Post #446 • January 6, 2005, 8:02 AM • 36 Comments
(For the CMU MAM application: "Attach an essay of approximately 1,000 words in which you describe one of the challenges facing your field and how your experience and proposed study will help you address that challenge." Draft #1, excerpt.)
The art world, in its current state, largely promotes the wrong ambitions and discourages the right ones. This problem began in the late 19th Century and its cause boils down to this: official, status-granting institutions have done a poor job identifying quality amidst a diversity of artistic production. As that diversity has widened, their track record has worsened. Over the last two decades, the very idea of quality has come under attack, and the surest way to progress in this environment involves values that de-emphasize artistic excellence.
Institutionalized taste produced the glory of the Renaissance and many later artistic triumphs, but started to get it wrong about the time of the Impressionism, which represented a radical expansion of range in the Western tradition; Hals looks rather unlike Rembrandt, but Monet looks nothing whatsoever like Gerome. Brave players in the art market who stood behind their own judgments finally caused their work to prevail, but only after the artists suffered for years in an atmosphere of rejection and meager living. Something similar happened to the masters of postwar abstraction. Shortly after, though, the corrective mechanism stopped working in the way that it used to. Bay Area Figuration didn't prevail over the contemporaneous Pop movement even though the work was far superior, largely because of the music-star-like career of Andy Warhol. As the art world became more and more pluralist, the very notion of quality began to degrade, as intellectuals of various stripes started to attack the notion as elitist and colonial. Connoiseurship in such an atmosphere becomes a challenging exercise.
A remarkable similarity exists between the French salons of the last part of the 1800s and the current climate in New York City: the apologists of both milieux latch on to mythology as a driving force in the work. Bouguereau had his nymphs; Elizabeth Peyton is a nymph, whose lackadaisical affect was recently trotted out as genius by fashion writer Dodie Kazanjian for the October 2004 issue of Vogue. In fact, the art world is going the way of the music world, insofar as critical attention now focuses on increasingly young people with increasingly facile talent - for ever shorter durations. (In a distinctly 21st Century development, writers have become prone to discussing the artists' clothes.) This situation promotes career ambitions and compromises artistic ones, because now the two no longer correlate like they did at the time of Leonardo. Because they no longer correlate, the career ambitions have become increasingly personality-driven.
As a writer I have fought this self-inflicted dumbing down of the art world, and considered pursuing a PhD in Art History in order to do so with beefier credentials. But I concluded that too much corruption has taken place in the art and humanities systems for yet another unemployable academic to have any effect - particularly if he only has critique as a method of interaction.
Instead, I have decided to concentrate my efforts on Drawing Project. I founded Drawing Project to advocate drawing and its allied arts. I modeled it on attractive ideas I picked up from reading about social capitalists, with a similar intention of asserting corrective values without relying on public largesse. (In 2003 Florida Governor Jeb Bush oversaw an 80% slashing of state arts budgets; friends of mine in the museum sector lost their jobs, and the self-sustaining operations model took on a renewed sheen.) Drawing Project hypothesized that people who believe in drawing as a meaningful skill will form a community if given the opportunity, and this seems to be bearing out. I have figure drawing workshops scheduled for late February and early March. Under a Drawing Project imprint, I plan to publish (digitally and in print) an anatomy book for artists I've written, and two other authors have expressed interest in publishing with me as well. An artist has proposed an exhibition that Drawing Project will curate. Long-term possibilities include a travel program and a permanent center for residencies and exhibitions.
Essentially, I want to create the visual arts equivalent of Sub Pop Records. While most of the rest of the music industry invests in easy-to-like, youth-oriented, superficially sexy music in hopes of getting rich off of it, Sub Pop commits to serious talents that promise more modest returns but longer careers making high-quality music. As the art world begins to resemble the music world in the above-mentioned respects, communities are going to form within the art community. These sub-communities will develop their own styles, jargons, and priorities. Just as the rap people don't generally interact with the bluegrass people, the various art communities will operate on localized values and otherwise develop themselves while ignoring each other. Since hegemonically successful art styles have disappeared from the creative landscape, the landscape is Balkanizing.
I've designed Drawing Project as a new kind of arts organization that can survive in this divided art world.