Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Art World is Dead. Long Live Art.

By now, anyone who cares is well versed in the Tragedy of Becky Smith's Bellwether.

Once sales dried up by the fall of 2008, Becky called three of her largest collectors, pleading for some business — “I tried playing it cool, and then I tried playing it direct,” she said. She recounted a typical conversation: “I need to sell you something to continue to be here,” she would tell a collector.

“I’m just not buying,” was the reply.

“Did you hear me? I have this artist you collect who will have to get another job. If I can’t sell you something right now, I’ll have to close,” Becky would say, but the response was the same. “I felt forsaken,” she recalled. “All these collectors who supported me and my artists, they just disappeared. They didn’t care.”
Although I was not the kind of person who ever registered on Becky Smith's radar, I feel about as sorry for her as Chris does. She was something of an idealist; even as she careened into a business that, at its peak, cost her $75,000 a month in overhead--more than most artists earn in two or three years--she thought that it was at least partly about the art. About ideas, creation, passion, beauty, humanity, exploration, the pursuit of excellence, originality and insight. That stuff.

I guess we all do.

I can count on one hand the number of Chelsea art dealers who have ever been polite to me. Polite, as in acknowledging my existence when I say "Hi, I'm Stephanie. You are..?" instead of blankly looking through me for a second before speaking to the person next to me. Polite, as in offering me a glass of champagne and allowing me to accept it, instead of moving it past my outstretched hand to the couple ten feet behind me. Polite, as in saying, "that would be lovely!" when I offer to show them my portfolio after visiting their gallery regularly for a year and a half, instead of "It's a waste of time for me to look at your work."

(Actually, not a single one has ever said "that would be lovely," even though that's my usual response to other artists. As far as I know, there's not a single Chelsea dealer who has any idea what my art looks like, let alone an opinion about it.)

That hasn't stopped them from sending me press releases, once the 'art criticism' business imploded and the art blogosphere took off. Talk about wasted effort. Dudes, get a clue: once you have been egregiously, offensively, unnecessarily rude to me in person, you can inundate me with hype and schmoozing for fifty years and I won't come back. I won't come back to interview you, have a glass of wine, or sneeze on the art. I will ignore you. You are a waste of my time.

But what I realized, after the Fall of Bellwether, was that some part of me still believed that there was some reason to respect these people. That no matter how idiotic, banal, frivolous and inane was the majority of the 'art' I saw in their galleries, nevertheless the New York Art World stood for some sort of quality. Some kind of allegiance to the life of the mind and the exploration of the spirit.

Then I thought, "$75,000 a month in overhead?" That's not art, that's fashion. Fashion, corruption, and excess.

Because a business that generates a $75K monthly overhead for a white room filled with arcane, useless objects can only be sustained by the kinds of people who happily pay themselves multimillion dollar bonuses in taxpayer money after their personal actions torch the global economy. It can only be sustained by the kinds of people who are driven to accumulate infinitely more than everybody else, no matter how many others go sick, hungry or unemployed. It can only be sustained, in other words, by sociopaths.

It's no mystery that I and the New York Art World don't get along. My interests lie in the direction of timelessness and balance.

'Twisted lotus mandala' (study), Stephanie Lee Jackson, 2009

Thus, I have realized that if I am to maintain my integrity as an artist, I have to forget about galleries. Instead I will seek to hang my work in wellness centers, yoga studios, doctor's offices, spas, churches, and any other place that exists to heal and nurture the human spirit, not crush and deride it.

I'm pretty sure this is the right direction to take, because immediately after coming to this conclusion, I started working steadily, despite being blocked for over a year, despite being broke and stressed and taking care of an infant all day.

Does that make me a kitsch artist? Well, it could, except that I'm not going to change into someone else. If people think my art is kitschy, they're not looking very closely. And if there's one thing I've discovered about New York art dealers, it's that very few of them actually know what they're looking at.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

One More Thing...

One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part I)
46. Never acknowledge any one guest over and above any other. All guests are equal.
Particularly, never sit down at a table with three ladies who have gathered for lunch, next to the one you find most attractive, and monopolize the conversation for an hour and a half, by describing your job, your last four jobs, the personalities of the restaurant owners, and the stinginess of the diners regarding tips. Additionally, do not fail to bring any change when the ladies put down an amount of cash equal to twice the amount of the bill, until one of the ladies (not the one you are blatantly hitting on) says, "Could we have some change? We're not leaving you a 100% tip."

Thank you.