Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why The Current Art World Youth Obsession is Completely Asinine

I've been meaning to address this issue for quite some time; the reasons I haven't are 1) that I've been in the studio, producing work that dealers and collectors ought to be scratching each others' eyes out over, and will be someday, hopefully before I'm eighty; and 2) this is not a hugely influential blog, anyway. I'm shocked that I still have four or so readers who put up with my long silences, interspersed with bouts of random rambling.

But anyway. I've just happened across an awesome John Scalzi post: Whatever: On Teens, and the fact that their Writing Sucks.
Most teenage writers, for various reasons, aren't particularly good writers (I wasn't). I thought it was important to get that bit of news out of the way, because among other things, the fact that teenage writing sucks isn't a bad thing (that's point number 2), and because I think it's not a bad thing to be honest with teenagers about this stuff. They might not listen (I probably wouldn't have), but they deserve the truth nevertheless.
I recommend reading the entire article, as well as the comments. My contention is that the same thing is true of the vast majority of artwork produced by persons under thirty, and for the same reasons. It's just that the art world, as Franklin puts it in a legendary comment which is already making the rounds, has its reasons for denying this fact:
But for several reasons the current milieu of contemporary art is predicated on visual quality as a subordinate concern. There is heavy philosophical investment against the primacy of visual quality; people actually become angry if you suggest it. The market has to justify a lot of inferior work in order to function in the grandiose way that it does. This climate pushes superior work into the background. It doesn't celebrate greatness - it flatters inferior taste in a manner that lets it think of itself as superior taste. Taste and talent, particularly in high concentrations, remain rare.
The fact is, most artwork by Young Persons looks like most other artwork by Young Persons. There are the obsessive, flamboyantly colored Self Portraits; the boys do Self Portraits as Jesus Christ, and the Latina girls do themselves as the Virgin Mary. There are the Stream Of Consciousness Messes, with random words interspersed over random, layered images. There are the Experiments in Multi-Media Assemblage: see all of the last Whitney Biennial. There are the thin, outraged, obvious, literal Political Pieces, and the Aids Is Bad pieces. There is the graffiti. Have I missed anything?

(If I sound flip and bitter, it is because I myself have produced great piles of most of these things, in a decade where artists under thirty were mostly ignored. I will sell anyone the key to my storage space for thirty thousand dollars.)

As Scalzi says, it is not that this stuff is just bad, end of story. It is a necessary phase in the process of learning a craft. However, it still sucks. What makes a true artist with staying power is not youthful obstreperousness; it is commitment, perseverance, honesty, craft, depth of consideration, and perhaps a certain amount of talent.

And you do not, cannot see who has these things until you have been observing them for a couple of decades.

So let me say it as clearly as I can; anyone who fetishizes young artists merely for the sake of their youth is a fool. Moreover, they may be ruining the very artists they set out to invest in. Too much easily attained success for merely being a jackass creates monsters, not great artists. Look at the later careers of former child actors if you doubt me.


Denise Williams said...

For the very reason you say:

Moreover, they may be ruining the very artists they set out to invest in.

I am so fortunate I was ignored in my youth, though it was painful then, I am ever so grateful now certain individuals chose to disregard me when they did as otherwise I would still be painting those immature renderings with no depth.

Denise Williams said...

I’m a bit pressed currently, so, please forgive me for neglecting to mention the truth I find in your article.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking along similar lines - have I left it too late to approach the galleries in today's market?

The art I produced 10 or 20 years ago, while technically good and inspired, nevertheless thank goodness I'm not stereotyped or obliged to keep producing it, as I consider them to be "just practising".

It's now in my forties that I'm maturing my work.

lynnxe said...

Your commentary really resonated with me. I can completely relate. I linked to this post from my blog, as well!