It’s an ancient four-story walk-up in lower Manhattan. It could have been Moe Levy’s Underwear Manufactory where children worked pedal Singers and turned out thirty pieces an hour. Today it’s a trendy loft, high-ceilinged — north and south light at either end, a huge golden space in the middle of the eye-festival — the greatest art-city in the world. Under the tin ceiling and old gaslight fixtures Sara and Richard run their creative empires. On the floor below, in a similar space, painter Diti Almog is shifting her canvases. Above, Helene DeLillo is shooting fashion. Sara’s studio space is four times the size of mine. “Who would not make large ones in a space like this?” she asks. She’s working square — seven by seven feet. How to get them out of the building is not yet a concern.
Some of what Sara has learned about the scene has come from Renee Phillips’ Guide to New York Art Galleries. The wonder of this place is that it’s always in flux. Art swings this way and that — whole gallery districts uproot and move by the decade. There are about a thousand galleries — perhaps a hundred thousand artists on the island. Painters come from all over the world to spin the wheel. Since Leo Castelli and others opened in ’57 The Big Apple has replaced Paris as the Capital of the World. Art follows wealth. Chutzpa makes its own rules. Abstract Expressionism was and is the New York School. But look out. Things get invented here. It’s an environment of empowerment. You go for it because practically everybody else is. New York does that for you.
In the meantime there are the young artist’s problems of self-sufficiency. Rents are through the roof. Gallery variety and inclinations are an education that you wouldn’t get back in Humptulips. Collectors are out in force — some looking to invest in the pennies — the “as yet undiscovered.” It’s innovation from both ends. Karp’s 10,000 sq. ft., museum-like gallery at 383 W. Broadway is open to the public during installations in order to “help people uncover the mystery of the arts.”
Thirty feet from Sara’s door is the back entrance of Pearl’s: “The biggest art-materials discount store in the world.” Acres of brushes and tubes teeter and boggle. All the world’s optimism lines up at the register. I watch a slip of a girl drop $1700.00 on a box of pastels. It’s New York.
PS: “As founder and Director of Manhattan Arts International, our mission is to help professionals become Artrepreneurs.” (Renée Phillips)
Esoterica: Another valuable sourcebook is Daniel Grant’s An Artist’s Guide: Making it in New York City. It’s a realistic account of the challenges and opportunities available here. Where to find studio space, how to access public art programs, apply for grants and fellowships, learn about dealer etiquette, associations, networks, schools, where to find career advisors, trade stuff, even how to attract the volunteer lawyers that you’re going to need.
by Tom Disch, Barryville, NY, USA
The poor have to learn not to be fussed by the advantages of trust-funders. Either you wriggle into their habitats (work at Pearl’s, wait tables, hustle) or dig into some rural fastness, work hard, and give up dreams of being the next Warhol or Serra. Money is an advantage, and a wise trust-funder can buy early success like Joan Mitchell. That girl dropping $1700 for a box of pastels might be the next Joan Mitchell, if the talent is there. But as a career strategy it won’t help to let your whining be heard, or to let a natural envy of unearned advantages warp your judgment of the one unearned advantage the unmoneyed can possess: talent.
Paying your dues
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
It sounds like Sara is living the life as only most of us can dream about: “The life of an artist.” One has to wonder how you get to that level in life to have a warehouse studio in New York. Totally surrounded by artists and galleries, paying the dues, creating, struggling, competing, creating, working the market, creating, gallery acceptance, show openings, receptions, creating, reading, listening, creating, etc., etc., etc.
The commitment an artist has to have to succeed is overwhelming to say the least. Years of exposure to trial and error, negativity, non-recognition, un-returned expenses, just to name a few things on the art side of the business. Then there is the personal side of it with: Self-doubt, bills stacking up, arguments with your other half (that don’t understand the business or your drive to create), the willpower to continue, worrying about the market and your work, and the list goes on. I am an artist, I’m still paying my dues, I will never stop!
NYC versus Paris
by Emily Townsend, West Windsor, NJ, USA
New York. I do love the city. I have even shown my work in a gallery in Soho, but for me the environment of New York is not conducive to loose creativity or experimenting or the encouragement of innovation that I think an artist needs to be in a fertile creative place. New York is fiercely competitive and expensive and tough. Paris to me seems more nurturing and gentle, more accepting and encouraging of individuality and creativity and the validation that making art is a worthy thing to do.
