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.