May 2008 Archives

I'm having something of a personal crisis here. Just like last year, this crisis rather unfortunately coincides with the high point of the New York art scene, so when I should be out at openings as often as possible, and writing up a storm, instead I find I have a stack -- a stack, I tell you! -- of cards from shows I've been to but haven't written about, a blank calendar for all of April -- I haven't been to a show in months -- and an empty blog.

I'm not really part of the art world, except maybe as the most peripheral of spectators, but I do have one thing in common with most of the people in the art world: I have a day job. A lot of them don't talk about it because talking about it makes them look less successful -- if you can afford your Chelsea rent because you're, I don't know, a network technician or a real estate broker or something, and not because you're actually selling any art, then potential customers are going to take you a lot less seriously. I assume. So you simply don't let anyone know you've got a day job and you pretend you're staying in business because you're savvy and tenacious. This is called "keeping up appearances."

But I'll admit it to you because we're such good friends: I have a day job. Technically I retired from being a computer programmer two and a half years ago, but here I'm using "retired" in a very specific way: Two and a half years ago I officially told my wife and any business acquaintances who happened to be within earshot that I was no longer actively looking for work. However, I left myself the loophole: If work came looking for me, I wouldn't necessarily turn it away. I figured it was a safe bet, since who would actually want me working for them?

Well, for some reason, work did find me and has continued to find me. Not a lot of work, mind you -- I'm still making less than I was before I retired -- but enough work to keep me occupied here and there and prevent me from having nothing to do. Enough work to seriously cut into my art time, anyway. I'd turn it down if I could, but I'm incapable of saying no to anyone, and at one point work arrived when we had precisely 81 cents in the bank, so there you go.

It's not all about the work, though. There's something bothering me, something nagging at me. I'm filled with doubts. I can't tell if my art's any good, I can't tell if it's worth pursuing, I feel terrible about everything. Life sucks.

Recently Eric Gelber, commenting on a post on Ed's blog quoted Harold Rosenberg, one of the most influential art critics of the 20th century, and I realized I'd read nothing this guy wrote. I haven't read any Clement Greenberg, either. They're on my list. Something about the quotes struck me, though, so I ran right out to the library and took out Art on the Edge and The De-Definition of Art and started reading. I finished the former and am about halfway through the latter; what's blown me away about these books is good old Harry is writing things I could've written myself. In fact at one point he even does write something I wrote myself (although I'd be hard pressed to tell you where). Only these essays are from one entire lifetime ago -- mine. Most of these were published before my third birthday.

What bothers me most about this is it tells me the art world is standing still. Dead still. It hasn't changed in forty years. It's still playing out the same dumbshow from the late 1960s. Rosenberg writes about all the problems and they're in full flower then: The collapse of visual art into word-based philosophy; the collusions of the dealer-collector-curator complex; the ridiculous auctions and their distortion of the art world; the phony posing of the avant-garde; the shift towards art degrees and a professional class of artists playing out the old clichés. It's all in place already before my life even begins.

This isn't a crisis. It's so far beyond crisis I don't even know what to call it.


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