New status for today's artist: up -- by a little
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I can see it now: Art students will study Market Research as they learn how to draw and paint. Endless hours will be spent analyzing and charting particularly successful art sales. Degrees will be awarded for predictability studies, and for research into what colors and shapes are the most commercially successful.Skip to next paragraph
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Far-fetched? Not at all. In fact, in some ways we aren't so far away from that already. At least that's the impression I get from a goodly number of recent art school and university art department graduates who have made it to New York. No theological student ever pored over his Bible more devotedly than did these youngsters over all issues of all art magazines during their student days. And no rock-music or film fan ever tried to get closer to his hero than do these young artists once they hit New York.
As a result, their knowledge of who and what is ''in'' in the art world is frighteningly accurate - as is their assessment of their elders' careers; the advisability of joining a particular gallery, movement, or ''ism''; which influential artist, curator, or critic to try to befriend in order to further their careers; and, most important, how to put their own art more in line with what is considered most up-and-coming or most likely-to-succeed among the current styles.
This kind of calculation is not new. Something like it has taken place every time bright young talent has had to compete for limited position or prestige. What is new, however, is the way this private ambition is beginning to fuse with a public conception of art which sees it, at least partly, as an investment commodity.
I'm particularly concerned about the effect all this will have upon the thousands of art students throughout the country. Will they fall victim to the increasing cynicism of certain facets of the art world they read about in the art magazines. Or will they find the means and the support to survive and strike off on their own?
An informal poll I've taken among various galleries - and my own observation - suggest that youngsters coming to New York to show their work to dealers, or to start a career in art, are as uncritically in awe of the art world as it is as ever before. And they are just as willing to do whatever is deemed necessary to win the approval of those in positions of influence. (This, of course, does not apply to those artists for whom art is a strictly private and profoundly significant commitment.
But then, it's so much easier, after all, to give over uncritically to a powerful and popular force -- or to accept the status quo -- than to remain independent, to find and bring out what is unique and valuable within oneself. And it is particularly difficult for a young artist to discover his creative identity in a place where glamour, peer approval, success, and sensationalism all compete for his attention.
Even so, things have improved somewhat over the past few years. Whatever their public image may be - and whatever they have to do in the way of menial or non-art work to survive - our younger artists have a sense of purpose I didn't sense to that degree in those who came to New York at roughly the same age 20 and 25 years ago.
That might not seem like much, but considering all they will have to put up with, both creatively and competitively, over the next few years, it's quite a lot. It might also make a long-range difference in the shaping of future American art by helping it pull itself out of the swamp of opportunism and self-serving sensationalism it has stumbled into of late. But whatever happens, and whatever form the art of the near and distant future takes, the emerging American artist will have earned position of greater respect in his community than has been the case up to now.
That is, he will if he doesn't blow his chances by falling victim to the notion that art can be created strictly for commercial or ''investment'' purposes, or for reasons that are culturally and personally trivial. Or if he fails to understand that a culture and a society have the right to demand art from its artists, regardless of what the artists might prefer.