In New York, you get the feeling that unless your work sells and makes tons of money, it is worthless. The New York art scene is a dog-eat-dog world. That’s not what artists need.
So my vote is Paris, still as the center of the art universe. Because who counts more — the miniscule percentage of artists who are rich and famous? Or the rest of us struggling creators of art who just make and create and keep at it even though no New York gallery sells our work to rich collectors for ridiculous amounts of money?
I’ll take Paris and my dreams, not New York and its harsh truth of competition and commercialism.
NYC not the center of the art world
by Marcia Perry, Saugatuck, MI, USA
I do not agree that New York remains the center of the art world. Certainly there are more people concentrated there, but I think that art, like most other industries and professions, has decentralized in the past half century so that more great artists are operating outside of the metropolitan centers of commerce. Of course, the hype and market-frenzy of the last century persists in New York, but I do not think that the marketplace is a fair measure of what will endure as great art. The mirage of “making it big” inspires many to pursue fame and fortune rather than quest after “making it true” or “making it good.” As a believer in the sense of place informing artistic expression, New York artists definitely have the edge in expressing the New York experience, but artists in small towns and remote rural areas are just as apt to capture the eternal verities for their own places and times and in so doing some will transcend the local to the universal and achieve “greatness.” In the past decade especially, there has been a move toward making places for artists in smaller communities as they are forced out of urban artist enclaves (cf. Chicago, Boston). With the global reach of the Internet, I see less and less importance of being in a place like New York or Paris to achieve one’s artistic goals. But they are grand places to visit!
New York City art
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
The first time I was in New York I was there as an observer. It was a city of extremes. You would pass the most filthy disgusting alley way and turn the corner and face opulence. While I loved it and found it exhilarating, it was an expensive place, very crowded, dirty and exhausting. The museums were outstanding and the galleries were numbering in the thousands.
My second time in New York I was flown there to do a commission. I was in a huge loft in the Village and had a momentous task of painting while I was there for three weeks. I went to Pearl paint and racked up my credit card with art supplies I did not bring and mostly did not need. I painted my heart out and found New York surprisingly inspiring. I toured the galleries of Soho, Chelsea Piers and other areas where art and money could be found. Almost all of the art was inconceivable and was unlivable. I remember one gallery that had a giant video screen of the artist in an outrageous bunny suit, dancing to Michael Jackson music. Beyond that was a huge cage with slaughtered rabbits and the bunny suit hanging on the wall. This is art?
Natural wild versus civilized wild
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco; I left at least part of my heart in NYC. My wildest heart drew me there and it also allowed me to leave, to move across the country to California. New York is a haven for the outsider, the individual. After spending my last year of college in Rome, Italy, I needed to be where art was important and where I felt a connection to the world culturally. NYC echoes European ways and offers worldliness. It also allowed me to walk regularly where I needed to go, as in Rome where I was liberated from the car driven society. In NYC I was free like a child to be outdoors, on my feet running about the caverns of tall buildings and people. The Metropolitan Museum by Central Park was a sanctuary of sorts, a timeless validation of the pursuit of life as an artist. It even has the Temple of Dendur in it, what a city! Contrary to what people assume about NYC the people there are social. With its amazing mix of cultures everyone feels that they have the right to be there. It has a history of foreigners passing through it to create the lives they chose. I was initiated in NYC through graduate school and remained there for fourteen years. The entire time was a rich education in art, self and vision. The invitation there is to find yourself and be strong in what you find. With all the stimulation of sight, sound and rush it is almost essential for survival to strengthen your core. That is what the rhythm of the city did for me. NYC is a part of who I am and I will always return to it with awe.
I miss Pearl Paint, great museums, cultural depths, great vegetarian restaurants and walking as a means of transportation. Though I miss those days of wandering in NYC, I am delighted to have graduated to paradise, living and creating on the edge of the natural wild instead of the civilized wild. There is a nice inner balance to have the experiences of both.
by Janet Owensby
I have been commissioned to do a mural for a baptistry which will be situated in the floor. The mural will be on the underside when lifted for use. There will be a water tube situated in front of the painting simulating a waterfall into the pool. I haven’t attempted anything this large. Most of my work is done in oils and acrylics. I need some ideas.
