I seem to remember whenever an exhibition opening occurred, other than the viewing of the work, it was also that time when artists would leave their own studios and gather to meet as a group, to give their viewpoint on their colleague's show, to discuss their own work with fellow artists, to bitch, gossip, seek advice, argue - basically, a social occasion for those who would normally shy away from collective events, preferring to spend their time alone working.
Maybe I'm getting old, and see things in a different perspective now, but my impression nowadays at an opening is that the artists have become businessmen and women, operators, eager market researchers. Instead of a friendly meeting of peers, it seems to consist of a deadly serious occasion to retieve information to further a career, the pressing of business cards, where the artists are found busily surrounding the critic, gallerist, or buyer with hopeful, wannabee-a-star smiles, and only speak to other artists to find out who's been more successful in the race for business.
Perhaps mistakenly we used to view the artist as the precursor, and that the critics and business side were mere hangers-on, dependent on what we produced. Our idea of success was the truth of a fellow artist's work, and not how good s/he is at getting ahead in the game?
It all comes down to ecnomics. The museums and media perpetuate a star system. Museums finally cottoned on to the idea that blockbuster shows and media stars sell tickets and that's the way it is. Since busines is the order of the day (and it probably always was despite some of our youthful and idealistic notions) it's not surprising that young artists are attending and emerging from art schools with notions of becoming art stars in competition with their friends that aspire to be rock and movie stars all of whom are called "artists" nowadays. Being outrageous in both work and personality to be noticed and push forward is what its all about. Success is paramount. Like the cinema where people don't go any longer for the simple escapest pleasure but are now intimate with insider buzz about how much the film cost and what it grossed, and what the stars are up to and what they made, etc. As far as our "business" goes (supposedly one of the quiet arts). The reality is that the number of true appreciators, amongst whom you'll find an even lesser number of art buyers is a very small elite indeed. When I was younger my idea of making it was simply to be shown, sell enough to carry on and hopefully to be part of the larger dialogue that went on in the few art journals that existed. Even those meagre aspirations, given the size of the pie to be carved proved impossible (for me at least). I'm afraid that today's young artists will be doubly and triply dissappointed. Of course I'm totally out of the loop on this topic having not been to an opening, mine or anyone else's in years but I suspect you're correct in all you've said especially that you're getting old.
One of the problems as I see it is the stance gallery owners increasingly have to take due to the state of the art market. The market is awash with sunsets and abstracts due to the availabilty of relatively cheap raw materials and the fact that anyone can paint a sunset or abstract. Gallery owners need commercial art but they need it from credible people (artists), so much wall space is off limits to artists who have not emerged from some form of artistic higher education. This abundance of artwork and lack of wall space does instill a businesslike voracity in artists.
I'm not sure exactly what the topic is. I thought I did when I responded and probably confused matters with my inane ramblings. Just to review J.P., you started this off with your nostalgic memories of a time when artists toiled alone in their studios, lone wolves whose only aim was to further the state of the arts, Once in awhile they would emerge to attend the opening of a peer's show where the debates about art would take place. Add heavy drinking, pot smoking and other hallucenagens and the event would usually end with fisticuffs, hospitalisation and possibly a death or two. In other words a good time was had by all. No business, no career ambition just pure art. That's the way I remember it as well, only it really never was that way. The artists were as ambitious then as now, as a matter of fact the fisticuffs were usually the result of professional and career envy. Maybe today's artists are just more forthright about the whole thing. J.P. I know there's a topic here somewhere, maybe you can rephrase it so I know what we're talking about.
I find it repellant that a lowly gallery owner places more value on a blank wall than a piece of art... making the artist feel like they are priveleged to be offered a small portion of that blank wall. Spineless chaff.
I think I was leaning more towards the competition of art-making as opposed to that of career-making. How many times have you exited a gallery irritated by yet another show of mediocre art? For me, competition in art manifests itself on those rare occasions when you find yourself saying out loud "YES!" in front of an artwork. You've stumbled on someone who understands, and knows how to communicate the message. The artist has thrown a door open for you, and you stand there grinning and rinvigorated, suddenly full of a need to know more, research, and return to your studio to try out some tentative steps through that doorway. To find an artist who is "better", more advanced and experienced than you is usually a source of energy and enthusiasm to renew your own efforts to show that you can take up the challenge in reply. I don't think envy even comes into it.
