This is Depressing
I am not about to do the math, but the number of people over the age of
sixty who still produce art in the city of New York alone is staggering.
Last week there was an article in the NY Times about a gallery that
represents only artists over the age of 60. Before the article was
published they already had a stable of 120 artists. For those who have never had gallery representation, that is too large a number of artists to properly represent. A viable number of artists to support is no more than a couple dozen. I have looked at
the work of most of these painters and I am impressed, depressed, and
saddened. I am also impressed at the strength of the human spirit.
Since the article the pot has exploded and the number of older artists
leaping out of the woodwork must be like going to the kitchen of a low
rent Brooklyn apartment in the middle of the night and seeing how many
cockroaches live in your cupboards.
I am impressed, depressed, and not the least bit surprised.
Many years ago, I looked at the 1950 US Census for the number of people
employed as artists. There are many categories from actors on stage to
painters who do scenery for motion pictures. I found the category of
fine artists, defined as making at least 51% of their living from what
you and I would recognize as creative art making. I was proud that my
aunt who made her living solely by painting was one of fewer than 5000
artists in the United States. She made enough to live on.
Because I have done research on Pollock, I happen to know Jackson
Pollock and Lee Krasner are two more of the 5000. In the year of the
census Lee made no money from her art and Jackson made fifteen hundred
dollars. Not thousand. Back in 1950 most who wanted to be an artist
still went to an art school, as universities had only recently developed
their studio departments.
With the post war expansion of art teaching in colleges, more artists
could find support in teaching. Pollock's brother, Charles, taught at
Michigan State. Gerry Kamrowski left New York to teach at the University
of Michigan. Gerry served me tomato sandwiches and barbeque potato
chips as I helped him at his studio.There was greater security in
teaching, as opposed to the uncertainty of making a living by painting,
showing, and the slim possibility of selling ones paintings.
An obvious consequence of having more places where one could study to
become an artist and the possibility of being an artist without having
to survive by selling art, was an explosion of Baby-Boomer artists.*
Most artists make art and share what they create, to the best of their
abilities. By that I mean they, as individuals, focus on doing what they
do best, which is to create. How they generate income and distribute
what they produce is a totally different issue, a problematic one. In
my brief look at the 120 artists already associated with that New York
gallery featured in the Times, none seem to have come late to the
discipline. These are not "Sunday Painters", but artists with track
records. Some have shown widely in the past. Some probably have work in
permanent collections. They have always been artists and identify as
artists. They each probably have a very small audience who would
recognize their names and work. Consider me to be included in that
population of minor artists with works here and there. That causes me
to feel depressed.
The 120 pre-existing stable of artists at that gallery will be joined by
many more. The gallery happens to be both selective and non-profit. At
best, it is a venue for showing. It is unlikely that there could be
significant sales for any of the artists. Consider one exhibition a
month that features ten artists; perhaps three artworks per artist.
That is depressing, to make art all year and show a handful of ones
production. Better than nothing, I suppose.
Making art is something artists do. I think of it as not completely
unlike someone who is compelled to bake a pie. An artist would like to
know their art is looked at and appreciated. The baker does not bake a
pie and put it away in a cupboard, later to become landfill.
Soon enough the 120 plus artists associated with this non-profit gallery
will be dead and their pies headed to the dump. Mine is already
earmarked for its own one-way ticket to the landfill. But, and perhaps
this is even more depressing, I will continue to bake my pies until I
run out of paint. (It softens the sadness somewhat to know that some of
my old pies are in the Met, Brooklyn Museum, University of Michigan
Museum of Art, New Mexico Art Museum, Phoenix, Princeton, Portland, and
New Britain Museum of American Art.)
The same holds true with what I write. My written pies don't take up much room.
Paris 2017 #83
* according to the Princeton Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, the number of Fine Artists in 2001 had jumped to 288,000. That number is triple the 1970 number. Is such an explosion of artists viable ?