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.)

Top ten myths about art exhibits

10. Myth: “How much does it cost to go?” Reality: Unless it is a major museum or a specific fundraiser, art openings are free. If I put “free admission” on an invite, the numbers of attendees almost doubles. I think people assume there is an admission fee to your art show because they are used to museums and large galleries will charge, though I think they should be free as well.

9. Myth: “I went to the opening and saw the art” Reality: The opening is the worst time to look at the art. So many people and noise and distractions.

8. Myth: “There are no prices, these must not be for sale” Reality: Not everyone likes to have big red dots and dollars and cents pasted beside their work. Ask if you are really interested! The person in charge at the space has that information. Many like me prefer to not clutter or compromise a serious exhibit with that sort of stuff – it’s respect for the work and the viewer. Others won’t  agree with me.

7. Myth: “You are going to be at the gallery during the course of the show?” Reality: No. In a rental gallery space maybe yes, the artist will have to be there to babysit the space but it’s a special kind of hell to sit in a fishbowl of sorts watching people looking at your art who are aware you are watching them. Art is great because it works without the artist having to be there. Well, most art anyways. Just go see the show – it’s about the art, not getting points by being seen being there. That’s like expecting a director to be attending every screening of his film, or an architect sitting in the lobby of his new building for a month.

6. Myth: “Your work should be doing this and that and it would work/sell better.” Reality: Ok. If you can imagine art that the artist should be doing, it actually means you have a budding artist inside you and you should go home and make that series of work which seems so easy and obvious to you. Go on, git, go make it. Shoo.

5. Myth: “Don’t take pictures! Someone will steal the ideas.” Reality: This is a prevalent and persistent phobia many people and artists have. This will be an entire post on this blog soon, but in the meantime let me just say this – if you are making art that can be reproduced by someone from a photo and sold to other people, it means you are making bad art in the first place or more likely you have a overinflated and fantasy-based sense of yourself in relation to the world. If you want to get known, encourage the dissemination of your images whenever and however possible. The more accurate term for people “stealing” other people’s work is “Art History”.

4. Myth: “We use chains so as to not damage the walls.” Reality: Looks awful, impossible to hang nicely lined up and the corners of the work will damage the stupid walls anyways. If you the admin of a space that wants to show art but are that concerned about a hole or two in your drywall, then you should not be showing art, period. If you are an artist, stay away from these scenario – the artists who hang there are willing to compromise their work obviously, probably with a eye to selling.

3. Myth: “I don’t know much about art, so I won’t go.” Reality: Going and seeing art is the only way to develop a taste for it. See the oxy moron?

2. Myth: “This art is expensive.” Reality: It takes an average of  a year, probably two, to complete a series of work that is worthy of public display, and usually many many hours of applications and documenting and writing to arrange a show. Framing, invites, food and drink for the opening – if the artist is paying for it all, then it is in the thousands of dollars. Even if the artist sells a couple of works, that may just barely cover some of the costs. It is a remarkable amount of work and time, and this not fully appreciated the average person I find. There are only a very few artists who make a living making art outside of the decorative and commercial realms.

1. Myth: “I don’t get it.” Reality: When people say “I don’t get it” it is probably because they have the mistaken notion that art is entertainment, that somehow it is the responsibility of the artist to make sure that person “gets” it. Many people (if not most) expect to be pandered to, entertained and dummied down to and looking at art that requires contemplation, reflection and raises questions has somehow failed. It’s a sign of insecurity and often text about the work (in plain language) nearby on the wall goes a long way to addressing this. Otherwise, these people cannot see the benefit of the doubt about people’s intelligence that art really is and are conditioned by the lowest common denominator communications of advertising and TV shows. Good art has a strong first impression but great art has many layers to it that reveal themselves the more you look it. What is wrong with a riddle anyways?