Determining who is worthy as a contemporary artist Part 1

Sometimes it takes a while for things to simmer below the surface before I can take what is troubling me, and bring it to the forefront and actually verbalize it.

In this case, it has been an eight year consideration, but an event happened about two years ago, that has really made it a bubbling mixture. Now two years later, I think I can put some words to the feelings that have come to the surface.

I should probably label this post Click Click Clique, but I thought that might be a bit Cliche. There are cliques in every city, town and high school, and let’s face it, some ex-cheerleaders and ex-football players just never grow up.

Here’s the situation. First, a little background so you can see where I am coming from. Remember this background was, until today, just background, until today when I realized what it was that was “wrong”.

In today’s universities (I graduated in 2001), the push is on for post-modernist conceptual art (using these terms very loosely). For an example, while I wouldn’t quite say that traditional techniques for oil painting are thrown to the wind, I do know these are not at the forefront of oil painting classes at the university level. Instead, if I remember correctly, the focus is on composition and other formal elements, and the exploration of new materials, social commentary as it relates to the student artist, allowing the student to express as he/she requires. The focus, for today’s contemporary artists, is on the idea rather than the execution.

I remember coming out of University with a mixed set of feelings. I had just been to Paris, France for my last course. It was a month long study tour where I practically lived in the Louvre, the Orsay and the Pompideau. I visited Arles, Fontainbleu, and of course Versailles. Being surrounded by this incredible art and knowing/learning of the histories of the artists, imagining their lives in such a beautiful country ….. I am sure you can see where I am going with this. The juxtaposition of knowledgeable execution and idea in the university was non-existent. An idea could be terrific, but if the execution sucks, well, in my eyes, either the idea sucks or the artists sucks. Or maybe even both. So what does that say about contemporary artists?

In 2002 as most of you already know, I applied for and received a studio in the Rotary Centre for the Arts. The premise was that I was going to teach (which I did), and make work (which I did) and be involved in the community (which I did.) My attitude up to then was that I was a contemporary artist. I did artworks that had to do with patterns, and the concepts involving more of a metaphysical realm as it related to the physical. I was lucky enough to be instructed in traditional oil painting techniques by Yulin Wang while at Medicine Hat College. I had no knowledge whatsoever about marketing, or about applying for shows, or about anything. I was ex-military for godsake.

That, however, turned out to be my saving grace.

Throughout 2002 and in to 2004, I was working either full time or part time to pay the bills. I worked for Telus Mobility, I worked for 911 Call Centre. My art was not selling, and I had to pay the bills. There came a point however, when I said enough was enough, and I had to either commit to the artwork or not. That became the pivotal point of one of the definitions of a contemporary artist. You see, I am told that contemporary artists don’t sell their work, and if they do, it is for tremendously high amounts.

This was the attitude I was given from the local artist run centre. It seemed I was considered a bored housewife hobbyist, not a contemporary artist.

Is it right? No.

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