Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Submerging Artist

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill reopens this weekend after a major lottery funded revamp. The theme for the first exhibition in the new gallery space is Variety and, promises a mix of established and emerging artists.

Established is a pretty straightforward term but what exactly is an emerging artist? Neither well known nor, God forbid unknown, emerging suggests some long slow exit from out the cocoon of obscurity into the limelight. The term is a fairly recent invention; originally cooked up by gallery PR departments keen to assure their potential audiences that though they may not have heard of the artists on show, one can rest assured that they will be famous really soon.

Funding bodies latched on to emerging, as a useful term to describe programmes aimed at encouraging career development. Such schemes often involve one to one mentoring and, the teaching of some basic management skills and are based on the assumption that with the correct application any art school graduate can make a career for themselves as an artist.

That those leaving college should be offered some guidance rather than thrown on to the mercies of an inhospitable artworld makes good sense however the supposed professionalisation of artistic life often favours those who are good form fillers. You know the sort, they methodically apply for everything, attend all the right conferences and openings, network (in itself a loathsome term that tries to make a business proposition out of friendship) furiously with curators and other movers and shakers and gradually make a place and a name for themselves.

These then are the emerging artists, and they are not ashamed to say so indeed on Friday I happened across a webs site for one soul who opened their personal statement (every emerging artist must have a concise statement where they succinctly describe their practice and the passions that drive them) with the phrase "I am an emerging artist".

For how long though can one be emergent? If after many years no one has still hared of you, what then, do you perhaps become a submerging artist? This should not be read, as an advocacy of the romantic notions of the solitary artist toiling unknown in their garret but, the problem with emerging is that it places the emphasis in the wrong place. When occasionally asked into art colleges to talk to students I always emphasis that what is important after college is establishing ways in which you can keep your practice going in the face of almost inevitable indifference. Some form filling might help but making the work is what matters and no amount of mentoring and professional development can really help with that.

We would all like our work seen or heard by, as many people as possible but numbers are less important than a critical context both internal and external. With the yba movement, Tate Modern and the Frieze art fair many in the UK have, convinced themselves  that London is at the heart of a thriving art scene. In practice though discourse and dialogue has often been replaced by the fripperies of fashion. Artists may emerge, but it is from out from the fog of obscurity (a veritable psouper?) into a critical vacuum.


SB said...

The submerged artist is cool in the pool, an underwater filmmaker is so much more mobile than the one described by the usual subterranean epithet.

As a poignant postscript to your entry: the Variety show was to a large degree guided by Ian Breakwell and covers the wide range of his interests. Breakwell died on Friday lunchtime, a few hours before the show that might have effected his re-emergence.

piu piu said...

i always wonder at people's eagerness to latch onto a label with which to describe themselves. something of a necessity in many cases, but i mean damn, exercise some self awareness. 'emerging' is a horrible term, which i refuse to adopt shud i never actually 'emerge' to become anything more than skint and struggling and anonymous (which i am now). i agree with sb that underwater epithets are the way to go- i think 'drowning' is fairly appropriate in most cases. particularly for those poor 'emerging' bastards still struggling to stay afloat in london, that bastion of british rip off.

Tayler said...

The irony is that 'emergent" rarely refers to emerging artists, rather emergent is one of those nice little descriptions that are interchangeable with "politically correct" and "trendy".

Quite unfortunate about Breakwell, but the only thing death seems to guarantee these days is a short lived press coverage.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about Ian Breakwell, I’m sure the De La Warr would have considered him one of the established artists in the show, though that does to some extent prove the point. Artists like Breakwell and David Hall who is also in the exhibition are well known and respected in certain film & video circles but your average Frieze Art Fair goer would probably say…. who?

S B said...

i think 'drowning' is fairly appropriate in most cases. particularly for those poor 'emerging' bastards still struggling to stay afloat in london, that bastion of british rip off.

Well there's the problem with using metaphors, I was actually proposing that submarine was a useful position to be in, a provisional state, allowing for movement, without necessarily being visible. I suppose the difference between emerged and submerged artists is one of recognition. Why do artists crave recognition? It seems these days to be the case that fame, recognition, notoriety, etc, are ends in themselves. The epitome of this would be someone like Tracy Emin who is not only a 'personality' artist but her art is all about her.

This is quite unlike previous generations of artists who may have been central to their work. Say Gilbert and George who famously made art of themselves, not about themselves - or any number of video artists who appeared in their own works, who, while Rosalind Krauss may have accused them of narcissism, were still confronting issues about the medium, about, space, about art, etc. So time was when art was about ideas and processes and the artists simply the agents of those ideas, success, fame, recognition, etc, were a by-products that some exploited more successfully (sic)than others.

Perhaps in this culture of celebrity for it's own sake, in Emin, whose practice seems to be all self and no self-reflexivity(unlike say Jeff Koons, whose work is much more about celebrity and capitalism), we get the artist we deserve.

So often these days the object of the exercise seems to be getting, and staying, famous, by any means.

And yes yes I'm getting my own blog!

Steven Ball said...

ok I now have a blog. I got 2 of those spam comments within minutes of my first post. What kind of bot is that and how can it be stopped?

ps said...

Its hard to stop blogspam; options are: have no comments, make people who want to leave comments register, use an encryption thing...all of which is boring so you can also just delete them by clicking the bin icon

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