In this studio, a high percentage of inbox letters are from artists complaining about things. Some are like leopards jumping out of the screen, clawing wildly. As I like to keep our website fairly positive, some of this growling gets answered personally. A lot of complaints are about art dealers, art clubs, and general and specific lack of support.
“Tell your own story and you will be interesting,” wrote Jerry Saltz last week, borrowing from Louise Bourgeois. He used her quote as Number 2 in his 33 Rules for How To Be An Artist, an article he wrote for New York Magazine, the publication for which he’s been the senior art critic and columnist since 2006. Some of Jerry’s other tips: “Prize vulnerability, make an enemy of envy, learn to deal with rejection, and accept that you will likely be poor.” In his Rules, Jerry is full of idealism, artist myth-making and scrappiness.
In case you haven’t heard, “operant conditioning” is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of otherwise voluntary behaviour.
For example, rats, cats or dogs that perform a task are more likely to repeat successfully if they’re rewarded quickly after the behaviour. Sitting at my easel this morning, I was wondering how operant conditioning might apply to creative folks. Activities of the easel variety have built-in consequences, some subtle, some obvious, some immediate and some delayed — and, admit it, some are negative as well as positive.
You may, like me, have received an email from Florida this week titled, “Inquiry your artwork.” The letter says you are talented and that there’s an artist agency interested in representing you. This agency offers “gallery exposure,” “multimedia marketing,” “art book artist profiles” and “art fair exhibitions.” The letter includes links to a PDF brochure and a website.
Yesterday, my friend Joe Blodgett brought a big yellow print into the studio. It was sort of modern, with a large, undecipherable signature across the lower end. “What do you think of this?” he asked. “Interesting,” I said, which is what I say when I don’t know what to say. “Why don’t you run it through those ‘evaluation points’ that you use when you jury?” he suggested. I protested that my points were subject to modification — sometimes there’s something major that upsets them. “Like, ‘I like it,’ ” I said.
“People think I’m dead,” Larry Poons says, without irony. At age 80, he’s explaining his obscurity to filmmaker Nathanial Kahn while daubing colour onto a mammoth work-in-progress — un-stretched canvas draped ceiling-to-floor in a circle around him. Larry’s wizened face, hobo duds and ramshackle studio in rural, upstate New York describe an archetype of monetary irreverence. He and Kahn are in the midst of shooting The Price of Everything, Kahn’s documentary about the skyrocketing contemporary art market. Poons has been cast as The Purist.
Those of us who sometimes mentor and instruct students are familiar with trying to get people to really look at things. Recently, after a few days walking around in a subject-rich environment, I was agog with new possibilities. Burdened with reference, I returned to the studio and proceeded to paint the worst thing I’ve done in some time. It was one of those paintings that can have you considering a career in accountancy. During the fiasco I began to better understand a syndrome I’ve had all my life. It’s what I call “the tyranny of reality.”
Recently, a letter arrived describing a young girl standing at the barre in her ballet class, while an artist guest of the instructor sketched and gathered painting material.
“I remember thinking how I would have loved to be painting and learning alongside him, rather than be self-consciously fumbling through ballet exercises at the barre,” the letter read. “Later, he held a show and sale of paintings and drawings inspired by his time there. My parents and an older sister bought pencil drawings featuring my little sister…
Floating through the Chelsea galleries, up and down the democratic elevators, through the mysterious doors where minimalist girls, like wax figures, sit at laptops in sparse foyers and do not acknowledge your presence. Where liveried guards suspect your bag and camera, here and there there’s a Burton Silverman.
Coming from a background of illustration, Silverman, an artist’s artist, has found a unique place in the realist revival. To read his partly biographical The Art of Burton Silverman, you might think he’s still fighting the art-wars of the sixties.