What makes Art really Big Art and Who decides this?

February 2, 2008

Okay – this is one of those days again where I feel so small and totally incompetent and inferior and therefore I am brooding over the question again, what makes art big art, worth to be exhibited in the big museums of this world, such as the MoMA or Tate, Smithsonian or Centre Pompidou. Poor me!

I am only a so-called emerging artist with only a very small sales record in comparison with others, I started wood carving in 1998 (full time) and am seriously painting only since about 2004. I never received any official formal training. Of course I started very early with drawing and never actually stopped creating something, collected a lot of experiences which helped later to understand and execute my work when I started to become a professional. Maybe it was already in my genes as my grandfather was a painter and both my parents used to draw and paint in their youth.

I have always learned a lot from watching other people and I read lots of books about theory and the how-tos of certain techniques. I experimented a lot and learned from doing. Of course my studies at the university helped to do this in an organized manner and my professional life in the computer industry for 15 years also helped immensely to be able to organize my life and now building up a new career as an artist. I consider this as an advantage.

Today the Internet is a treasure of knowledge and easy to access – at the same time it does not cost a dime (besides your monthly fees of course). This is a very big chance for people who simply do not have the financial resources to attend expensive schools and workshops.

I think over the past few years I have developed a good feeling for composition and colour. I have managed to build up quite a respectable record of exhibitions considering the fact it all began with an accident and a happy serendipity or even simply fate: I was invited to participate in a group exhibition (that lasted 9 months – isn’t this ominous?) in a museum in South Carolina. This meant someone liked my work and wanted me to show it publicly. This was a total surprise for me and I began to think into a completely different direction. I started to apply for juried exhibitions mainly in the US and managed to be quite successful in receiving acceptances. My record says that I succeeded with about every third application which is not too bad to my knowledge.

Why in the US? Simply because until today I have had no success in finding a venue in Germany which was affordable for me and which would accept my kind of work. So my only alternative was to find venues somewhere else where you have more opportunities but at the same time more competition. This made it necessary to check out entry calls very carefully in order not to fail too many entries and thus wasting lots of money.

Although I wished that there were even more opportunities open for artists from abroad instead of US residents only, I understand of course that art venues do prefer to support their own people rather than foreigners – but I don’t feel as a foreigner – I feel only as an artist.

But I digress again.

I love to be an artist and I think there are quite a few people who like my work – at least they are saying so. I know I have to learn a lot still – I am far from being perfect. But what is perfect in art?

Is a piece of art “perfect” when it does reveal everything it should have revealed in the best technique and best workmanship with the utmost impact on the viewer? Which means it is exactly executed in a way that could not have been improved? But who decides this? Who determines what a piece of art should have expressed, whether it is unique and completely new? Who determines whether a piece of art is a milestone and initiates a new direction? This would more or less mean that you have to invent the wheel new! Does this really apply to each work that is hung in those famous halls?

I have learned in the past few years to look at art in a different way. Of course there is still the feeling of like-it and dislike. But in the meanwhile my interest goes beyond that basic reaction. It is easy to describe what you like in a piece of art but it is very difficult to understand what an artist might have wanted to evoke with a work if you don’t like it. To dismiss it as crap or failure is too simple. So I really try to look at works which I somehow dislike at first and then come to a more detailed conclusion which might be a confirmed rejection but also sometimes a change in my opinion.

Okay – let’s come to the point why I am writing this post:

I stumbled over an entry call from the Royal Academy of Arts in London which is supposed to be the largest competition of the world. Normally I don’t feel too shy to not enter a competition only because it is well-known and supposed to have an incredible number of “competitive” entries. When I feel that my work is really good why shouldn’t I try to take my chance? If you don’t try you will never know – right?

Two years ago I entered a digital photography competition for the first time where I really did not count on being accepted – photography is even much more competitive than painting – but I thought I have to try and was accepted to my utmost surprise (one of 75 – the other 25 were videos – from nearly 3000 entries!).

Now with the entry call of the Royal Academy it is much “worse” – they expect 13000! entries (from whom on earth are these all coming from?). Not that I am particularly impressed by that number (of course I am) but I am appalled by the height of the entry fees in first place which is approx. 50 $ for one work! (now calculate what they garner as a financial substitution for their work! Is this really necessary? The Saatchi Gallery does everything for free!!! please see sidebar) . This also implies that a full purse goes over talent! What a shame! This is simply too much for a chance of 1/13000! But this is not the only reason.

When I look at the past exhibitions and the contemporary works they (and other museums) are exhibiting I ask myself again and again what many of these works qualifies that they are worth while to be exhibited in places such as this. I really don’t understand it.

Is it possibly the achieved body of work i.e. quantity that qualifies in its entirety for such an acceptance – then hardly a young painter in his/her twenties would be able to garner such an honour. Is it the amount of provocation that appeals to the critics? Then this would apply for the younger, wild ones!

Is it the appearance of a nice body shape/face that adds to acceptance or is it rather the attitude some of the artists think they need in order to emanate the aura of the mysterious and unapproachable thinker? Is it the family tree and/or special relationships to the mighty that helps to trigger the estimation or does a no-name potentially have the same chances?

Does the social work some artists are involved in help to trigger the award to be internalized in the modern temples of art? Then it would be advisable to make this really public and not hiding it somewhere from anybody’s awareness. Some people are really very successful in doing this. Or is it simply a big purse that helps to buy critics comments and appreciation to be published in the high-gloss art magazines of this world. This is not a myth but happens really I have learned.

So what is real big talent defined by? Is this really only a very subjective decision or can it be defined by hard facts and variables?

Often I am truly pissed off by the fact that mostly large sized work is the center of attention. Are people so easily impressed by size only? I mean – of course does a painting with a size of 10 x 30 feet garner more attention than a 10 x 30 inches piece but is this justified? And what does a curator make enthusiastic about a piece of art so that s/he wants to exhibit this piece or the complete work of an artist? I would like to know in simple words – not in over-articulated art speech.

Does hype replace brilliant workmanship and realization of an idea in the meanwhile? Then I would say forget about contemporary modern art altogether. But who am I to judge this! I am only an unknown little painter who absolutely loves what I am doing and who tries to paint the emotion which comes with every new piece and the exciting idea behind it. Each new work is a personal discovery for me and a new search for a bit more perfect performance. The only goal I have is to create works which are a true result of my ideas and my emotion not following any trend. Is this doomed to fail?

Therefore I ask another question again: what do I really want? Do I have the talent to become and evolve into a real great painter? And do I want to become one? What are my priorities? Do I want to belong to the ones which are lined up on those huge white walls and why would I want to achieve that? For my ego? My answer to that is clearly “no”. I don’t need that for my ego because my life is incredibly rich, now that I have learned what the important things are, but I could need it to pay back the trust and confirmation and support that I have received from my loved ones to those who are in demand. And there are so many things that could be done on top to make it easier for others too and to improve things which are important to my heart.

You can do this now also, in a smaller scale, you might say and this would be right. I do it already but the sad truth is that you need money to really move things, big fat money. So why don’t you help me to become a really famous painter so that I can save the world? umarmen

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