I wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t help but sift through random thoughts. They flow like branches, clogging up my stream of consciousness. This night, a branch that I’ll call “critic” is stuck in my craw, because of a prior short email criticizing me for pressing possible donors for my project on the environment. I replied, but that’s not important.
It did get me thinking of the role of critics and their history. I’m visiting Mexico now, where art is everywhere, and it exists and thrives in spite of a minimum of art critics. Art does exist and has existed without critics writing about it.
There was a lot of time between early artists doing cave painting and the Sistine Chapel and more time until the first art museum was created. During this time and until the development of the press, not a lot was written about art, yet artists persevered and they were probably more appreciated.
The competition for artists between the church and the wealthy created the first art market, the first opportunity for money to define value and, later, an opportunity for museums to develop and galleries to spring up. Then came the art critic, gaining prominence and some power, as did the museums. They were able to direct the flow of interest and, consequentially with it, some money to support the artist. So there were forces in the art market defining the value of art and artists.
But art exists with or without the market; exists without critics or museums. It exists everywhere, in Mexico and in your backyard. It perseveres because some lucky few are inspired to create in spite of not being supported for their work, not recognized and often taken advantage of by schools and systems that pay lip service, but a minimum of support.
A large community of artists exists in Buffalo in spite of some negative factors that work against it. We lucky few persevere because it’s important and rewarding for us to be able to create. The process and feeling of accomplishment is its own reward. I can imagine the difference between this art community life in Buffalo, compared to what it would be like to struggle for recognition in the Big Apple.
In the studio, we can enter into another world, a world so different from the rest of our lives, where we try to get by, relate to others and find fulfillment. But life in the studio is not all fun and games; it takes work, sometimes repetitiously boring. I remember as a young artist having done a painting that seemed to be very good but was quickly finished without struggle. It was a hollow victory, so to speak. I felt robbed having succeeded without the enjoyment of the battle.
“We few, we happy few.” No, we lucky few! Artists, wake up. Be gratified when our art is not taken by museums to rot in their storage vaults, probably never to be seen again. We should appreciate that we can and will survive without museums and the finely crafted words of those who will never know what it’s like to create.
Pick up some sand and run it through your fingers. Consider the long span of geological history and realize that our civilization won’t last. All paintings and sculpture, including the great works of art, will be treated equally by time – reduced to ashes and dust. This recognition puts me in my place but it is also a relief. Accepting mortality gives me the freedom to work without restraint, boundary or expectation. Now I can sleep.