Last night I was reading through my ARTNews Magazine www.artnews.com which okay, I admit, I get it for the pictures. While looking at not only the photos related to the articles but the advertisements, the question arose, "Why are these particular artists featured? What about their art is extraordinary or world class?" The answer is still forming and the questions also arose, "Is the work extraordinary or world class or do they just happen to be where they are getting exposure or know people who know how to get them exposure?"
Is what makes one artist renowned more about location, location, location than anything else? Artists who live in large art meccas like Paris and New York have a lot more competition, but they also have a greater chance of being seen by the "right" people who are controlling the sway of the art world--let's face it, people with money buy art and you have to have money to live in a big city. (I've had friends who lived in New York and paid $1700 to $2000 for a one room studio and I, myself, used to pay over $1200 a month for my apartment near Washington D.C.) The affluent, who may or may not actually create art (mostly not), critics, gallery owners and of course other artists are abundant in a large city. The fact that an artist lives in New York (for the sake of argument) doesn't make their art more worthy or better. It just makes it more accessible.
Some of the "greatest" (i.e., best known) artists lived in large cities. Often they hung out together and were around the same affluent and influential buyers, marketers, gallery owners and critics. Their work was not necessarily "better" than someone living in say, Middletown, Ohio or Ruidoso, New Mexico. It was just more available to the masses and to the "art world." That isn't to say that someone from Middletown or Ruidoso can't become known, but to do so means that they will have to expose their artwork outside of their particular world and somehow catch the eye of those from the "art world" that sets the standards for what is good/bad, desirable, collectible, etc. This is why artists try to get their artwork seen in places like New York, in magazines, and to be represented by galleries in places that are known to attract large numbers of art buyers.
Yes, of course, there are artists who have no desire to be seen beyond the scope of their local neighborhood and they certainly enjoy some level of celebrity in their hometown. And yes, there are even artists who claim not to care whether or not they sell any artwork (yet they put price tags on the work and rather than giving the art away they want to see it sell). And there are artists who don't show or sell anything and do actually just give away what they create. Every one of them has a chance that they may also become world renowned and world class. But the chances of that are far less than an artist who is in the "right" places and know the "right" people, or have access to large scale exposure.
In viewing the pictures in my magazine, I pondered what I thought of each piece. Some were what I would call very good--technically proficient and followed design/contract/color theories. Some were arresting, in that they caught my eye and made me look more closely. Some were discordant or almost too obvious in their message and some elicited humorous responses. Were they exceptional art? Not necessarily. They were mostly accessible--in large cities, or exposed through large galleries who have the means to market their gallery and the artwork they show.
I can't help thinking of myself and dozens upon dozens of other artists I know who currently do not reside anywhere near New York or a large art mecca. We have put ourselves at a disadvantage in terms of exposure. And that I believe, is one factor that makes one artist better than another in the 'art world.' If you don't know I exist, how can you think my art is good, bad or otherwise. Exposure is definitely a significant factor in an artists worldwide success and whether or not collectors want the work. Collectors may collect "unknowns" but they go out of their way to get the artworks of artists with exposure.
I can't help thinking of Dale Chihuly, a blown glass artist whom I admire greatly. In the glass world, many glass blowers speak ill of Chihuly (whether they have personally met him or not) and his artwork. Some call him a "sell out" (uh, yeah, I'd like to be a sell out artist! That means my bank account is full and I have the means to do more of what I love--art). Some call him a hack. Some believe his art is no good because he's "over exposed" (and, um, IN DEMAND!). I personally think that these artists are really just jealous of his exposure. He not only is a very creative artist (I love his blown glass chandeliers and also the pre-production paintings he makes to design what he is working on), but clearly he is a genius as marketing himself and his artwork. He somehow figured out the "magic" key to getting his work exposed to the world. Those artists who poo-poo him, interestingly enough, are often seen attempting to emulate the bowls and blown structures that he creates--most not nearly as well as Chihuly and his team do.
So ultimately, when I look at my art magazines, I have to keep in mind that what I'm seeing and the artists I'm reading about are just the tiniest slice of the artwork that is actually out there and available. It does not necessarily represent reality. It is just what the "art world" has been exposed to so far.
When I win the lottery, I've always planned to hire a well known, large-scale marketing team--to help get my artwork exposed. And that leads me to my next blog...the good, the bad, and the unlabeled. Stay tuned...