Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the questionnaire

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.

Right? ......

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?


harold hollingsworth said...

Great observation Eva, I have for sometime wondered and not processed as well the question, perhaps because one moves so quickly to finding something better to talk about. I sometimes get mischievous and say Cal Arts, or Boston College, just to spin the thing into a bizarre improv...

Anonymous said...

Hey Harold...

I was thinking that maybe for this person (or others), the school days were the best of times. Not that I didn't have a good time at school, but I am no longer making those paintings and quite a bit of the experience I had then, as a painter or artist, doesn't even apply anymore...


Anonymous said...

"separates the adults from children" might be a reasonable, gender neutral update to the phrase used in your post?

-- a man-child dude from the ether

Anonymous said...

Yes, man-child dude from the ether, "separates the adults from children" might indeed be a better way to to phrase it....thanks!


Keith Zygote said...

Oh geez, you are all so nauseating, this blah, blah, blog and you've got it all figured out and you wrote the book on "artists". Here's a thought
"artist" is like the word "class" and if you have to use it to describe yourself, you aren't one and you don't have any! Get over yourselves...really. Given the state of the world and the crisis we are in, your opinions are bullshit and mean absolutely nothing and help absolutely no one. It's all about serving your own egos to make yourselves feel important. Fuck you phonies.

Anonymous said...

Are you indeed Keith from Fried Abortions??? I am honored!!


Steven LaRose said...

If we got separated, I was simply hoping that the men weren't too far away.

and the "fuck you" posture seems fairly like our current President's and so I can only smile at the puerile attempt to raise our hackles. Although, the artist=class comparison I have to agree with.

Somebody needs to show Keith the secret handshake. He might come to appreciate how much communication with other humans on a level that is devoid of judgment is precisely what we need in this time of "crisis".

Steven LaRose said...

Wait. . . what was the question?
How do we define "artist"?
Is being an artist irresponsible?

Either way, I say that being an artist is the same as being a socially responsible individual. We can't always achieve artistry or selflessness, but holy shit, those are two fairly admirable goals.

Anonymous said...

Your comment reminds me of what a friend told me one night; she caught me by surprise.

She told me art was a selfish act. (OK, natch....)

And completely unnecessary. And that most people didn't like it, need it.

We had been friends for a while but at that momemt, I thought she never knew me.


Steven LaRose said...

What standards of measure do you personally use when sussing up a person?

Anonymous said...

Hi again Steven,
That story is long enough to be another post. Maybe it is more a story of how people change. Or are simply argumentive. Or are simply drunk, which she often was.
She was in a band when I first met her - pretty much on the forefront, and someone who wished to write.
The statement, when it came, really took me for a loop. It might have been more about where she was at (not making work) than anything else, but I really took it to heart then and asked questions and wrote a bunch about it in my diary. That's why I remember it all - all the writing.

However, obviously I decided that art was my essential act.

harold hollingsworth said...

making art is a selfish act, and likewise I'm fine with that, and again have been told that as well. It's one of the reason's I decided not to have a family, i.e., children. I realized that I was making them in the work, and that it was indulgent, and that again, I was good with that. Not a bad thing at all, no harm, no foul, so you know, fuck off and all that!

Carolyn said...

I love your last comment Harold. Ditto on no children, here as well for the same reasons.

Anonymous said...

This also relates to my post Talk is Cheap.

The kids were the priority for them and nothing wrong with that, but they could not see that my kids were the paintings. So yeah, it mattered that they were never paid for, no longer discussed, discarded and then, scratched.

And of course the paintings were not just my kids either... they were my house, my car, my vacations, my missed visits to a dentist - at that point, they took up up all that space and financial resources.

Interesting, too, because in the case of this friend who told me that art was selfish act, she was newly married and about to be a mom. I would never tell tell her the many ways in my view that breeding, especially in the States, can be a selfish act. God forbid!

