Screenprint, 30 cm x 42 cm
On a Facebook friend’s wall the other day:
I have erased a black cloud eating my stomach with an unknown weight. I am young, 34, but I am not young within the context of New York. The black cloud is from the perception of myself I feel from others. There is this, what I would, call "petit bourgeois" view of success that runs through the art world. A false belief art is a career that can be measured by degrees of success that correspond to age. I have been around art long enough to know in reality most artists do nothing until their thirties or later. But I face day to day the idea I am too old.
My comment: “If this even crosses your mind, it indicates that you're looking outside yourself for validation. The best art is made by people who don't care what others think.”
Even though he’s part of the OWS movement that’s causing such great change so quickly, he’s stuck in the assumption that the art world and its values are always going to stay the same. Again, we can’t predict! The only thing we know for sure about the future is that it will be different. And isn’t that fun? Wouldn’t it be boring if it stayed the same, if we knew exactly what was going to happen? Therefore, since the art world has been predicated for two or three decades on the coming of The Next Big Thing, a concept that has everything to do with money and speculation, perhaps once we get off our current financial merry-go-round, it will come to reflect more meaningful values.
I recently saw the first one-person show in NY of another artist, who happens to be around the same age. He is tense with ambition; his desire and extreme need are palpable, evident in his every word and gesture—and it would seem that he’s done everything right. A deft marriage of painting and sculpture, the work is competently executed around a concept that comes off as smart and cool when described in a press release. Not too big, not too small, perfect for people who want contemporary art on their walls that’s not threatening, it lacks only one ingredient: soul.
I know people in the art world who, while not particularly talented, attractive, smart, or even nice, have “made it” through sheer persistence. I could also point out some who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, whose ideas merged with those of an important exhibition or Whitney Biennial, which set them on a path for life. Unfortunately, it is not a meritocracy. But then there are those, like Louise Bourgeois, whose work was of such value that it couldn’t be ignored, regardless of her age, gender, and prickly personality.
For true success to happen, an artist has to make art that’s not only exceptional, but is a reflection of the needs and desires of his time. The first is more or less in our control; the second, as adroitly described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, is not. The reason you can’t pay heed to what others are thinking, doing, or making, is that they’re stuck in the present, while you’re creating art for the future.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, in 20 years, when our FB friend has reached the ripe old age of 54, everyone will be wanting art that enhances their lives, takes them to a higher place, the kind of work that, in most cases, only a mature artist can do. And he’ll be the right person for the right moment, glad he didn’t burn out at 34.