I’ve been in a few discussions lately about careers and goals for artists. There seems to be some confusion as to what is important for an artist. Most of us start with some talent, ability and the passion to create objects that communicate in a visual sense. So we go to school to learn how to hone our crafts and then spend some time developing our voices.
It would be nice if this was all we have to do to be artists, but it’s only half of it. If art is a form of communication, at least two parties need to be involved in order for it to be so. It’s the old “tree falling in the forest thing.” Communication is a connection between, in this case, artists and viewers. So we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions. Who is our audience and how do we reach them? Do we dream of art historians someday earning their PHDs by writing their dissertations on us and our work hanging in the most important museums; our work becoming important cultural treasures? Or, is it the accolades from our family, friends and peers? Or do we want to be “rock stars”?
A lot of artists strive to make their mark in history and/or become well respected in the art world. Unfortunately, reaching this goal is a huge undertaking for all artists especially if they are from middle-of-the-road art programs in middle-of-the-road U.S.A. It’s a necessity to be part of important exhibitions and curated shows, write-ups, respected galleries, etc. if an artist wants to make a name for themselves in the art world. This takes a lot of time and effort…so much so that sometimes it may feel like a pipe dream. So what do we do to help further our careers when the prestigious shows and respected galleries are too difficult to attain?
Well, there is an abundance of community art exhibitions. We show in coffee shops, bars, vanity galleries, local yearly shows and street fairs. Our resumes become littered with this stuff. After a decade or so, a long resume of library and cafe shows can look quite impressive—that is, if you don’t actually read it. If artists would stop and think about what a resume like this says about their work, they might think twice before they send in their CD of JPEGs to the art fair selection committee, even if the jury is comprised of esteemed local art dealers.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a career of art fairs and cafe shows. It’s honorable and can be rewarding. However, if artists want to end up closer to the top of art world, they have to stop fiddling around with the junk at the bottom. I know a few artists that want to be in the important Biennials, but in the meantime, they show at pubs and cafes, etc. thinking that at least they are getting their work “out there.”
This is where the confusion comes in. These type of shows and venues have openings, have post cards and all of the trappings of major gallery exhibitions. Artists feel like they are doing something…”getting their work out there”. Exhibiting at a cafe or a show like Around The Coyote (ATC) every year will not lead to retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Grabbing for the low-hanging fruit is easier than going for the brass ring. Immediate satisfaction should not be as important as reaching your goals. So don’t stop at the drive-thru on the way to the 5-star restaurant.