Although it is difficult, let’s be realistic. There are two primary goals that every artist has while struggling through the mish-mash, aptly titled, “graduate school.” The first, and most important achievement is to be a big art star. We all know the drill. It is just like boot camp. Go to New York, make connections, starve and pine away, attempt to exhibit in the big name galleries, and hopefully, if all goes well, have your name immortalized in an art history book. There is nothing like being lined up with Pollock and Krasner. This is many an artist’s wet dream. The second goal, and least important, is to be a professor of art. The typical need here is to be a guiding beacon of influence to other, newby artists, so that you can teach them all to be a little version of you. Just imaging a Mini-Rauschenberg. This second achievement can also be passed off as an “acceptable” career to other artists that you are attempting to impress. It makes for a life just stuffed full of little perks.
My focus here is the artist as a rock star. It is an incredible area of conflict if one takes the time to actually step back and look closely. After years of associating with craving art stars, you begin to learn the very detailed list of criteria for filling this type of astute position. In other words, yes, folks, there are requirements:
1. You must love New York City. The Big Apple. The Center of the Universe. The [insert your favorite iconic phrase here]city. This is the most important aspect of being an artist. Be damned if you find an art scene in any other “city”, such as Boston, San Francisco, London, etc. You are welcome to visit these places, but be sure not to live there. Just image that as committing art suicide. Even worse, though, are those artists that don’t love New York City. You might as well just stop making work now and hit the road like Jack Kerouac. Better yet, just become a damn farmer. That is as close as you are going to get to becoming an art star if you don’t love New York City more than any place else on the face of the Earth. There is no room for argument.
2. You must know all the “important” galleries. Mind you, you must know these by heart. You can’t write them on the palm of your hand or on the bottom of your shoe, as in an 8th grade math quiz. You must be completely familiar with Chelsea, and if you are not, lie. If you speak out of turn in some public venue and admit to your lack of knowledge, you are most likely going to be scorned and ridiculed forever. Be very, very careful. I know that many wealthy people can be cruel to us underlings, but try a bunch of artist’s who think you don’t know what you should know. It is a very dangerous place to be. Along with being knowledgeable about this gallery system, you must be aware of every exhibition that takes place in these locations. Again, be very careful. It is a no-no to be around those artists that are attempting to scratch their way up the golden ladder of art star fame and have you around not being able to critique and criticize any artist that is mentioned. You must be able to say, “I know that work.” If not, again, just copy Mr. Kerouac. He may have had a good idea there.
3. You must be able to schmooze. Isn’t that a great word? We all know how meaningful this can be. Most of the art star dreamers will use phrases like “making contacts”, “we are great friends”, or “I know them from…” Don’t let this fool you. They are schmoozing. End of story. In this context, you are expected to suction to every connection that anyone you know ever had and to be sure to attend every opening that you possibly find. If you have a job, quit. If you need time to make your own work, stop. If you like to read an occasional book, buy it on tape and listen to it in your car on the way to the opening. In the world of an artist as a rock star, there is no excuse for not attending an opening and there is no excuse for a life that involves anything other than art.
But, on my part, here is where the true conflict exists. In order for an artist to effect change on a society or to comment on a society, shouldn’t that artist also live in that society. The art world exists outside of this playing field. It is like commenting on rock formations on Mars from the viewing point of the Sahara Desert. The true world is not constructed of gallery systems and artists, it is not centered on New York City, and it doesn’t live and breathe in a painter’s studio. When artist’s exclude themselves so severely from the outside world, doesn’t that create a conceptual dead-end? Doesn’t that make the work irrelevant to everyone, but other artists? I believe that true artists need E-News TV, need to immerse themselves in pop-culture, need to question why so few outside individuals support that arts in contemporary culture, and why we have faded to sheer irrelevance. We live in a dirty, disgusting, filthy world with all types of qualms and quandaries and it is way overdue that artists got their hands nice and filthy. Hell, bathe yourselves in the stink of it all.
In reality, it is time that artists stopped and questioned the desire to be an artist as rock star. It is time to step outside of that Big Apple and discover other territories, other ways of living. It is time to enter into bathrooms, subway stations, cornfields, local markets, television commercials, etc., and see how our visions, our views, and our art star ideologies stand the true test of time. Hell, maybe Jack Kerouac was right all along. Go figure.
Kimberly Potvin is a Boston based artist and writer. Kimberly is a regular contributor to Big, Red & Shiny.