IT'S an artist's dream to exhibit in Paris. Today, by sending five paintings and a check for $800 to the Centre Internationale d'Art Contemporain, any artist can make that dream come true. Aspiring artists seek name recognition. Some attempt to gain it by placing their names in a registry such as ``Artists/USA'' or the ``World's Who's Who of Women,'' which cost between $30 and $70 just to become listed. Few libraries stock what many consider vanity publications.
So why would any self-respecting artist pay good money to these places?
Desperation. The trouble is, there are too many artists and not enough galleries and museums to show their work. As a result, artists have had to change their orientation from seeking to make a living from the sales of their work to trying to convince other people (and, possibly, themselves) that they are not Sunday painters.
No one would have ever thought to ask young Jackson Pollock about his r'esum'e, but now no serious young artist would fail to keep a r'esum'e up-to-date and packed with experiences and achievements.
And, like r'esum'es of other professions in our society, the importance of these activities and achievements tends to become inflated. Unimportant exhibits and unread registries, which exist largely to offer artists something with which to pad their r'esum'es, take on exaggerated significance to artists starved for attention.
It's fair to say that Jackson Pollock set out to make paintings, not to build a r'esum'e as a professional artist. Today's artists, however, have to do both.
``Being an artist today is a lot harder than it was in the past,'' painter Chuck Close says. ``There is a sense of raised expectations today, due to art schools and other institutions [with] which artists are associated. You see Frank Stella have a one-man show when he's 21, or Julian Schnabel have a retrospective when he's 30. If you've been hanging in there and haven't achieved any measurable success, you begin to ask yourself, `What do I have to point to that shows I'm a professional, too?'''
Ultimately, the largest change in the art world over the past 25 years is the idea that artists should somehow consider themselves failures if they don't achieve some real measure of ``success.'' Back in 1945, an Art News survey found that Rafael Soyer was the only American artist alive at the time who was able to make enough money from his work not to need another job. Since then, many others have entered the ranks of full-time artists, but most do not. They hold various jobs (such as teaching) and dream through their r'esum'es.
A lengthy r'esum'e is truly the ``last refuge of the less-than-successful artist,'' sculptor Donald Judd notes, ``filled with pages of semi-fictional accomplishments.'' Among these are sections for group or one-person exhibitions that turn out, on closer inspection, to be a few pictures that a bank placed in its windows or gallery shows in which the artist rented out the exhibition space.
In the past, these book-length r'esum'es were only used by artists seeking teaching positions. Increasingly, Judd says, r'esum'es have become important ``when applying for grants from some state or federal arts agency. It's easier for bureaucrats to deal with a r'esum'e than with art.''