Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unsolicited Advice from a Relentless Optimist

Yikes. Can things look any worse? It's pretty clear at this point that most of us were underprepared for the economic downturn and it's devastating hit to the art world. Freshly produced art sits unsold in struggling galleries while art institutions limit their programs or close their doors. Collectors and patrons sit paralyzed with fear. Last week Sotheby's and Christie's hosted sales with some encouraging results, but for those of us who produce or handle contemporary art, a turn-around seems pretty far off.
I have been accused of being annoyingly optimistic. Yes, I'm the kind of guy who proclaims that a hardship or setback is really some sort of divine gift by which to learn profound life lessons. I would like to think that my "bright-side" thinking is a cheery form of pragmatism. If life takes a big crap on you, use it as fertilizer!

Here is some advice to myself and other artists....

The following tips contain observations on the peaks and perils of the recent art market boom. While I was certainly an experienced artist at the time, I spent much of the last few years in the middle of an artistic crisis. This seems to be typical of my "opposite world" relationship with the art world. (Other examples include moving to New York at the start of the last crash of the art market, and a solo show which opened two days before 9/11...) That said, I prefer to think that my somewhat peripheral point of view has allowed me to remain objective.

-Take Time:
When the art market was at it's peek, many artist's felt pressure to overproduce in order to take advantage of the demand. Shows often seemed rushed; very flashy, and a little thin. Now that demand is down, it seems like the perfect time to dismiss the assistants and let them work on their OWN pieces. In order for work to be subtle, smart, and be made with quality it usually needs time. We should savor it.

The fine art boom created another pressure for artists. In order to be noticed in an increasingly shrill and competitive marketplace, artists struggled to find a definitive look or concept. Once a strategy was successful it become difficult to abandon. Isn't it a great time to make work that may only serve as pathways to other discoveries? We should dare to make some half-starts as well as some spectacular failures.

-Embrace New Opportunities:
So, with all the uncertainty it seems all we can do is work hard to survive and recover. I would suggest it's important to take the time to do things that remind us of why we live as artists in the first place. Here are some simple activities I am pursuing to do this...

1) Learning a new skill, like writing a blog.
2) Researching things I love. At the moment this includes Scandinavian Modernism, King George V's gay brother etc.
3) Painting a piece for my home.
4) Volunteering.
5) Building an art collection by trading my paintings for pieces produced by my friends.
6) Seeing as much art in person as I can.
7) Giving away a piece to someone who loves my work but can't afford it.
8) Teaching someone something I know in exchange for their time teaching me.
9) Pursuing an activity I love, but in which I show no particular talent; a sure way to combat perfectionism.

OK, so enough with my touchy-feely, hippy-dippy free advice.
Hang in there.

"Effie" 2009, oil on panel, 31" x 28 3/4"