Clutter doesn’t matter
by Sintha Anderson, Walbridge, OH, USA
I like to work in an uncluttered environment. Unfortunately, I have a small workspace and like to work on a 22 x 30 inch support. Finding a place uncluttered is impossible. However, I’ve found if I really want to paint, it doesn’t matter how much clutter I must work in. The focus is on the evolution of the painting. Most times, I’ll work in a flow that doesn’t need me to pay attention to what is around me. Just having the paints next to me and being able to stand and work in my small space is enough. “Anything goes!” is an excellent mindset for painting along with “I’m great!” I play a favorite classical music CD, which tunes out the rest of the world. I have nowhere else to be then, except in front of my work!
Searching for inner source
by Erla Daly
I keep reading to paint from within, to paint from your soul and your spirit. I have been trying to find that part of me by reading books on spirituality, psychic experience, dreams, healings etc. and I have been meditating. This last couple of years I have tried to paint things from my past, but that’s too painful. So I just keep painting portraits, houses, things that I know… I am not fulfilled because I know that when I look at these painting which by the way I feel are good paintings, they are not from my gut. They are just paintings. I feel my time is being wasted in some way. How do I find my inner source that will guide me? I truly know there is something waiting to come from within but what? I feel it and, just standing in front of a canvas with a loaded brush does not work for me.
Experiments with styles
by Laury Ravenstein
I have been painting steady since leaving art school about 10 years ago. I have been struggling for a few years now and I can’t seem to get past it on my own. My art training has not helped. Perseverance has not helped. My problem began when I thought it was a good idea to learn how to paint by experimenting with different styles. I thought this would open up my creativity.
I proceeded to painting in series. I would create 10-25 paintings in each series (hundreds over the years). When I moved on I felt like I had learned a great deal. I painted realism to abstract. I was very happy for 8 years. Then I wanted to take all that I learned and challenge myself to create paintings that were of a more professional level. I felt I needed to stabilize my work. Paint works that were creative, subtle, personal, mature etc. This is when I became canvas shy. I second-guessed every idea I had. I second-guessed my true style. It was a case of painter’s block.
Currently my skills as a painter are pretty good. I have about 50 beautiful paintings created in the last two years, but the work does not look like the same person’s work, so thus I feel frustrated. Surely this is a normal period of the painter’s life, but no one talks about it. If you have any ideas for moving forward it would mean a great deal to me.
Attitude of entitlement
by Lori S. Lukasewich, Calgary, AB, Canada
I have to respond to the letter about thoughts on women artists. This last summer I attended an art school reunion. I haven’t seen most of those people in over 30 years and it was delightful. And yet, as much as I hate to say it, I saw something that I’ve spent my entire adult life insisting was not true; I saw that many of the guys — great, sweet, supportive, sensitive guys – had what I can only call an attitude of entitlement, however unconscious, (and rightfully so) that I did not see in the women. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the guys, I’m just saying that it would be a wonderful thing if women could so unconsciously assume their own success.
My sons were raised in a home where both parents were — are! — involved in the arts and they are indeed creative, each one, in their own right, and they expect — with respect — that the women in their lives will do the same. Women have made great headway in the last 30 years, we just haven’t gone quite the distance we need to yet, and if we are to live our lives with any degree of satisfaction, we can not allow ourselves to succumb to attitudes of defeat. I’m not blind or without scars, but I am determined.
by Coulter Watt
In the wake of Hurricane Ivan (the Terrible), I must refer back to your letter Clouds and Deepak Chopra’s book Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and Chopra’s idea is that Nature’s intelligence functions with “effortless ease, carefreeness, harmony and love.” As I said before, Nature has great effort, and while it is careless I don’t think that “carefree” is a term that applies to nature. It is also not harmony, but rather chaos and what does love have to do with the violent forces of nature? It doesn’t. Nature is cruel to its core — dog-eat-dog and Darwin, too. And finally, “by forgetting about trying to defend a particular point of view,” is a total disregard for intelligent thought. Man’s ability to rationally think, his abilities to comprehend the facts, be they adding up the numbers, figuring out what happens in nature, creating something or figuring out why he or she has fallen madly in love, is what separates man from monkeys. It’s called dominion!
Ode to Pollock II
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Orythia Johnson who thinks it “sounds terrific, especially being able to do a 7 foot painting.”
And Janet Morgan of NYC, NY, USA who says, “It’s funny that you are in New York City today. We live in Brooklyn but are flying to Greece today to celebrate a big birthday, watercolors and cameras in hand. Both my husband and I have worked with Renee Philips — she is very helpful though the money thing is still illusive, shows are easy and adventure with art is plentiful. Enjoy our fair city and walk walk walk, it is the best way to see the place.”