But it did occur to me that maybe she was fed up with it because her husband was a frustrated artist and she was putting him through architecture school....
hmmm... the many levels and ways to read a statement....


m. said...

what a sweeping statement. art can be selfish or selfless. so can parenting. i think your friend was obviously just in a bad space and lashing out...

as for the 'school' question, eva your further thoughts on adults vs. children definitely strike a chord, though, like most tests, many people fall through the cracks.

there is no 'one size fits all' for determining whether one is an artist or especially for determining whether one is a good artist...

but whether one is making art and consistently over time seems a good start for the former question...

i too have met a lot of artists, writers, and musicians over the years who, um...aren't making any art, writing anything, or composing (or even practicing) any music...

M.A.H. said...

Funny, this conversation regarding pedigree, came up a couple of nights ago among a group of committed artists. The two artists most "aware" of their schooling and lineage happened to be 10 years younger than the rest of us.

I'm certainly happy with my degrees and education, but like Eva, I am no longer making those paintings.

It seems as though some people rely on the school/lineage thing as either an automatic status elevator or act as though it's a genetic fail-safe of skill and conceptual prowess.

Anonymous said...

Hey m.a.h.,

Perhaps the closer we are to our education, the more it means. That is why I was so curious over the question, coming from someone, more than likely, far and away from school days.

But it's also just more and more prevalent, artists going to school. When I was first at uni in 1975, there was hardly a soul in the art classes, painting, basic design, any of it.

(And no one in the museums either, come to think of it.)


Anonymous said...

BTW m.a.h.,

I just checked out your work and website... pretty damn nice!!
Thanks for visiting.


Fish or Cut Bait said...

Is Eva hosting the Great American Novel or what? Mary Addison Hackett made a comment? I used to know her when she was shy.

There are so many tangents worth refining in this thread. But, I promised myself that I was going to paint tonight.


I was thinking that I have no clue who my instructors were (except for M.A. Greenstein) that might have effected/affected me. I am certain that I don't brag about the vertical stacking of pedigree, but I do find myself boasting of my horizontal lineage. My peers are my pride. I am remembering a Mike Watt quote I caught on some movie trailer in which he said something like: "Whether you are looking up, or you are looking down, your neck gets tired." (or something like that). I guess my point is, schools mean nothing, and I went to some.

A question like "What subculture do you belong to?" is the future.

I'd also like to put in a pitch for us in the Secret Society that have learned a great deal from the experience of raising a child.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steven, good morning....

I am pretty sure, even though I did not raise a child, that there are a million things to learn from it and satisfactions to gain. This is no doubt fodder for another post.

As a woman, I had the baby thing thrown at me WAY too often. And no one was offering to change any diapers, as I recall.
Nowadays it's GOT to be different, but I am not 25 now, so I really don't know.


Sidney said...

I happen to be someone who is creative, does art and has a child. I don't understand why people who choose or chose not to have children have to judge those of us that do. I have total respect for people that know that kids are just not for them, for whatever reason, it's really none of my business, but many of you, including Eva, seem to think a choice to be "an artist" or commit your life to doing art, means you have to belittle those who made or make other choices. When you consider that the qualification for "art" has broaden to the point of being questionable, why the judgment about choosing Art vs. parenting or having a family?
There are many artists, famous and not (as is mostly the case) that have children. I sense in some of you an opinion that having children is wrong or bad, and I wonder if you realize you are in no way qualified to make any judgment as to what parenting or child-rearing actually "is" until you have done it yourselves.
It's a very personal choice and like those of you who dedicate your life to "art" and call it "your child", I ask you to consider living and let live, and recognize the gift in the freedom's we have in the U S of A to even exchange ideas and converse in this fashion.
Leave the children alone...they really are the future and hopefully the planet will be better for it.
As for NYC changing...I say so what! So what if the climate in NYC has changed to young, wealthy parents with big SUV's and Nannies, so what. Do you have the right to say when you were there it was better? That is all relative and about personal perception. I was in NYC recently and last year and I still believe it's the greatest city in the world, and yes it's different.
The world is changing and there has to be some hope, and the last time I checked, triping over junkies in the stairway of an apt. complex did not mean life was good and cool because of it.
That was then, and I say Bravo to Rudy G. for "cleaning it up".

Anonymous said...

This always happens when you say even a smidgon about doing something else besides having a child. Someone takes it personally when I say I do not chose to do it and can understand why some people don't.

