Thoughts in the Final Stretch

by zachcohen on February 18, 2010

#class is already making me do, and think about, a lot of things I usually try to avoid. I do not normally seek out conflict but I have already had heated discussions about it and I anticipate more, particularly with artists who do not enjoy obsessing about the "art world," a term that is more a litmus test than anything else. For a long time the business of art (and I do not just mean commerce) has been one of the subjects of my work. Anyone who rents a studio, who spends time there instead of working somewhere a paycheck is certain, who buys art materials (whether at the art supply store or the thrift store or Home Depot), who stares at a blank canvas (or wall, or floor) for hours, who hopes to exhibit her work where someone will see it, is engaged in the business of art. Why do we keep going, when the sacrifices are so obvious and the rewards so uncertain?

When I attempt to make sense of this endeavor in which we are all engaged, the shorthand phrase is "the art world," which does not to me mean Miami/Basel penthouse parties where collectors lick large chocolate sculptures (thank you for the mental image Bill Powhida), I mean informal crit groups gathered in a friend's studio, reading all the way to the end of the comments on art blogs, having conversations with people you only see at Williamsburg gallery openings but you always love to see, bubble-wrapping unsold sculptures in my 4-foot-high crawlspace because they're too heavy to carry out and carry back in (as my dear friends Jennifer and Kevin McCoy like to call chores like that, "living the dream"), and finding excuses such as this show to gather people together.

I belatedly read the Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker about the idea that it was actually Gauguin who cut off Van Gogh's ear with his sword. Apparently, what Van Gogh longed for most throughout his short artistic life was to live and work communally with other artists. However, it ended badly for him and, Gopnik argues rather romantically, it has and will for every artist before and since: "You always begin with a dream of community - Braque and Picasso in the bohemian hermitage Bateau Lavoir; the handful of painters brave enough to go abstract in the Cedar Tavern - and end with a reality of competitiveness and assault, suspicion and estrangement."

#class would like to prove you wrong, Mr. Gopnik. Here's to that!
  • Anonymous

    amen sistah friend! thanks for all ur doing w/this great show-event-dialogue-thingy!

  • Kate

    Between Jerry Saltz's Facebook page, this show, blogs like "How's My Dealing?" and the handful of people doing work about the contemporary art world (myself included), I have renewed hope for the future.

  • Christi Nielsen

    Might I make a friendly suggestion? Please make your text slightly grey (pure white on black is blinding). That way I'll still be able to see to create art. 😉 Thanks much!

  • yammay

    Aw shucks, this entry was so sweet, if I had not just devoured a footlong from Subway I would probably have some tears in my eyes…

    An experience to share..
    The owner of the gallery where I work was talking about how stressed he felt…and how he never had the chance to go to any shows since he is always at the gallery (amen). Anyhow, he's been selling art for decades now, and yet we can both agree that the best way to relieve ourselves from anxiety is to go look at some art exhibits, and then feel better.

    So I don't know…imho, that illustrates why people do art even though it's not often the most sustainable route…(I mean, lets not even pretend that money DOESN'T matter, but- ) emotionally, it just feels so good. (brain orgasm?!?!)

    PS: This may be inappropriate to add after such a statement (lol) BUT, the plan for the kindergarten art walk….SO CUTE!!! I will cross my fingers and hope you drop by my workplace too….

  • Michael Scott

    I was touched and tickled by your definition of "the art world", but you left us bemused by excluding what you've actually discovered when you "attempt to make sense of this endeavor".

    Personally, the only thing that ever made sense to me was that IT was a sometimes euphoric, often torturous vehicle to stroke my ego.

    Don't get me wrong…I love much of the residue of stroked egos that we have inherited…it's just that of all the sense in the art world, the only one that resonates is our universal sense of self.

  • Jen Dalton

    Michael, I left out any sense I've made of the endeavor because I haven't actually made any sense yet! That's what we hope to do (at least a tiny bit) with the show. Come by!!

    Christi, re: text color, we'll try. It looks grey on my screen already, but we'll check it out.

    Yammay, if you're on 27th street you might be in luck! I'm relieved to hear you say that, actually, I was fearing that the galleries might not be so excited to see (and hear!) 15 kindergartners…

  • City | Country

    You rock Jen! Couldn't say it better myself, except perhaps to add "sitting around a table in a dining room or cafe or bar trying to figure it all out." Its the portable artworld that breaks out everywhere artists and art lovers work or come together.

    Keep on rockin!

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