The fleeting prestige that comes with being an older and unsuccessful artist.

When I was younger, ambitious and stupidier I attended many art openings in an effort to be seen and network (That was the closest thing we had to LinkedIn in those days).

At these art openings, also know as a vernissage, I would be typical of the majority demographic – mid twenties, scruffy and knew most of the people around me. There would be some thirty somethings, and they were usually the directors or curators of that particular space. Then there were middle aged and seniors folk: too well fed, too clean for an arts worker and dressed way too nice for a real art opening, and thus were easily identifiable as family of the artist(s).

Then there were the scruffy middle aged attendees. They were childless, and their body language and ease of socializing demonstrated a blasé attitude about being there. They  tended to look at the art for a little longer, and tended to ask questions to the artists/ curator that were a bit more personal and pertinent. They actually read the artist statement. If they lingered, it was a good metric that the exhibit was interesting. If they only briefly attended the event, then that was a good metric that the show was lacking somehow. They might know other people at the opening, but didn’t seem to particularly care.

I was fascinated by them.  In my mind, they were famous artists (sometimes they were) or important curators (also not uncommon, but usually overvalued) or perhaps the mythical art collector looking to acquire new work from hot young artists (almost never).  I would watch them like a hawk, trying to not be obvious that I was watching them, as I noted where they were looking and for how long.  What was their art like? What fabulous people in fantastic places did they know? What secrets did they know to be successful in the art industry? Maybe they sat on those juries that awarded grants to artists. Back in those days, even if you talked to these people and they were artists, curators or collectors (aka have a “real” job that pays well because it is outside the arts) they could tell you whatever they wanted and you would have no idea if it was true or bullshit, and even if was true whether is was simply shit. Or maybe they were simply downplaying their importance. Like I mentioned above, there was no LinkedIn or Facebook and Canadian Art magazine was still as limited in scope and expensive as it is today.

Twenty years later I am older, not as ambitious and still stupid. However, I realize now that I am now one those people – often the oldest person in the room, an object of mild professional curiosity and even sometimes assumed to be wise or influential. Suckers. In many ways, the age difference does not matter among the artist community but sometimes it takes some younger artists awhile to figure this out.  Until they arrive at the truth of the meaninglessness of their own ambitions, they can pretty much check whether you can help their careers instantly.

It’s a fleeting prestige being an older and unsuccessful artist at an art opening.

Older and younger mysterious me.

Which version of me looks more interesting – the older or younger? Or just creepier?

(Please note I do not actually think I am “unsuccessful”, I am very excited about my work and opportunities, but the POV is from the younger me who had a different idea about these things.)

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