An artist’s job

A slew of articles on how the economic downturn is effecting the business of art are popping up in publications all over the internet. I’ve ignored almost all of them, but for some reason I partook this morning of an article from the New York Times titled The Boom is Over. Long Live the Art!. From the article:

    Every year art schools across the country spit out thousands of groomed-for-success graduates, whose job it is to supply galleries and auction houses with desirable retail. They are backed up by cadres of public relations specialists — otherwise known as critics, curators, editors, publishers and career theorists — who provide timely updates on what desirable means.

I didn’t know it was my job as an [aspiring] artist to supply galleries and auction houses with art. Hm.

    “Quality,” primarily defined as formal skill, is back in vogue, part and parcel of a conservative, some would say retrogressive, painting and drawing revival.

I can agree that there is a certain contingent (properly lampooned in the film Art School Confidential) who consider quality and skill retrogressive. Such people, in my opinion, have no sense of history, and probably suffer from the modern artist-as-genius syndrome.

    For a while we heard a lot about the radicalism of Beauty; lately about the subversive politics of aestheticized Ambiguity. Whatever, it is all market fodder.

How much attention should an artist pay to the art market? On one hand, it’s a good thing to be in the know from a business perspective. On the other, doesn’t an artist do his or her best work when drawing from their own training, talent and inspiration — not so influenced by what’s popular?

    It’s day-job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them — van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor — and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore.

I’m hard-pressed to believe so many recent graduates possessed such a fairy-tale image of the art world that they figured on jumping right into a profitable art-making career. Then again, my own art schooling seems to have been much more realistic than many others. Exaggeration or not, I suppose schools such as the one depicted in Art School Confidential do exist.



About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to An artist’s job

  1. Sarah says:

    Art School Confidential is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. I laughed my ass off the first time I watched it and wept like a baby the second time. It’s so true that it hurts to watch it.

    I hate thinking about art as a product to be marketed like pottery barn accessories. Is art the same as a thingy you pick up at Kmart? Only more expensive? Is it merely decorative. I can’t play along with that game, but I’m happy that skill and beauty are back in style.


  2. Tim J. says:

    I’ve got to see that movie.

    My experience in art school was that the very idea that beauty could be meaningfully discussed and hashed out as a concept was either absurd or threatening.

    Beauty was seen as *totally* subjective and any attempt to explain or explore the objective elements of beauty was subversive of the art culture. Subjectivity and moral relativity was a fundamental dogma of that system. The term “immoral art” would have been considered a non-sequitur (with the exception of anything that smacked of patriotism).

    Mostly, though, beauty was seen as useless, a worn out concept. Life was (according to, I think, the majority of my art profs) fundamentally meaningless and absurd, and so art should reflect that.

  3. pNielsen says:

    A somewhat related quote from Megan Chaney’s blog:

    “The artisan who has patience in his craft, insight, subtlety, the qualities deriving from intense observation of and delight in the things he depicts, that man is a true artist.”

    -Eugene Grasset, May 1896

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