My twin sister and I live on two different continents but are incredibly close and communicative as sisters, but also artists. As well as our collaborative project negotiationofspace we are in constant dialogue about things that inspire us, provoke us and also about issues relating to being/building a career as an artist.
She is currently in her final year studying photography at Parson's New School in NYC. As part of one of her classes she must email the teacher each week in response to that week's class. Last week she forwarded me the email correspondence from this class. While the ideas discussed between my sister and Kevin are not anything new, it was very nice to read them articulated in such a clear manner, and always good to be reminded of the topics they are discussing, so I thought I'd share them with you....
From my sister:
It happened again! Although I did better this week and on Friday morning made a mental note to write you an email and then recalled my note today. I will get better at this.
However, despite me not having a good memory on the email front I have been thinking about the discussion from Monday's class on and off throughout the week. This notion that money and/or wealth automatically negates something is worrying and dangerous. Yes, money can, in many instances, have a negative impact on individuals, but the notion that a. artists must suffer in poverty and b. collectors are boosting their own egos through buying seems outdated and quite frankly stupid. It doesn't take into account the nuances of individuals and the relationships which evolve. Throughout time there has always been those who are richer and those who are poorer and I am of the opinion that rather than creating a bigger divide through angry dismissal it is more important to encourage a honest, truthful and fair relationship between buyer and seller.
It also saddens me to hear my classmates say - 'its just who you know'. In fact it saddens me on two levels, the first being - how about making good work? Obviously I am not so naive to think this is the only thing you need, but perhaps starting here is the best thing you could do. Secondly, I suspect that those people who want to 'know' everyone will never actually know anyone. Rather than building relationships they will jump from person to person depending on whom they think is most helpful to them at the time.
I began to think about a friend's quiet and determined push towards establishing herself as an artist in London. At school she was often told that she needed to be louder, more confident and more ambitious. This used to frustrate her greatly. Overall she was confident in herself and what she wanted and definitely had ambitions. She used to complain that just because she wasn't the loudest people automatically made these assumptions. However, since her graduation two years ago has carefully and considerately introduced herself to those who can help. Most importantly however, she has built relationships and maintained them. She has sent emails, gone to performances, workshops, talks and key to all this, been physically present so she can go up to someone and shake their hand. But what sums everything up for me is that when she recently received significant government funding to develop her own work the official who allocates the funding said - 'You're written application wasn't the strongest but I had seen your work and its good'.
You have to make good work.
From her teacher in reply:
I couldn't agree more. I think people too easily dismiss situations they don't understand by blaming money or, if there's money involved, it's this way or that way, etc. I think of money as being sort of neutral, actually, a force of nature. It's just there, sometimes in heaps, sometimes scarce, but it doesn't automatically mean one thing or another.
You are right: making good work is the start. That's my feeling about this class, in fact; though I'm here to introduce everyone to the machinations of the "art machine," making good work is the best thing anyone can do to function in the machine. The most successful artists I know are rarely people with big pushy attitudes. I think pushy people gain some ground initially but only reach a certain place and can go no further--because often there is no real substance. Meanwhile, those making work with substance continue on a steady ascent. It is important at certain times to make connections but those can be very quiet. I went to school as an undergrad in the UK and understood very quickly that europeans have a much more understated approach while americans have a model of pushing, "notice me." That attitude (call it a reality TV show attitude) tends to drive me crazy but I remind myself, they generally only get so far (George Bush arguably being one big exception).
At any rate, it's better to be serious, focus on what you do, and just be sensitive to how the world works. Rather than trying to manipulate the system, I tend to ask myself, What are people's incentives? Once you understand those, it makes it easier to navigate a potentially confusing or intimidating situation.
See you tomorrow at Phillips.