Career-making, on the other hand, doesn't move me much. I say good luck to those who make it and can sustain the pace.
Regarding the possible topics of my incoherent ramblings:
1. What constitutes competition for an artist?
2. Are we becoming ever more dependent on recognition from the art business in order to realize ourselves as artists?
An artist's only competition is with their own self. To give vent to their own unique vision given whatever abilities, both innate and learned that they may possess. Any other competition is superfluous but given the nature of human beings artists being human are competive to greater and lesser extents. Sometimes the competitive spirit can be a good thing, spurring the artist on to greater and quicker achievement. Witness Picasso's and Braque's monumental achievements in the early 1900s. Some say it was a partnership but I would say it had much to do with competition. Their later non- relationship spoke much of that early competition, who was the first, who was the greatest, who was heading in the more proper direction. The initial positive competition had become negative but don't forget fame and fortune had entered the picture. When those elements don't exist art usually thrives. The artists might be starving but when there is absolutely no hope of selling, the advanced artists doing the "new, ugly and unaccepted work" usually produce their best work and remember the time as perhaps brutal physically but spiritually uplifting in the comradely spirit of competition amongst their peers, ie. New York in the 1950s. So when I see or sense the kind of competition you see at your "nowadays" openings it tells me two things. Firstly the young artists smell money (fame and fortune). Secondly their not doing their main job as artists which is to be and express to the fullest their own unique humanity and are instead trying to please the marketplace, art dealers, critics, grant jurys and so on. The first order of their business should be to look deep into themselves and find out who they are, what truly moves them, what they love and not allow the system to bestow it's aesthetic judgements on them. Just for the record the establishment has always proven itself wrong.
i agree, to an extent competition is healthy, when i see a great artwork it inspires me..moves me to want to achieve the same level in my self...(in my own way of course).my drive is to achieve the best i can of myself, within my limited resources, finance ( and space)..more often than not though i feel disappointed these days when i visit a gallery..art has seem to become a confusing muddle..im sure some would think i add to this muddle! such a subjective subject..and maybe this is its power! some work i see that i dont 'get' at first i find myself returning to, until i finally realise that its taken grip..still a lot that hasnt taken a hold yet though..
basically we are talking about helthy competition! and I belueve it does exist. I am no speaking of the trendies... Good luck to them. I am speaking of the necessary communication between ourselves, the wonderful exchange of ideas that can inspire of open a window, a perception.That we need and we sorely miss. this world is a jungle. It is wonderful that you have created this space. there should be more of them or more of us...bridget
Patience and awareness of the fact that quality is the fruit of hard gained, deep rooted experience. Our young lack these two elements together with genuine curiosity that triggers all kinds of research.
It is not a phenomenon only among artists. It is a disease that has contaminated our society and has made its young members impatient. Whatever their field may be. They want to study fast, if they can get their studying methodology fed to them by some scandalously paid tutor the better. They want to become original and stand out fast, no matter if their “originality” is just based on cheap attention catching tricks that blow out as soon as the next guy comes up with the next trick. And all this should be supported by the right appearance too.
The actual problem though, is that it is not their fault. They – We are forced to this. I have been in contact with students, teaching for the last seven years and all I found was this. The educational system is producing such and such society members to take part in such and such race in the job market. And being a visual artist is getting closer to having a job in show business than being a thinker, an educated researcher. The art world is all about money. We all know what galleries want. Think about what modern art museums have become. They hold fashion shows, for heaven’s sake. I remember my last year in art school. My teacher, who had always said that a young artist needs approximately ten years of study, in or outside the school, before he can have his first serious exhibition, was about to retire and his successor had immediately started to introduce undergraduates to local galleries, imprisoning them in the system or compromising the future of those not chosen by him.
I don’t know what the solution might be. It is too hard a swim against current. But for sure if there is ever going to be a change it has to come from the inside. From artists themselves. Start talking art between us and take up our own managing could be a good start. It is hard; given that to be an artist one has to dedicate an immense amount of energy in the act of art making itself.