Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Amateur vs. Professional—What is Valued in Art

I participated in a neighborhood opening a few days ago. I knew I might be among amateur artists, and that’s fine. But it got me thinking about how art is judged, compared to, say, Olympic sports, or even dance. There are clear standards in sports. The lines are smudgey for ballroom dancing or ice skating, although they are considered sports too. But for visual art, how do we judge what is “professional” compared to what is student or amateur?
And judge we do.
I led a class discussion with brand new students on how quality is determined in the contemporary artworld. The arts scene in my corner of SoCal is not great. We’re a conservative area, a tourist mecca; we’re not into culture, at least not the visual arts. When I talk to my students I understand why better. These are art students, they’re in my classes because they’ve self-selected to study art, and still they feel mostly contempt for contemporary art. The exact word that kept coming up was “crap.” It’s my job to enlighten them, but really, they should already be on that road. Some are not even at the trail-head yet.


Stas said...


This is exactly why it is important for art students to study art history. It's easy to call a Kazimir Malevich (white on white) or a later Pier Mondrian canvas "crap"; it is harder to do so in the context of art history. Representative art is simply easier for the masses to like. Many don't understand how modern and contemporary/ abstract art take thier place after such artistic eras as Romanticism or Realism.

Anonymous said...

Fringe dweller; yep, that would be me. When I dropped out of formal high school, I ended up getting a GED. I was making art outside of any formal setting; a system of geography (Jasper Johns in South Carolina, Lou Reed's song "small town") Then I went onto Appalachian State via an upward bound program, which I eventual flunked out of because of parting too much. I attended one art history class at that point but the class was so wrapped up into memorization that I was too stoned to cope. I was still making art at that time, but again outside of any formal help. I eventual moved to Asheville after getting into a museum show (juried) and meeting other artists from Asheville, who had been formally trained. Upon being in Asheville I was a constant fixture at these artists’ hangouts. I finally felt that I was connected with a community that I could relate to. These artists also represented any connections that I might be able to make for purpose of exhibition. Over a period of time I developed as a painter and started getting shows in Charlotte and other regional areas. Every now and then the Asheville Museum would hold a juried show for regional artist’s .I got into this show and was looking forward to the opening. Artists that had been accepted into the Asheville Museum juried show came from all points of North and South Carolina to find that the doors were lock and the opening had been rescheduled; without any notice to the participants. Needless to say this really pissed me off and my fellow local artists. In response we organized the Asheville Ad Hoc Art workers Union and protested outside of the museum. Our objective was to make the museum reveal their mission statement for local/regional artists; noting that state funding required local outreach program for cultivating local art. Even at that point I saw a connection with the museum and the local university. Grad students were getting more focus than most local artists. The museum eventually gave the Ad Hoc Art Workers a forum to discuss these issues and the outcome was the opportunity to curate (pacify) one of there shows; which ended up being an invitational group show for regional artists. The museum paid all expenses for travel (visits of regional artists’ studios) and the U Haul to pick up the work. We could have never been able to get that kind of notice without a collective effort. I eventual went back into college (Montreat Business College) which was a spa program for adult and got my BBA; another fringe move on my part; The factory that I was working for paid 100% of the tuition. After graduating and divorce I moved to San Diego and then shortly afterwards I got into the Vermont Program; which is another fringe opportunity if we compare the level of cronyism that most traditional grad school represents. Most of the connections I have made post VT have been through our fellow alumni and not through a system of networking of faculty/administration. Being in San Diego I go to all the establish galleries and they are filled with work from alumni of UCSD and San Diego State. These colleges are farm schools for area galleries. I’m (speaking as an outsider) sure this is consistent throughout the art world. I’m glad we have this forum to voice opinions and I’m glad that because of this type of forum the two “critics” have the last word. I highly encourage anyone who might see a given exhibit within this region to write in and give their opinion in spite of their fringe position.

Anonymous said...

During the last few years a new set of assumptions about the role of the artist has emerged in the United States as part of what is being called the “new public art.” (1) This new genre of public art, according to critic Suzi Gablik, “takes the form of interactive, community-based projects inspired by social issues.” (2) In fact, the new public art might be more accurately termed the new community art because the questions raised by the interaction of the artist and particular, urban communities have played a central role in its evolution. Further, this work tends to be less concerned with producing objects per se than with the process of collaboration, which is understood to produce certain pedagogical effects in and on the community. In this way the new community-based public art represents a transition from an earlier model of public art that involved the location of sculptural works in sites administered by public agencies- either federal, state, or local governments or other administrative bodies (airports, parks, etc.)- or alternately, private locations (for example, some of the works in the “New Urban Landscape” exhibition at the World Financial Center in Battery Park City in 1988). 2

kloeamongtheturks said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm not ignoring them. Want to talk about this whole insider/outsider thing in a post.
My young students are already complaining less about "crap" and starting to appreciate a wider idea of Art, or am I imagining it???
Ever the Polyana...