Monday, June 15, 2009

Letters to a Young Artist

Last Thursday Nate and I went to Mat Kearney's concert in El Paso and out of course to eat at P.F. Changs. Nate instructed me to remind him the next we're there that he should order two or three orders of Pe King Dumplings. Most of our conversation had to do with our photography business and my career as an artist. I say "our" photography business because it is just as much mine as it is his. He has been absolutely unbelievalbe in helping me. He's been my comforter, my motivator, and my sounding board. This summer I'm taking a class that is designed to teach artists how to market and promote themselves. Designing business cards, websites, stationary, artist packets to send to museums and job application. Very helpful stuff.

It's sometimes hard to balance the want for success and the want for a normal healthy life. I'm always questioning my motives. Am I too worldly? Too selfish? I found this article in "Art on Paper" in the July/August 2005 edition. Gain what you might, this one's for me.

A year ago, I graduated from art school and moved to New York City from the West Coast. I was excited about the prospect of living and making art in what many say is still the heart of the contemporary art world. The museums. The galleries and nonprofit spaces. The music clubs. A community of peers. I remember the exhilaration I felt when I arrived, sleeping on a friend's couch while I looked for my first apartment and studio. That seems like a long time ago. The past twelve months have been harder than I expected. I've been overwhelmed by the challenges of trying to make ends meet, while finding time to visit exhibitions and make my own art. Some of my peers have already been exhibiting and selling their work but I have decided not to show yet, which has often left me feeling isolated and alone. I struggle with many aspects of the art system: Is it possible to maintain one's integrity and freedom of thought and still participate in the art world?

In March, I decided to write a letter to an established artist whose work I deeply admire. I was reluctant to do so at first, as I did not want to burden someone I did not know with my troubles. I wrote it anyway. Several weeks later, I received a reply. Reading it, I felt buoyed, energized, and heartened by the engagement.

I decided to write to other artists. I selected people who seem to me to have approached their careers with passion and integrity, and asked them to write me back c/o Art on Paper, where I was working. Over the next few weeks, I received responses from artists in the United States and two in Europe. Some are encouraging, others cautionary or stern. At least one forced me to take a good look in the mirror. I realize that their usefulness to me might not be of interest to you. Nevertheless, I am hoping that they be of some value to other young artists like myself. I share them with you exactly as I received them; I have not included the letters I wrote back, for lack of space. - Young Artist

Dear Young Artist,
I started my career as a young artist in 1957. There was no money in art then as there is today. Therefore one did art because they needed to do so. I taught public school five days a week and painted when I could. I got married and participate in having two children which made it more difficult to do art. I lived in National City, not an art center.

My advice? Don't go into art for fame and fortune. Do it because you cannot not do it. Being an artist is a combination of talent and obsession. Live in New York, L.A., Koln, or London.

As for money if you're talented and obsessed, you'll find a solution.

Yrs in Art,
John Baldessari

Dear Y.A.,

May this note find you well. Thank you for yours, and asking a good question...

How to maintain one's integrity and freedom of thought... there is a more serious question inside that question: how do we make art that contributes to humanity's common intellectuality.

Money, especially in it's aspects of fame and fortune, and especially in the U.S. with its culture of commerce, has told everyone that it is the standard of success (or as Bob Dylan said, "Suck cess"). Money never stops jabbering, but that does not mean we must listen all the time.

It is money that makes you ask about integrity. Don't ask me, but ask yourself; "How can I join the world I live in?" "How can I speak with people who are smarter than me?" (and those people can be anywhere, any street corner.)

Imagine if we were writers. For a writer that is valuable to us, of course distribution, the publishing world, is important. But the real importance is "how can I write in ways that contribute?"

Everything else follows.

Good luck to you,
Jimmie Durham