The other night I was out with a friend and someone we just met, upon hearing that I was an artist, asked: “Where did you go to school?”
My friend and I almost screamed. She knew my New York Story, in which every friggin person I met (at art parties in NYC) asked the following 3 questions:
1) Where did you go to school?
2) Who is your dealer?
3) Where is your studio?
Looking back on my New York Story, I know there are at least two valid reasons for the questions, the first one being that I was 29 when I first arrived – a reasonable age to be perhaps a freshly processed MFA. Fair enough.
But when I looked at this new acquaintance, graying hair and beard, I wondered why this experience, perhaps decades old, would be the one to commiserate over, as an initial query. I thought the actual work might be more the launch pad. He said that he liked to high five his old buddies if they went to his school, something to that effect.
Lately I’ve been in discussions with an ex-New Yorker over this questionnaire and she came up with another good reason for it, one that made sense to me:
It’s easy to say “I’m an artist.” I met a shitload of them in San Francisco in my 20s in the 1980s…. I did not see the work or receive invitations to events, but I was told they were artists. I actually made a few wrong moves back then, asking some people to participate in events because they told me they were artists and I took them at their word. Dumb, I know.
And I also hear some observe these days that: “Everyone in Portland is an artist.”
So my friend says that what those New Yorkers wanted, in their questionnaire, is something which separates the men from the boys, to use an antiquated phrase. You better believe you must be seriously busting your ass if you are paying for a studio and got yourself a dealer, etc.
I used to think the questionnaire was all about placement, sort of a social placement, and nothing about the work. I still think it is weird how little “the work” means, but the placement is more complex than what I initially thought.
Even recently I met someone who referred to every artist in an academic way, though he may not have considered it such. So-n-so was the student of so-n-so at blah blah and so on. I mean everyone was described within this context - which quite frankly didn't tell me a lot. But then later on when I brought up the academic mill, he said: “Oh, I don’t think it matters at all, where one went to school, or if they did at all.”
I wonder how he would then describe artists?