How many times can Horton hear a Who? Is consistency a valid measurement of art, even if selectively applied? What, at the end of the day, is actually being judged?
I have a point. And it’s not about me. It’s about artists. And art.
Big, possibly pointless and ridiculous, idea at the end. Although, my last ridiculous idea did generate some crazy coverage and discussion…
Last night at the fabulous reception at The Northampton Center for the Arts featuring work from Dean Nimmer’s upcoming book, Art From Intuition, I had a conversation with a friend who went to The Fuller Craft Museum last Wednesday for an application review.
The (edited by me, in seafoam green) text for the event reads like this:
ASDGFH, Executive Director of The Qwertyuip Gallery, will walk through the jurying process for the ZXCVB Artist Awards. She will discuss how the jurying process has changed with the digital age and share a selection of award applicants, and critique their submissions .
This lecture is free.
Since once again I forgot my camera and therefore do not have pictures of the reception, I will insert random images from other things here to illustrate, incongruously perhaps, this post. Pictures make everything more interesting. Especially this picture from when 50 Cent compromised his street cred by performing at a 10 million dollar barmitzvah for a very lucky girl who got to dance next to him on stage and which was captured by a cell phone camera even though no cameras were allowed. He looks like he is trying to hide.
Anyway-this friend, who I will call Petunia, because I did not ask him for permission to use his name and report on his reporting of the event and because I just love the name Petunia, reported back to me on the application review because my application was among those reviewed. As a matter of fact, I was something like the last set of slides reviewed or perhaps the among the last – I did not manage to log, in my WhyWhyWhy brain, what my exact place was in the lineup. I like being last though so for the sake of this post I will call myself last.
Anyway-as they flashed my slides on the screen Petunia of course recognized my work. He said that the curator said two things: My photography is inconsistent and her main comment/criticism was, “How many times can you apply glass to an appliance?”
At the after party for the reception this statement made for a lively and somewhat hilarious discussion with fellow artists, people, and governors. The first response was, “How many times can you apply paint to paper?” Exactly.
To that was added, “How many times can you apply glaze to ceramics? How many times can you fire things in a kiln? How many pieces of furniture can you make? How many times can you make a silver teapot? How many times can you carve stone? How many times can you shape metals into jewelry or trees or sculpture? How many butter dishes/figurines/self-portraits/collages can you make? How many surrealist landscapes can you paint? How many still-lifes can you paint? How many videos can you make? How many installations can you install? How many drawings can you draw? How many times can you apply movement to a performance piece? How many times can you apply words to music?
I think you get the point. I am starting to get it myself.
I could call out every famous, infamous and other artist as a respected example of doing the same thing over and over. Let’s take Joseph Cornell; How may times can you glue together found objects? It’s often thought of as exploring a concept or theme. It’s often thought of as a cohesive body of work. It’s often thought of as working within a genre. But this is all according to my first grade art teacher so there’s that. I will give myself 1000 points for creating my own genre even though by doing so I don’t fall neatly into grant categories and this affects my grantability. I will give myself no demerits for this post though. I am not being defensive and I am not defending myself so much as defending artists everywhere who do the same thing, repeatedly and over and overly. But I am addressing and somewhat debating the critique of my work. I don’t think that addressing a critique of my work makes me defensive. have you ever had a conversation with someone who invalidates every point you make by automatically taking the opposite stance and then, when you try to explain yourself, says, “You’re so defensive?” That’s one way to “win” a debate I suppose. I think it makes me a mere person who longs to thoughtfully respond to critique of my work which, I would hope, was a thoughtful and constructive addressing of my whole what I do-ness. It’s all so addresserly and thoughtful.
I will call this phenomenon a post-ly genre debatiquecal thought post. Ok–I will accept a handful of demerits for once again mangling a word from the english language and for my redundancy tendencies. Someday I will cash in all those particular demerits in some way and get myself some sushi and a new pair of shoes with fresh heels which I will immediately start grinding down in the bizarre and destructive way that I do. I turn shoes into little rocking chairs and I blame it on my spinal disorder since I don’t walk with my neuroses. Well, I guess I do, hand-in-hand, every day, but not literally. Currently I have no shoes with complete heels and that is a budgety thing which leads me to the next part of the critique, the photography of my work.
I am not saying that I deserved this grant and should have gotten it. I am saying that I should be rejected because of the quality of my work and not because of the photography of my work or, because I am exploring a consistent theme or genre.
I had this whole email debate with a person at the Massachusetts Cultural Council last year (I lost); What is more important? What is being judged? The art? Or, the photography of the art? I have a lunch date next week with the Governor of Massachusetts to discuss this particular issue. He has promised to buy me sushi, but not shoes.
