04 January 2008


Deborah Fisher, Lift, 2007, carpet, cardboard and drywall screws stressing auto-body armature

Happy New Year, Beautiful People!

This blog is almost three years old. If Tyler Green linked to me, I would be a regular internet institution!

And you very well know, it's the time of year to prognosticate. Or write a Best Of. Or a Top Ten. Or summarily decide that art is currently not worthy of such accoladishness.

This blog is most successful, I think, when it's a more personal vehicle than all that. So the best, most appropriately thankful thing to do is write about my own orientation in 2008.

Mini-Epiphany for 2008: Art Is Business

You can hold the back of your hand against your forehead and wistfully wish that it weren't so, but why? If the Times is going to rail against it and Charlie Finch is whining about it, and everyone on Winkleman's blog is waiting patiently for another post that self-helps it, then it must be legitimately so. When I got my MFA, I did not get a book of Food Vouchers or otherwise leave the existing economy. To take care of myself is to take care of the world of people I talk to with my art.


This moment of understanding, of course, takes only a second. The yearlong trick, I think, will be understanding what accepting the money end of art means.

I am just like you, just like every other artist I respect. I want everything to be free. I hate money. I suck at paperwork. The only reason I have achieved any success whatsoever is because I have an amazing ability to suspend disbelief, live in a state of denial, eschew new pants and medical care, and still feel that I am so fucking lucky and so fucking prosperous that I cannot believe it.

There is beauty in looking at the world this expansively that I cannot deny and refuse to let go of. And, at the same time, I can admit that this is a good mindset for getting taken for a ride. I intend to explore this paradox all year long, if nowhere else, then in my own mind. I hope to wind up with a more subtle understanding of this crazy art economy that helps me actually take care of myself without forgetting that I am fundamentally a servant to something larger than Me.

I might post about this in more detail later. It seems useful to the larger community. I don't know anyone who doesn't openly struggle with this set of problems... and I know artists who are freaking millionaires.

First Professional Goal in 2008: Organize

2007 was a discombobulating year for me. I bought a house, moved into a construction zone, had a fistful of shows and made a huge sculpture. Everything bad happened. I accidentally deleted the folder I keep every piece of paper in my press packet handy while trying to back it up. My laptop died. I ruined my new computer's keyboard by typing all over it with my grubby fingers. I killed three cellphones, two ipods and a jigsaw. I never know anyone's number anymore.

This disorientation is exactly what prompted me to get so brass-tacks in the first place--all I can do is embrace it. I need to rebuild what I lost (instant press packet) and buttress what was built (bring in more public art commissions).

And, um... I can't do anything of the sort if I am still rummaging through cardboard boxes every time I want to draw something.

The Habit I Will Break In 2008: Apply, Apply, Apply!

I know, this is counterintuitive to the whole business-and-personal-responsibilty angle. But I am prompted to write about this because of the panel discussion at Dieu Donne, which devolved quickly into a discussion about power.

The nonprofits represented (SmackMellon, LES Printshop, Dieu Donne and Socrates) have it.

They gave some to the artists like the ones sitting on the panel.

You, artist sitting in the audience, don't have any.

Nonprofits want lots of applications for two reasons. They want choices, and the number of applications looks great on their grant applications--it justifies increased operating expenses. So every nonprofit will tell you to Apply, apply apply! to their open calls, and this has become standard business-of-art wisdom.

I'm done doing it, though, and that panel discussion clinched it for me. The odds, while not exactly lottery-like, are not in your favor. More important than your odds (seeing as how you might have noticed that the odds of being a "famous artist" are not excellent) is the quality of the relationship. The open call creates Holders Of Power (who are more than willing to stack the deck by choosing artists they already know through friends, as I would in a similar situation) and Supplicants.

Even though I have gotten opportunities through open calls, I don't think it's professionally healthy to be a continuous Supplicant. In 2008 going forward, I am going to start stacking the deck in my favor. I am going to ask three questions and demand at least one "yes" before answering an open call from a nonprofit institution:

1. Is this institution so aligned with my work, goals or values that I can't not apply?

2. Is the deck stacked in my favor in any way? Can I get to know the folks at this institution? Do I know other artists who have worked there in the past?

