The Seed of Elitism.

So much to say these days, I don’t even know what will come out as I write this. All I know is that these are the times I need to sit down and write, because I have no idea what I’m thinking until it comes out on the page.

Updates on Me, in case you care: the “underCurrents” show ended, I got into another one called “Shifting the Body,” opening in Pacifica, in July (hooray!).  Spring semester classes just ended, I’m got some fun live painting and teaching gigs, I’m continuing to consult with artists and work in social media, and I’m selling work and commissions. With all this, I sat alone last week and thought to myself, “This is fucking amazing. I’m doing the art that I care about, I’ve grown to the point emotionally, that I can finally not be embarrassed to call myself an Artist. I’m an Artist. (Holy shit!)”

Then I thought: this is exactly what I wanted, and I’m about a hundred times happier now that I ever was, sitting in meetings and responding to emails for the purported, Best Company to Work For. But, um, what now?

Sidebar: I’ve never been one to congratulate myself. But here, in the Art universe, you have to learn to pat yourself on the back– because that’s all you’re gonna get. No one is going to hand you a check for showing up every day, or give you a bonus because you put in 20 more hours of work a week. That’s expected. And for better or worse, you’re gonna have to be your own cheerleader and your own critic.

That said, I knew I had to figure out a way to pat myself on the back for coming this far, and simultaneously kick myself in the ass to keep going. I recognize that having only spent a year doing this full-time, getting into seven juried shows, seeing my work evolve and get better, and making some money doing it isn’t anything to shrug at. All that is good and dandy, but what now? I need to keep doing this, and the reality is, I’ll need money to do it.

So, I’m standing at the crossroads– on one hand, I see the need for the funds to do more art, but the defensive, egotistic side of me refuses to see money as a reward for all the accomplishments I’ve made. Putting a monetary value on my personal growth as an artist just doesn’t seem right. It cheapens all the gain I thought I achieved. But that– that, right there is the seed of Elitism. I see it, I acknowledge it, but I can’t keep myself from preventing it from happening.

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I hear it all the time, Art is inherently elitist and exclusionary. Yes, but the irony of it all is that Art is also the only thing that unites us all as humans. (Sidebar: read that article by Leon Wieseltier, it’s provocative and important.) We need art because our society is quickly starting to confuse money with wealth, and information/data with knowledge.

We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work.

But I digress.

In a lot of ways, I see that Elitism comes from the artist’s need for self-preservation. Observing the artist trajectory, I see this happening a lot (sorry for the shitty flowchart):

I’m good at painting/drawing/sculpture/writing/etc, and I want to do this more, but I don’t know if I can be called an artist. —-> Fuck what people think anymore, I’m an Artist. —->  Oh, crap, this is vulnerable and not always fun. Plus dumb people don’t like/understand my work…

This is where the fork splits for the first time in an artist’s career. We all want credibility above all else, and when we don’t get the reward we want, it goes in two directions:

1. Everyone is stupid. I’m an artist, I do what I want. Or,

2. OK, I’m missing something. How do I get through to people? (Does that mean I’m compromising the integrity of my work? What else do you have but integrity?)

At this point, Elitism is born. It’s not that artists don’t want to put in the work– artists are far from shy when it comes to doing the work, but here’s where self-preservation starts to limit you, and limits who you share your work with. And isn’t sharing your art the whole point? Furthermore, if it’s not, why would you expect anyone would pay you to do it?

I suppose at this point I should say that I don’t believe democratization equals monetary reward, because that’s more of a secondary result… but the thing I have to remember, is Money is our society’s way of rewarding for value, and value is determined by others. Sure, I can quote Patti Smith and say that with enough integrity and good work, “your name becomes Currency,” but what about making a living so that you can even get to that point (if you ever get there)? 

Believe me, if I had it my way, I would never have to think/talk/worry about money, and I spend most of my life avoiding it like the plague, but don’t we all secretly wish people would throw handfuls of money at us for just doing anything we want? Patti Smith might be there now, but she could have just as easily faded to complete obscurity– or worse, Quit. Nothing wrong with that, but when artists quit, they become jaded, and they retreat to being the victim.