Ok–that lunch date is imaginary. But Deval and I have often imaginarically (500 demerits) debated whether or not state grant money should be need-based or solely merit-based and whether or not the art itself is of utmost importance or if the judgment of any art should be based on the photography of said art. He doesn’t know of any grant money available to fund photography of art deemed worthy of the most professional photography and he gets the intellectual concept that it becomes a fiscal cycle and chickens and eggs and omelets. Does the best art come from artists with trust funds? Does the best art come from otherwise funded artists? Does the best art come from poverty? Or, as I suspect, is money irrelevant to true art? Or, again, as Deval and I both suspect, does the best art come from the soul regardless of financial or other circumstance? BUT, the ability to afford frequent reshootings of your work so that it is all “consistent” and has the same lighting and vision is enabled by money.
My photography was called out as inconsistent. It was said that jurors like to see consistent photography of art. That’s funny when you consider that the in the same review I was called out on the over-consistent nature of my work. So, the art should not be consistent but the photography of it should certainly be consistent. This confuses me. This confuses my inner child who still always asks, “But, WHY?” and still gets the reply, “Because that’s how it is”. I cringe whenever I hear about, “how it is”.
My work weighs fuckloads. It is also really delicate. The work in the slides reviewed at this talk was made over a period of 5 years. It was photographed professionally by different photographers and in different settings and all of my photography is really excellent and was shot by really talented people (How many times can you be talented?). You know those contests where there is some large glass container of jellybeans or buttons or snips and snails and you are asked to guess how many are in it? Guess how much it would cost to rent a 14 foot truck and two brawny Chippendales (how many times can you put on tight pants and a bowtie?) and bring my work to a photography studio and leave it for a week to be photographed (How many times can you take pictures of things?) on the same paper and by the same vision of the same photographer in the same lighting and vision. Lastly, on the money topic, does not being able to make enough money to support myself in a fancy photographer-ly fashion and spending all the money I do make on conservation-grade, museum-quality adhesives and fancy glass stains from France mean that I am also somehow invalidated as a grant-able artist? I wonder if the desire for money and the ability to go get it resides on the side of the brain I use less? <–Ok, that bit was defensive.
Of course we have to figure in that I’d have to leave the Chippendales at the photography studio for the week so they could wrestle my 350 pound fridges onto the paper and off again for each shot and then they’d likely request a per diem for food and travel expenses (How many times can you eat lunch?) Then we have to add back in another truck rental and those expensive Chippendales again to move all of the work back to my studio. Closest guestimate wins a set of hand painted wineglasses by Yours Neurotically. (How many wineglasses can you paint?)
I am willing to bet it costs more than I spend on almost-expired food at Deals and Steals for one year. One last comment reported back by Petunia: my work does not seem to have evolved but, again, is consistently the same. Hmmm. I thought I was making great strides especially when I covered the cloth bag of the vacuum cleaner with glass by first fortifying it with fiberglass and resin and bondo and hours of careful sanding of the resulting, ever-shifting landscape/canvas. I think it is time to move on to my next career as an auto bodyist.
After this post I guess I’ll not be applying for that same grant next round. But I’d rather rant than not, and I’d rather not keep spending money on stamps for applications. The money spent on a stamp would buy 2 almost-expired power bars at Deals and Steals and some days that constitutes lunch. And as I struggle to write this post with my wireless keyboard which is all wonky because it needs new batteries and which keyboard makes it bearable to use my 500$ laptop (and only computer) I find myself wondering where those next batteries are coming from.
I HAVE AN IDEA, (which means everyone should duck): Why don’t we arrange an event where grant rejects do the flip side of an application review? Why don’t we do a curatorial review and invite all the curators in the whole world to be the audience. This event will be free. <–No, scratch that. The curators will pay $1000 each to come and I will get caterers from non-struggling restaurants to donate fabulous food and wine and the proceeds will go to a special grant fund which will be awarded to artists of exceptional work exhibiting soul and search and wit and yet which does not fiscally afford special photography and who lack the financial means to buy professional and consistent photography? We will require tax returns and those who show no earnings because they are supported by spouses or trust funds will not be eligible. The recipients must have true and demonstrable need. I am interested in supporting the truly hand-to-mouth artists who still determinedly pursue their art because they can’t imagine not making art. And by art I mean art for art’s sake and not work altered solely to make it saleable. Amen.
I don’t know what it is like to be a curator on a grant jury. I do know what it feels like to be an artist and to struggle to afford photography. I can’t imagine having everything shot at once. I wonder if we lose sight of each other’s perspectives and the whole concept of art. I expected this rejection but I expected it on the grounds that the other applicants made better work, better suited for the aesthetic ideals and conceptual intent of the gallery and grant, not because the other applicants had better and more consistent photography.
Disclaimer: I applied for the aforementioned grant online and no stamp expenditures were incurred so any suggestion of missed lunches is false and in no way bolsters my argument.