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04/13/2004: "Are You an Art Snob? Five Signs to Watch For!"
1. If you have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts), you secretly look down on anyone with only a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts). If you have a BFA then you look down on anyone who only has a BA (Bachelor of Arts), and if you have a BA you look down on anyone who didn't graduate, and if you only went to art school for a couple of semesters and then flunked out from getting shit-faced every night, you think you're the only one who's "keepin it real".
2. You wear all black to openings and spend more time drinking wine and brushing crumbs from your rack than actually viewing the art work.
3. You think a painting that costs two thousand dollars is obviously "better" than one that only costs $50 bucks-or you automatically make assumptions of value based on its medium...for example, that a painting is more "valuable" than a drawing or that an oil painting is more valuable than an acrylic painting. But you also know that painting is dead, and that real art is performance or installation, intangible mediums that can not be bought or sold at all.
4. You only think an artist is "brilliant" if they're a tortured heroin addict and you can't understand what the hell they're doing.
5. You use a combination of any of the following terms in a sentence: aesthetic, derivative, chiaroscuro, informs, appropriation, painterly, pejorative, triptych, iconography, objectification, or intensity. Example: "One can see how Johnson's intensity informs Motherwell's, however, it goes beyond the mere appropriation of his aesthetic, to being downright derivative!" Bonus points if you can use ALL of the above words in a single sentence!
I went to an exhibit recently and the second I walked in I knew it was the work of a student (I turned out to be right). How did I know this? Because she had stuff hanging up that was all over the place stylistically speaking. She had some little geometric pen and ink doodles, she had some abstract oil paintings, and some collages, and some oil paintings that were closer to realism, etc. etc. It looked like either a group show, or the work of a person with multiple personality disorder.
Not that any of the pieces were horrible, but I did find myself committing the cardinal sin that every artist should fight against, becoming a judgmental art snob. Now, I know we've all done it, looked at someone else’s work and thought to ourselves "amateur!" or better yet "sell out!” (Especially here in Alaska where everyone knows that "fish, fur, and feather art" sell better - i.e., just stick a whale, bear, or eagle in your painting, try it, it's FUN!).
Anyway, when I was working on my BFA thesis solo exhibit (for an entire year by the way) it was really frustrating because my thesis committee demanded that I choose one area to concentrate on, that the works should have a unifying theme, the equivalent of what writers say when they talk of the importance of "finding your voice".
I hated that idea, because my thoughts and interests have historically been all over the map. I was excited about projection, violent shadow puppetry, 8mm film, painting, photo litho, intaglio, etc. But they would have none of it, for them I had to create what I liked to think of as a "theme show", which I found incredibly limiting but they saw it as the mark of creative maturity. Eventually I was able to put together a printmaking exhibit exploring the effects of technology on human physical evolution.
After getting REAMED by my thesis committee (see entry Does rejection get any easier?) for basically giving them what they asked for, I quit doing non-functional work, immersing myself in pottery because I didn't want to have to over intellectualize everything...I was so fucking sick of art crits and the use of "art speak" having to make shit up to make the work sound more meaningful than it really was. (Even though it DID have meaning for me, just maybe nothing I could verbalize).
And now, all these years later, I find that I've been painting one big never ending theme show. I guess my professors would be proud of me, that I've "found my voice" because my style is consistent and I can put a body of work up on the wall of a gallery and everyone will know that it's mine.
But does that make it any good?
Maybe being a real artist means not getting too comfortable with your voice...being able to whisper and shout and sing acapella ...to experiment, take side tracks, explore new mediums, and not worry that someone might see a body of your work on the wall (or on pedastals or whatever) and not be able to tell they were all done by the same person; maybe it's more important that each piece can stand on it's own, is interesting, and has something to say...even if you can't explain to anyone what that message might be?
I guess for me, being able to get away from painting stylized primary colored female nudes, even if it's only in order to do pencil drawn portraits of a guy (gasp)... well, it may sound like a small thing but for me it's monumental. This is the first time in years that I feel like I can paint or draw anything I feel like, regardless of how well it's going to "fit" into my next show. I want to quit thinking like a "professional" artist, and remember back to hanging out 12 hours a day in the studio because I loved it, and it was exciting, and the world of art was still full of new things to be discovered.