At this moment, I’m aware of my own talent–enough to keep trying, and naive enough to believe that I can do more. But the more I progress, the more detached I become, and the more I want to retreat into the little, isolated, “elitist” bubble I feel comfortable with, so I don’t have to explain myself in anyone else’s terms, or worry about money. This is much easier to do. But Guess What? Not having to worry about money is inherently elitist, even if you don’t HAVE any of it! But this is precisely when I have to remind myself of something I wrote a bit over a year ago:

“Congratulating yourself for talent is like congratulating yourself for being tall, or having eyes on your head. What I do with it, and if I have lasting power is what time will tell.”

I need to make this last.


I’m Getting Better At This Artist Thing.

Hey Friendly Friends, I haven’t said nuthin’ on this chat lately because I’ve been busy with making stuff. It’s part of the pursuit to getting my personal MFA. So if anyone asks me where I got my Art Degree, I can probably just point to this URL.

Anyway. I’ve been thinking some more on the topic of “Fine Art and it’s Relevancy to the Real World,” and I still have a lot of mixed emotions when it comes to understanding this crazy industry. In spirit of not writing an entire novel about this and relating to my audience, here are a few things I’ve discovered in my short period of “being an artist” in bullet points:

  • People like Artists, and they like Art, but they don’t know what to do with it. Like, Dude…Art? “Is there an App for that?”
  • Technology represents an unsurmountable obstacle to most artists, and it’s often represented as a magic bullet (especially in the Bay Area) but it’s really more of a tool to get from point A to B
  • Capitalism = Trade, Trade = Rewards Technicians (Not lofty academics)
  • Fine Art is perceived to have gone the way of lofty academics. There’s “chicken and egg” situation here: Artists revert to framing their work in a lofty, academic way because they often can’t find an application for it in society that admittedly hasn’t really found a use for it.
  • As Art relates to Money: Value is dictated by expertise in our society. “Expertise in Art” is subjective and undefined.

A friend shared this article with me from WSJ this morning, which touches on a few points I’ve made above in further detail. (Thanks, Kevin Palmer!) This quote in the article struck me specifically:

“Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges possible.”

I find this to be true, during my time at Google, as well as now in the Art world… that what others perceive as “entitlement” in our generation might really be an actual awareness of how archaic and irrelevant our education has become in the current economic system. I mean, I’ve worked with 22-year olds who speak four languages fluently, created non-profits across the world, *and* was an internationally re-known chess player whose only real ‘value’ in our society is approving online ads and answering calls for the world’s most successful tech company.

This certainly opens up another can of worms, and perhaps speaks to an age-old problem that goes beyond our generation, or even our society– but in Art, I feel that the disconnect is even more profound. Going back to my bullet points above, I think there are two points that provide some hope to the future of Fine Art:

  • Capitalism = Trade, Trade = Rewards Technicians
  • Value is dictated by expertise in our society. “Expertise in Art” is subjective and undefined

Here’s where I want to clarify that this is not a knock on Capitalism. I, for one, enjoy the benefits of capitalism. It certainly has its problems, but I’m pretty sure as a young, minority woman, I am doing much better here, than I would be in another country.

In any case, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have all the answers to this quite yet. But I’m happy to have typed this all out and looked at it, so that I can remind myself what my goals are in my pursuit to “becoming a real artist,” and what it means for me. What it means for me is that I will be:

  1. Getting better at my Craft: That means, taking as many relevant classes and learning as many skills/materials/tools/techniques as humanly possible.
  2. Defining what Art is for me, and how it provides Value to others

Oh, and if you’re free this Friday, October 12th, please come over to Big Umbrella Studios in San Francisco (Divisadero and McAllister) for the “From the Darkness Creeps” show.

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My work will also be featured in “Provocations” by RAWArtists.org on Thursday, October 25th. http://www.rawartists.org/sanfrancisco/provocations This show should be a ton of fun… it’s at 1015 Folsom, and there will a fashion show, aerial and burlesque dancers, a bar, DJs, etc. For all my Facebook peeps, here’s the FB invite.

My work will also be up at 33 Gough from October 9th (tomorrow) to November 27th.  It will also likely be at the College Gallery at City College on the Ocean Campus, from October 22nd to November 5th.

Sorry for the shameless plugs, but I figured if you read this far you’re somewhat invested. Thanks for being awesome. Time to go back to the studio and get BUSY.