Last week I found a book called Letters to a Young Artist, with a front cover so ghastly I’ve had to actually tear it off. The idea is that a recent art graduate wrote to several established artists for advice about maintaining integrity while participating in the art world, and printed in the book are their replies. Below is an extract from Gregory Amenoff’s response, in which he lists some things the reader might want to remember “as you continue on your chosen path in visual art”:

“As you read them, imagine me yelling them at you with urgency!

First and foremost you must remember that ARTISTS DRIVE THE BUS! It is an easy thing to forget. We sometimes feel we are at the bottom of the heap (artist as victim). But for an artist in his/her studio, working in relative isolation and producing objects from the imagination – no critics, no curators, no art historians or art history departments, no museums, no auction houses, and, finally, no galleries. The entire enterprise is built on one central event: the creative act in the studio. I mean no arrogance here, but it is simply true. I don’t know whether we are the plankton or the whale, but we are indispensable.

That said, LET YOUR STUDIO BE YOUR SANCTUARY. Have no illusions … the art business, despite the pretension that surrounds ‘cultural products’, has more in common with other businesses than it does with art. When your work leaves your studio and moves into the world, its character changes. One doesn’t need to consult a Marxist to understand that art is a luxury commodity. You learn to live with this fact (and find ways of justifying it), but in the studio things are different. Within that space you create and take chances, destroy, and create again. If the marketplace finds its way (spiritually) into that studio you have abdicated your essential power. Keep your studio clear from concerns of the marketplace. You might have to dance with the wolves but you can still keep them at the door.

Speaking of work in the studio – DON’T BE AFRAID TO DO DUMB THINGS IN THE STUDIO. Artists can’t get anywhere beyond the familiar and the prevalidated without risking being ridiculous. We would not have Guston’s late work had he not willingly risked ‘dumbness’.”

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