Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Art 820

In its July/Aug. 2005 issue, Art On Paper commissioned twenty three letters from established artists to a fictional recent art-school graduate. The idea was inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.”

The struggling young artist asks a question most artists have contemplated at one time or another: "Is it possible to maintain one's integrity and freedom of thought and still participate in the art world?" He/she has found him/herself overwhelmed by the challenges of making art and still making ends meet financially, and contending with the feelings of isolation, loneliness and insecurity common to all artists, especially those just out of school.

The established artists wrote to this young artist, relating their experiences and giving advice. Some of the advice was very simple and direct, such as: “Keep away from art fairs" and "Be careful of whom you let into your studio" and “Take time every day for your work” and “Read biographies of other artists.”

A bigger issue was financial integrity. “It is money that makes you ask about integrity. Money never stops jabbering but that does not mean that we must listen all the time (Durham).” “Don’t go into art for fame and fortune. Do it because you cannot NOT do it (Baldessari).” “Have lots of shows and sell lots of work but that alone will not fulfill you. Life in art is a long race but not a short sprint (Amenoff).”

Another theme that emerged in several letters was the integrity of being true to yourself vs. changing and growing. “Art is not safe. You have to find time to be yourself, to take chances. It is a gamble – it can be dangerous (Jonas).” ”You will change, become a new person, many times through the years. You will invent yourself out of circumstance and will. If you show your work now, that is being true to who you are now. When you show later, you are someone else. It can keep a kind of integrity to who you are at the moment (Ukeles).” “Your art, if original and worth something, expands all human freedom (Ukeles)”’

This group of 23 letters has now been published as a book of the same name. There are many issues discussed that I find interesting to read and contemplate as I enter graduate school.


Blogger Professor Melis said...


Sounds like a great article. I love what Ben Shahn wrote in "the Shape of Content" in answer to the same question:

"Know at least two languages besides your own, but anyway, know French. Look at pictures and more pictures. Look at every kind of visual symbol, every kind of emblem; do not spurn sign-boards or furniture drawings or this syle of art or that style of art. Do not be afpfraid to like paintings honestly or to dislike them honestly, but if you do dislike them retain an open mind. Do not dismiss any school of art . . Tak and talk and sit at cafes and listen to everything . . .

and so on.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

This article does sound really great and helpful, well for me. I can definitely relate to it. I got to the point where I felt my art was not going anywhere and asking myself why did I do it in the first place? But some of those suggestions work and make sense. I had to Keep doing my art, because every time I stopped it was harder and harder to get back into it. I went the money root for awhile producing work that was for other people and not myself, which depressed me and discouraged me. You just really have to remain focused and pay attention to the real art around you. It sounds corny and obvious but it is still quickly forgotten.

11:07 PM  
Blogger mary said...

I like the idea of creating something that can help inspire others who will come after us. I try to aspire to help those newer to the profession in any way I can, whether by demonstrating work ethic or staying true to yourself and open to inspiration of all kinds, but I am always amazed at and grateful for what the younger generation can teach me.
I want to see the Ben Shahn book.

4:15 PM  

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