(I know this question is crass, but fuck it! It's a crass crass crass crass world!)

3. Will the application process take less than an hour?

As long as there are needy artists, nonprofits will have a huge number of applicants every time they have a call-for-entries. But there are better ways to actually get an opportunity, and feeling needy drains artists of power.

New Habit To Replace Compulsively Applying in 2008: Create What I Want

If a nonprofit or gallery has an interest in my vision, then great. That's a solid foundation on which to build a collaboration. But I am done moving from nonprofit to nonprofit and gallery to gallery, slides in hand like a hat, shaping what I do to what they do.

If art is a business, then I am going to be a fucking businessperson. And you know, an investor would not be interested in a business plan that is so entirely dependent upon other people's whims and astronomically bad odds. As the chief investor in my business, I reject that business plan, and am going to create a plan that moves beyond waiting for rejection letters and makes me the primary actor.

Most of that means creating community. People work with people they know for legitimate reasons. But frankly, I have no idea what I mean beyond drinking more at night and blogging more in the light of day. Regular readers of this blog know that this half-ignorant state has never stopped me before, and to keep posted!

The bottom line is this: even if I just go buy a decent fucking file cabinet and drink more cocktails in 2008, I will be happier and more productive. I wish you all an equally joyous and productive year!


Anonymous cjagers said...

AMEN! I can't understand those artists who take the underdog position as some sort of moral high-ground or purity. Glad to hear you won't be a sucker. The danger of this mindset, of course, is becoming disenchanted with participating in the artworld - it's a tight rope.

I came to your same realization a little over a year ago, and decided to address the issue by starting my own company (SlideRoom.com), which feels incredibly liberating. Hopefully it will keep that application process under 15 min by being online.

Happy New Year,


05 January, 2008 14:43  
Blogger prettylady said...

The open call creates Holders Of Power (who are more than willing to stack the deck by choosing artists they already know through friends, as I would in a similar situation) and Supplicants.


On occasion, I will attend an art panel discussion. Usually I will have met one or more of the panelists in person; usually I greet them with a friendly smile. Usually I sit by myself, near the front, near the center, and say hello to the person sitting next to me.

Usually, after listening attentively to the discussion, I will have a comment to make, usually something positive. I am tall. My face is expressive. I raise my hand, in a confident, visible manner, and look the panelists in the eye, with engaging confidence.

And they always totally ignore me.

I don't think I'm being paranoid. I think this is a power game. I think that insecure people look for people who appear more insecure than themselves, and champion those people in order to build themselves up, while slapping down those who appear confident and self-sufficient.

Additionally, I noticed that after years of being inundated with invitations to apply for all sorts of inappropriate 'opportunities' by every cultural council in New York City, they somehow excised me from their mailing lists right before the deadline for the NYFA fellowship for painters came due. I had a kick-ass portfolio ready for that, this year, and thought to check the website exactly seven days after the deadlline had passed.

05 January, 2008 16:08  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

Happy 'oh-8!
cheers to money! sorry I missed Dieu Donne.....

07 January, 2008 11:11  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Hey Chris,

Slideroom is a great innovation, and should help artists a great deal!!!

Happy New Year, all!

07 January, 2008 13:04  
Blogger Ethan said...

One added "I'll only apply if" criteria I'd add to your list of three is that the application shouldn't have a fee.

The presence of a fee seems to greatly increase the chance that the "opportunity" is b.s. (i.e., it won't do anything for my career even if I were selected)... Basically my attitude is that the organization should be happy they have the opportunity to work with me and I shouldn't pay for the privilege.

I do, very rarely, break this rule (e.g., to apply for a residency) if I'm very familiar with the organization and the opportunity seems worth the time & money cost. But as soon as an application fee appears, I almost always tune out...

10 January, 2008 10:23  
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