Many of my friends have kids, Sidney. I am a godmother and now, a grandmother. I take care of Isabella once a week and am certainly glad she is in the world. She's with me right now in fact... ah the irony!...

I do not however, see many historical role models for women who had great art careers (yes! emphasis on art and career! Women get to have them too) and were great moms too. Can't say it can't happen now but they were not there for me. I loved Georgia, I loved Kate Hepburn, I loved Coco Chanel, Jane Austen, Gloria Steinem and I could go on with the list.

Also, I disagree with you about not knowing what parenting is - because I WAS parented and I remember the whole experience very well. I know the experience of being the godmom and now the grandmom, and while none of these are your experiences, it is not for you to discount them, certainly not here anyway.


man-child dude from the æther said...

Who needs kids when you can get loaners from your siblings? I'm blessed in this regard, and I can continue to maintain my man-child body unperturbed.

When I need a kid fix and there are no loaners, I eat lots of food and watch this over-and-over:

The universe hides in laughter, and it likes it that way.

Anonymous said...

man-child, you are so welcome here. A smile at just the right time. Thanks.

m. said...

when i was a starving artist i was a nanny. twice.

taking care of kids is hard f-ing work. for me. personally.

so is being a career artist.

there is a choice for some of us.

i am now a career. artist. and an aunt. four times over. and a godmother.

and you couldn't pay me to be a mother for all the money in the world.

because this time around at least. i am a career artist.

and i believe in next time arounds. and i believe in other people's choices being other people's choices.

but stay the hell out of my. personal choice with. your. personal. opinion.

m. said...

p.s. sindney. and i LOVE kids. and vicey versey.

Fish or Cut Bait said...

Let us not forget the real culprits here. If anyone wanted to be a true artist, punk rocker, social activist, or college professor, they should NEVER GET A DOG! Nothing robs more of your precious time, energy, and money, then a puppy.

Anonymous said...

Ah dear fish or cut bait,

Au contraire, I have a sweet puppy named Edward, who, as long as he has a chew or konk to play with, will stay with me while I paint. Sometime he CAN be willful and park himself right in front of the canvas.... but for the most part, he has learned that whatever I am doing on that wall comes first for at least a little while...



Anonymous said...

And hey m.,

.....heck, I almost forgot that I was a nanny too! Twice! In Paris in 77 and London in 78.

Yeah, really cool tending to the parenting needs of the upper classes!

But on both cases (especially in France), I enjoyed the kids much more than I EVER did the parents.


m. said...

when i was a nanny i enjoyed 'my' kids immensely as well (but in like style, not so much the parents), just as i now enjoy my nieces and nephews and goddaughter...but i was and am exhausted when i handed/hand them over at the end of the day, and can't imagine a 24/7 schedule of kids while also trying to work seriously in the studio as my studio practice also exhausts me...

if other people can do both, kudos. but having my personal choice NOT to do both construed as an automatic negative judgment on parenting is just as offensive as the other way around...

Anonymous said...

People may think that the pressure for women to be mothers, and to be seen somehow incomplete, even offensive if not - has gone away. But I am not sure of that at all.

Just last year I met up with a successful artist who was actually a little upset when I said I did not have kids, nor want to. He said me: “Don’t ruin my vision of you…” What vision? Surely he knew I was already running a gallery and a radio show and an art career... somehow all those things melted away when I said I did not have kids.

So we talked it over some more. Somehow Andy Warhol got into the discussion (we both love him, so that’s not hard to do) and he said: “But you could be Andy’s mother.” He was, unbelievably, trying to make the case for being the mother of someone very interesting as to being the one who is very interesting.

Got nothing against Andy’s mother; I know Andy loved her and maybe she influenced him a lot. But if I were a man, this kind of discussion wouldn’t even come up.

This discussion didn’t happen in the 80s. It happened last year.


m. said...

you could be the carrier of the next andy warhol but choose not to be so you are not doing your good girl duty...? jca. if that guy is not over sixty five, do evolution a favor and shoot him on the spot next time that conversation surfaces.

Anonymous said...

Aye aye.

He is not over 65. And like I said, he is a very successful artist. Alive and well in ultra-progressive and hip PDX. He's got kids. Never heard about the wife though.