Into the World

ARTWALK LA: Artists and galleries converge to attract a cross-demographic audience in a culture of economic uncertainty. Photo © 2011 Jill Thayer.

What defines Artist Emergence? How does one become an artist and what informs this personal path and career direction? How do artists navigate this real-time, streaming media revolution and information overload that is now a bi-product of our society? This complicated notion of emergence has many factors. Aside from childhood background, education, and experience, the most influencing force is the art market, which is informed by changing trends, economic conditions, professional practice, and of course, the players (i.e. artists, gallerists, dealers, critics, collectors, academic and cultural institutions, auctions, et al.).

To “emerge,” can be described as follows:

• to come up to the surface
• to come into view as from concealment or obscurity
• to come out, or live (through a difficult experience)
• to become evident or apparent
• to rise from or as if from immersion
• to come into existence
• to arise, originate, spring up, develop, grow

For an artist, it could mean a ‘big break,’ which may translate to a lucrative commission or sale, a high profile exhibition, a museum acquisition, peer acceptance, and/or critical review. The reference aligns with the term “success,” which usually breaks down to critical and commercial success. This issue has multiple layers, specifically in how we define ways of measuring success. Essentially, success means different things to different people … kind of the way art means different things to different people, which again, I see as context. Success is based on experience in relation to background, education, and personal and professional support structures. During the run of my gallery, a show’s success meant connecting artist to viewer, particularly, as witnessed in conversation at the many openings over the years. Sure, sales mattered, but the true measure of success was in the engagement of the work and the experience it resonated.

In observing and experiencing an ever changing culture, the rise of media-driven technologies, and economic challenges facing the art market today, I know first hand the impact these forces have on artist emergence. In my own work, in representing the works of others­­ previously through my gallery, and now as a consultant and educator, I see new patterns developing that directly reflect the culture and the conditions surrounding it. The artist, in trying to find the right path evolves through socialization and conventions imposed by the art market and life in general. These informing factors contribute to his or her identity construction, belief system, methodology, and career.

Artist emergence has significantly challenged the traditional course of gallery and institutional systems granting new opportunities, accessibility, and personal enterprise for the artist. This fast-track exposure to global audiences, as a result of advancing communication and new media platforms, has all but eclipsed the established norms of artist representation and ideologies of the industry. Artists are now entrepreneurs, many forging their own careers and taking to the web to promote their “brand” through blogs and social media. Some are positioning themselves as experts in the field dolling out advice to throngs of hungry followers in the name of art … or commodity? A great number of books and resources are available online and in print, as authors expound in how to survive and prosper as an artist. They offer commercial advice in portfolio development, marketing, public relations, and management. Many include steps in developing a professional acumen, gaining representation, and building an audience. Aside from these DIY manuals, others on the media circuit include artist managers, career coaches, and advisers––some more credible than others. My advice? Be informed but mindful.

Information technologies are at the fore of a cultural shift that is occurring. This virtual environment may influence an artist’s career success and survival, whilst the effects of these conditions impact the economic structure of the art market and theoretical issues of art’s value and mediation in our culture. Mechanisms in artist emergence include signifiers such as the environment; educational, political and socio-historical structures; the media; and conditions of mass culture. However, the most vital components I have concluded are core genius, talent (inherent or acquired), tenacity, luck, networking, and personal and professional support systems.

Quintessential to this landscape is the ability for one to adapt to the evolution of culture and technology, yet remain true to self and the instinctive core qualities possessed. In a society of continual change, artists are poised to experience the world beyond their own context assessing the results from informed perspectives. Factors mentioned accelerate this path. Stay tuned.

5 thoughts on “Into the World

  1. Your analysis is penetrating, and I look forward to further discussion. Why does there need to be a distinction between art and commodity? Art is a commodity; artists create their works and receive money for them in one way or another, whether direct sale or faculty salary. Successful artists receive sufficient money to be self-supporting, and those who are commercially successful in one era may not be considered great artists in another. Somehow the romantic notion of the starving artist has captivated our attention, leading us to believe that commercially successful artists are somehow lesser beings. Far better to extol–and pay–a Jackson Pollack while he is alive than to iconize him after his death. Just a thought.

  2. I agree with Marla. There are many wonderful artists out there who have never sold a thing, and there are some who sell and I wonder why! I enjoyed your discussion and look forward to reading more.

  3. In response to marla’s question, above: “why does there need to be a distinction between art and commodity?”
    it’s not really a question of necessity, is it, but of historical flux. I agree with you that now, for the most part, art is commodity but it wasn’t always so. Before the rise of capitalism (the strength and curse of which is its ability to commodify anything, even the formerly sacred) art was valued, not in monetary terms, but in terms of how successfully it mediated between mankind and the sacred. Art was valued as an aid, a tool with which to navigate the otherwise incomprehensible mystery and maze of life. It provided a means of coping with the unanswerable questions provoked by consciousness and being. (If it does this, and provides Jackson with rent, groceries and little pocket money, then how wonderful indeed. Everybody wins…)
    In your article, Ms Thayer, you touch on how new media are changing the way in which artists move into and through the world. Historically, there were few options: artists migrated to centers in which they could find patronage. These days, thanks to social media, that is perhaps less necessary. With a facebook page and a twitter account, someone working out of a barn in Arkansas has the potential to create a buzz that could once have only been generated in a major center.
    Whether or not this is a good thing is an interesting but largely unanswerable question and so, rather than address it, I’d like to explore a side-effect of self-created buzz. We’ve touched on the relationship between art and commodity, but what about the relationship between buzz, or acclaim, and the acclaimed thing? People are now famous for being famous. Acclaim no longer needs to be about anything at all. It has become a thing in and of itself. So long as it is loud and sufficiently persistent it doesn’t need to be directed at an object made or a skill mastered – the Kardashians come to mind here.
    The new media may present a wonderful opportunity to those who have found their path to share what they find along the way. To those who have not yet found their path, the new media may act as decoy or detour: the solitary place from which things come is confused with and then supplanted by the need for more facebook friends and a million twitter followers. This is one of the dangers of paying Jackson while he is still alive – he may become more interested in making money than in making meaning for himself and others…

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