Our critic answers two favorite reader questions
New York — There are certain questions about art and the art world I'm asked wherever I go. I suspect they'd even come up after a lecture in a remote Tibetan village, or on a tiny island in the Pacific. I've learned to expect them, and have given considerable thought to the best way of answering them.
The most frequently asked is what a young man or woman from a state such as Oregon or Mississippi must do to succeed as an artist in New York.
Unfortunately, there is no simple, all-inclusive answer. Every successful artist achieved success through his own particular combination of talent, drive, patience, good fortune, shrewdness, or whatever. (And, often, knowing someone of importance at the beginning of his career.)
I do, however, have a few suggestions. It pays to know what you are getting into, so familiarize yourself with the New York art scene before moving here permanently. If you aren't already familiar with it, come to New York for a week or two. It will be money well spent. Really get to know the galleries, and, if possible, some of the dealers and gallery assistants. (Many of the latter will be your own age and willing to share information.)
Be as critical of the galleries as they will be of you. Decide which of them you would like to be represented by, and which would do justice to your work. It's important that you know your own worth at this point, and that you spend as much time appraising the professional art scene as gauging your own chances in it. It may seem unrealistic to be this demanding so early in the game, but undervaluing yourself can limit your ability to sell yourself, and can put you into situations damaging to your self-respect and even to your career.
Check out housing conditions and studio space. Rents are unbelievably high in New York - and housing conditions can be rather primitive. (I know one young artist from the Midwest who was so appalled by the kind of living space he could afford that he fled home, never to return.) Also, get a line on the kind of work you'll have to do to support yourself. A master's degree - or even a PhD - won't guarantee a job with a gallery or museum.
Try to determine how ambitious you really are, and to what lengths you'll go to succeed. (The person who places success above everything else will often achieve it.) If you perceive yourself as very ambitious, and also see that your work is not in line with what is successful, what will you do about it? Will you work harder to realize your creative vision - or will you adapt your work to fit in with what is fashionable?
In short, try to find out how you'd fit into New York's highly competitive, somewhat frightening, and yet extremely stimulating art world. You may find it challenging - or you may decide it's not for you. (And there's no reason why it should be. Art can be created anywhere!) But in any case this short visit should give you a fair idea of what to expect if you move here. Second question
The second most frequently asked question is where art is headed. It is asked by individuals of all ages and persuasions - often, I suspect, to hear that an opposition point of view is finally doomed to extinction.
Well, it isn't - no matter what the opposition represents. It will continue in one form or another. Rather than narrowing and becoming more cohesive, art is broadening and diversifying. Even our definition of art is expanding to include new ideas, forms, and techniques. Technology has embraced art. Video art is the main form of expression for an increasing number of younger artists, and multimedia installations are seen in more and more of our new-talent museum shows.
Anyone, in short, who hopes that art will pull itself together and strip down to one or two central ideas is living in a fool's paradise. It may more narrowly focus its resources now and again to clarify its ideals and goals (as it did when Minimalism ruled the roost), but its dominant mood is elplosively expansive and increasingly multifaceted.
In this it is only fulfilling its destiny. If art has done one great thing in this century, it has been to remind us that the human spirit cannot be neatly packaged and held in check indefinitely. That it must be allowed to follow its own course in a manner appropriate to its identity and purpose. And this reminder, I suspect, will be of increasing importance as mankind moves further into the areas of mass communication and mass control.
Art has always been a safety valve, a means through which society could escape or transcend its limitations. It still serves that function - and will, I believe, continue to do so regardless of the political or formal controls imposed upon it. Art may someday be one of our main defenses against even greater forms of totalitarianism than we have ever known. And if it is, it will be because art seeks out and moves toward life even more than it does toward form.
I would hate nothing so much as a world in which only one form of art was permitted, and in which ''truth'' was taught the way one teaches the alphabet. And yet, mankind is often so insecure that he wants just such finality and control. Dogma and conformity - even oblivion - can seem like comforting goals in a world increasingly too complex for simple human understanding.
Art, more than ever, demands that we stay alert to what is going on around us. And it will increase these demands the more inclined we are to numb our sensibilities, or to seek out one or another form of oblivion. That, I believe, is the role art is increasingly going to play - just as I think it's the key to any perception of where it's headed.
Specifically, art will continue, at least for two or three decades, to fragment and to move from one extreme to another. Some aspects of the ''new'' will always be more outrageous than before - and others more straightforwardly ''realistic.'' The ideals of previous movements will march on for their true believers, and what's left of the avant-garde will be exhibited side by side with the rigidly traditional.
Depending on one's point of view, this represents either artistic chaos or a dynamic creative environment. I tend to believe it's more the latter, with a life force and creative intuition manifesting themselves in increasingly diverse modes of expression.
What results will vary greatly in quality, importance, and effectiveness. But that's not new. What one hopes will be new is the degree to which this diversity will be accepted as truly reflecting the full spectrum of human reality, and as addressing successfully the crucial issues of human survival and fulfillment.
That may seem like a great deal to expect. And yet the great miracle of art is that it always manages somehow to surprise us - even to top our greatest expectations. Its wisdom transcends any individual's efforts to manipulate it. Even our very greatest artists can do little more than respond to its demands.