible players, commercial and non-profit venues, and how the city does or doesn’t resemble/connect with both NYC and other cities in the region—Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, etc.

My main contention—and the problem I have with most artist’s survival exercises—is that no one gets rejected by an art gallery because their slides aren’t good enough, or their statement’s a little clunky, or their resume isn’t formatted properly. People fail to get their foot in the door because they don’t know how to make work that participates in the prevailing discourse. Art is a conversation. Mumbling to yourself in a closet isn’t going to interest anyone—unless maybe you’re an outsider artist with truly kooky mumbling.

I hear a lot of artists talk about forming underground/alternative art scenes. It’s an admirable goal, and lord knows this city needs every bit of creative energy it can get…but it’s ultimately meaningless if the participants don’t actually understand the workings of the broader art world to which they’re proposing an alternative. Besides: Drinking lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon while not actually selling anything can get old pretty quickly.

I've heard my friend Brandon Morse give the same piece of advice a number of times to students looking to get involved in art: Go to every opening; meet everyone. As someone who is comfortable talking to people but isn’t necessarily a people person, I’ve always found this advice a little irritating. But it’s true. Luckily, in a town the size of D.C., there really aren’t that many people for you to meet, anyway.

5 Comments:

Blogger tim said...

a) i know you're busy and don't need distraction, and
b) context is certainly everything and there is no use begging for attention from galleries that won't amplify or work with an artist's project;

that said, i'm a bit surprised by this post. an attractive DC institution like AAC claiming that artists have to either step in line to the beat, or stop trying, is a bit crushing. i have a lot of faith in underground art scenes. i think DC could really use more, given that the scene here is a bit one-dimensional (not trying to blame anybody!). and i think many artists who have a bit of experience understand that they have to relate themselves to a larger whole in order to enjoy a little bit of attention. however, the call to "step in line" is nothing but an instruction for novice artists to pay attention to galleries and make what they ask for...which of course is capital (cultural and financial).

once this situation is understood and comprehended, THEN the going really gets hard. once you realize that your own work/your group's work is not in line at all with the ruling paradigm, what do you do?
i'm sorry, but the notion that underground, or under recognized, art is ultimately meaningless without a smile from an institution is quite hard to accept. i know i'm not just speaking for myself here...both my artist acquaintances and myself frequently consider the "sell-out" factor when preparing applications for gallery shows....and i can't imagine that this is a healthy thing for either the gallery or the artwork.

so, what to do when the local scene, or paradigm, needs expansion?

2:10 AM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

What I meant was: It's pointless to propose an alternative to an artworld/art scene if you don't understand the very thing you're trying to counter.

I definitely didn't mean to give the impression that I think all artists should just fall in line with the existing arguments, standards of presentation, and prevailing mindset in gallery culture!

4:30 PM  
Blogger tim said...

ah, gotcha. you are also completely right in that PBR gets old really fast. I didn't intend for my post to be so pointed....I guess I'm just interested in thinking in an open-ended way about what kind of relationships could, or should, exist between underground scenes, and commercial galleries.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Participating in the prevailing discourse is a 2-way street. Artists should attend openings, et al., AND gallerists need to access the alternative/underground scene as well. Gallery owners would do themselves well to stop drinking wine and just selling and come out of their money making white cubes and poke their noses into some very inertesting closets.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Participating in the prevailing discourse is a 2-way street. Artists should attend openings, et al., AND gallerists need to access the alternative/underground scene as well. Gallery owners would do themselves well to stop drinking wine and just selling and come out of their money making white cubes and poke their noses into some very inertesting closets.

3:46 PM  

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