Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On accomplishments vs. recognition in painting

Some time ago I was talking with another painter, and he mentioned a couple of juried shows as "accomplishments he was proud of". Not having organized these shows, but just being accepted by jurors he admired.  

This passing remark initiated a train of thought about the nature of accomplishments vs. recognition in painting (and probably art in general), which is, among other things, reflected in my most recent website update

Over the last several years, I've heard many an artist lament the nature of value in art: that it's not the merit of an artwork itself that is being valued, but rather the name behind it, the story, the resume; in short, the history of this particular artist's work being recognized as valuable by other people. This conversation is invariably renewed whenever a painting is sold for some particularly absurd price in a major auction, or in response to specifically designed stunts (like Banksy's recent experiment with anonymous street sales). Nobody seems to like the situation, yet the art world has evidently evolved to support and re-create it every day:

  • Read any advice from "art professionals" to art collectors, and after a mandatory "buy what you love" remark, you will almost invariably find the injunction to check the artist's CV: education, shows, acquisitions. 
  • Unsurprisingly, check any artist's website, and you will almost invariably find this sort of CV (sometimes, it seems like a more essential part of an artist's website than a representative sample of their work). 
  • And, of course, the same sort of CV is almost invariably required in applications for things like exhibitions, artist residencies, and other nice things like this. 

In other words, buy what you love, but don't forget to check whether others love it, too, especially those who, supposedly, know better. And, of course, whether anyone else is willing to buy it for this kind of price.

Don't get me wrong: I don't blame anyone in particular for this; I rather tend to think it's a sort of "invisible hand" phenomenon, an "emergent" structure nobody has designed, but which naturally creates and re-creates itself. Its root cause, I believe, might be in the blurred distinction between accomplishment vs. recognition (which brings me back to the conversation I mentioned in the beginning: an instance of recognition -- being accepted into a group show -- obviously perceived as an accomplishment).

I've read, written (and edited) my fair share of CVs and resumes from various fields in my life: academia, engineering, and, more recently, arts. And here is what I've noticed: both academic CVs and engineering resumes tend to distinguish accomplishments and recognition more or less clearly (although this tendency seems more pronounced in engineering CVs), but an artist's CV blurs the distinction altogether. Or, to put it in other words, an artist's CV is all about recognition construed as accomplishments

In an exhibition catalogue written by someone else, you can find a description of what the artist has actually achieved in a particular work or a body of work; but not, as a rule, in an artist's self-presentation in the form of CV. No wonder exhibition catalogues tend to be a much more interesting read than CVs. But it would be even more interesting to read such a description from the artist themselves.  

We do occasionally find bits and pieces of such descriptions in published letters and, sometimes, essays and "manifestos"; but rarely as a full story constructed by the artist themselves at a particular stage of their life and work. I sometimes imagine an ideal world in which such stories would be found on artists' websites, along with reproductions of their work, and, ideally, instead of lists of recognitions. That, I feel, would give a visitor more essential information and let them explore the work in complete freedom from societal pressures of recognition in the past.  

And while I am waiting for this world to come, that's what I've tried to do on my own website.



Post a Comment