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These hands belong to artist Tim McFarlane of Philadelphia. Did he sit around waiting for a residency to be offered to him? No. He took two weeks off from his day job and created a residency for himself. And the work he did is fabulous. Image from McFarlane's blog
Pissed off at what you see as inequity in the art world? Do something! You can demand that institutions do this or that, but the real change comes when artists, dealers, critics and curators—but especially artists—make those changes themselves.
Last week in Marketing Mondays, I proposed that we think about career success like a mountain range, with many peaks (and valleys) rather than as the pyramid that leaves out 99.9 percent of the art world. One of the commenters posted this:
"The real issue here is that we, the art community as a whole, need to stop letting the
art world define success for us. We need to demand that institutions look at
art with a wider scope." New York
I agree that we don't have to let others define success for us. And I understand the anonymous commenter’s frustration, but the anger, which is almost palpable, just stagnates. It does no good to be pissed off and rant without actually doing something about it. Demand what? Demand how? Demand when? So, with due respect to the commenter, I’m posting a fleshed out version of the response I posted. I hope you will add your own comments here. Some thoughts about doing something:
1. Write a blogThe artist-published art blog is one of the great hierarchy flatteners. Why? It's free to readers, for one thing. And it's filling a niche left by many print publications that are shrinking or ceasing publication altogether. Want an audience for what you write? Make your blog so good that people will want to read it and return to it. This is your opportunity to write about art that's important to you. That's what I try to do with this blog. Will I singlehandedly change the art world? No. But I contribute, as you also can, to a dialog that’s lively and increasingly more inclusive.
Consider these blogs, presented in alphabetical order (and pace to those great bloggers I didn't list; there are many more links on the sidebar of this blog):
. Anaba, by artist Martin Bromirski. Want to know what’s going on in Bushwick?
. ArtBlog, by artist/writers Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof. The Philadelphia-based duo champions the art and artists of
. Art Fag City, by writer Paddy Johnson. AFC takes a non-reverential look at the New York art world. I don’t always agree with her point of view, but I love that she calls it as she sees it. Through hard work, a lot of reporting, and good promotion, Johnson has created a blog that is influential and widely read.
. Hyperallergic, edited by Hrag Vartanian and published by Veken Gueykian. This “blogazine” emerged out of Vartanian’s blog but has a strong presence now as an e-magazine. You’ll get the scoop on Bushwick, street art, new artists. It started with two guys and a vision. They didn’t “demand” anything; they observed, reported, opined and created an online publication that continues to grow. Kudos.
. Painters Table, edited by artist Brett Baker, takes what it sees as the best of the blogosphere and provides a link to the original post. It's a digest for art. I love it.
. Two Coats of Paint, written and edited by Sharon Butler. A painter and art professor who also curates and mentors,
There are many other blogs I could mention, but I’m just going to link to them here: Steven Alexander, a painter and art professor who writes about art in New York City, from well known to unknown; Carol Diehl, a painter with one foot in Manhattan and the other in Western Massachusetts, who contributes to Art in America but also writes funny and witty stuff for her blog; Lynette Haggard, a Massachusetts-based artist who who does interviews with artists from throughout North America, some of whom you’ve heard of, most you haven’t; Tim McFarlane, who writes intimately about his own work and that of others; Massachusetts-based Nancy Natale, opining, curating, writing about shows you have heard of and some you haven’t (a post: on Hedda Sterne, the only woman pictured in the famous Ab Ex portrait, "The Irascibles" came with an exhortation to send Stern good wishes for her 100th birthday; the artist died shortly afterward, heartened, I like to think, by the words she received at Natale's urging); Joyce Owens, an artist and teacher from Chicago, who knows a lot about a lot and has the experience and writing chops to back it up.
2. Write for a print publication
Does it have to be Art in
No, and it probably won’t be. But there are many local and regional print
publications that would be happy to have an artist with good writing skills
contribute the occasional or regular article. Will you be paid? Maybe. Will you
be paid well. Definitely not. But if you want some say in who and what gets
written about—you will have the editor’s ear—get out there and do some writing.
Many print publications also have blogs whose content mixes original writing
with excerpts from or links to the print publication. For instance, Boston-based
sculptor Donna Dodson writes for the Boston
Globe Business Blog, offering an artist’s point of view on art, fairs, and
Even among the established publications, writers find ways to bring a point of view that specifically looks for the non hierarchical. Look at how Holland Cotter has changed the face of arts coverage at the New York Times, writing about "ethnic" art, craft, covering art made by women; in other words, looking for, and finding, topics that are not part of the established order. (He received a 2009 Pulitzer for this kind of coverage.) Look at what New York Magazine critic Jerry Saltz has done in creating a Facebook dialog with artist, dealers, critics, curators--a dialog that spills over into his witty and irreverent writing for the magazine. Almost singlehandedly Saltz has shattered the wall between critic and artist, revealing in the process that while critics’ words may carry a good deal of weight, they are just as poorly paid as the people they write about. Establishment? We are all in this together.
In New York City, David Cohen edits the influential Art Critical an "online magazine" (as opposed to a "blogazine," a distinction that may be one of branding alone). A number of artists, critics and art historians write for the publication, and Cohen presides over a monthly Review Panel at the National Academy. While some of the exhibitions reviewed are by big-name artists, others are not. But it's all work worthy of being considered and discussed. Check the magazine's sidebar for podcasts of recent Review Panels. Germane to this discussion: Why not organize something similar for the art in your city?
Regionally, look at how Mary Louise Schumacher, writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, writes about the art in her city. Her JS Online blog,
3. Do it Yourself Projects
Look at the DIY projects and popup galleries that are doing interesting things and getting attention. I wrote a long post on DIY projects here recently, which includes thoughts about creating a solo show, curating in bricks-and-mortar-spaces as well as on line, starting a gallery, creating a catalog, organizing an art fair, giving yourself a residency and more, so I’m not going to repeat the information. But I love that the person whose DIY residency inspired my original post (that would be Laura Moriarty of
4. Find and Support Alternative Projects
The "demand" here is on your time (and maybe on your wallet). If you don't want institutions defining who and what is successful, get out there and support alternative spaces, not-for profits, and experimental events and projects. Here's an example from the LA Weekly Blog: 25 Alternative L.A. Art Spaces to Check Out Now. Not in Los Angeles? Find out what's going on in your area. Before you demand that institutions look at art from a broader perspective, you should be doing the same thing. Quick: Name three unsung artists in your city who are doing strong and interesting work. (If they're all white and male, your own perspective isn't broad enough.)
So while organized demands can make institutional change--against sexism, racism and ageism, for instance--no New York institution is going to give up its own perspective just because somebody doesn't like it. But you have autonomy and power. Do something. Give yourself a residency. Occupy a storefront for a month with a popup show. Stake out a slice of cyberspace and write about artists you think merit attention. Learn to promote yourself. Network. Find common ground with other artists, and with dealers, curators, critics. Curate a show. Formulate a plan, make it interesting, enlist others to work with you, and make some change.
This post is just the beginning of a conversation. I hope you'll add to it.
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