Two days before Christmas I received a note from a colleague. He felt that much of the art getting made today is devoid of presence—that it’s self-serving, ego-tripping, and fails to contribute to contemporary culture. He wrote to me because he felt he needed to do more to address this problem, and he wanted to talk ideas. Now, I’ve never received an email like this, and you might say it sounds like the woes of a bitter or disillusioned artist. Who’s making this ego-tripping art anyway? The fact is that, like anything, the state of the art world isn’t so bleak.
That said, I wasn’t surprised to get his email. Art culture has become dominated by art fairs, biennials, auctions and celebrity ass-licking—the kind of culture that demands short, superficial viewing. That makes the field a whole lot less interesting for everyone except a small sliver of participants— and the likelihood of my receiving a note like this much greater. In that way, I found the letter a relief: another person working in the art world had a positive vision for the arts, and he’d reached out for help with steering the art world toward more responsibility to the cultural community.
What did I tell him? At first, I wasn’t sure. Art F City has a number of still-to-be announced community initiatives we need help with, but they have yet to be finalized. He couldn’t help with those. That said, I do run a blog, and I do have a column here at The L. So this year, I’m inviting my friend and others not just to talk about our market-driven art-world woes, but also to find a few answers. To that end, Art F City will work behind the scenes to help people in the art world seek out funds and other actionable solutions to the problems they identify. We’re writers by trade, but this year, we want to be active participants, too.
Looking forward to it.
It is hard to generalize about the art world, if by that you mean the NYC-based world. At the micro level, which this article addresses, the day to day still goes on as it always did, with minor changes of geography, such as the different complexions of neighborhoods: Chelsea, LES, Brooklyn, mid-town, old Soho etc. Another topic, never discussed, involves how art is taught around the country at the K – 12 level. There are issues at the macro-level such as a lack of a dominating paradigm, which creates the illusion of stagnation, especially after the number of hegemonic changes witnessed since the Fifties: AbX, Pop, Minimal, Conceptual, media-basing or critique of the Eighties. Like any urban center of the past, art traditions ebb and flow, with major rifts and tears swirling simultaneously. Paris in the late 19th Century saw the academic tradition harden while competing upstarts from Monet to Cezanne and Gauguin thrived. It seems the bifurcation exists now between what the MOMA’s do, and what LES does. And new approaches sometimes are pretty circumstantial, Tintoretto reduced his technique driven by market greed to simple umber-based grisaille’s with touches of color added to the principle figures. The younger Caravaggio in Rome simplified the Venetian’s modus operandi further and produced a model of representation that would last centuries. As far as ego’s, pleez, Michel Angelo carving his name on the Pieta, Raphael, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Ruben’s branding their work with self-portraits, Courbet and Duchamp selfies, Courbet’s being almost embarrassing, Picasso demanding American artists call him Master, and so on. And nothing compares to patrons of the Northern Renaissance horning in on each sacred scene. So, all in all, I am kind of optimistic a Caravaggio is in the works, and an alternative tradition is around the corner, probably born out of boredom with NYC’s university castrated scenario, most likely a female outsider.
speaking of ego-tripping, see hilary above. we need an institutional critique of comment sections
I’m an art historian trying to make sense of today, how is that ego-tripping? Though I’m not quite sure what that term means. Why are you so hostile?
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