Thursday, July 13, 2017

Non-Profit Art Gallery Shows the Work of Baby Boomer Artists

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 

Sandy Kinnee 


* 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 ?

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