Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Letters to a Young Artist: Howardena Pindell...

Art on Paper Magazine created a book called, Letters to a Young Artist. It is a book that includes 23 letters from professional artists who give advice to "the young artist."

Here is what Howardena Pindell, from the panel discussion on High Times, Hard Times wrote:

Dear Young Artist,

I received your letter and felt that it is so very hard now for the young artist in New York. It is also difficult for the older artists who, although they started at an easier time, are struggling with the usual enormous expense of living in New York, and additionally face all the problems of aging and having elderly family to support as well. I think New York is always a problem unless you are a billionaire. I feel you are correct in seeing as much art as you can, as well as meeting other artists and sharing your experiences.

One thing I would warn you about: Be careful of whom you let into your studio. I remember two artists who lived near each other and often visited each other's studio. One had an earlier and better chance to show than the other and took her friend's idea and showed it first. So you need to be very self-protective and shrewd.

Also, as best you can, be aware of the art world's foibles and how it is constructed. Try to get a sense of the galleries, museums, and auction houses as they are very intertwined to the point where one wonders about insider trading among the most elite members of the art world hierarchy. One of the things I did was to use statistics to try to analyze the situation, especially for artists of color (Latino, African American, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, etc.). There are of course the usual tokens and collaborators. I wanted the knowledge to understand what I was and was not seeing. I did not want to be a "good German," so to speak. I also did a lot of reading and self-searching to try to understand my strong points and my weaknesses. I tried to be aware of other people's behaviour and motivation so I would not take it all so personally. My findings were that there was a definite bias throughout the art world against people of color and often women. To this day I am still dealing with this issue and hope that you prefer to become fully aware of some of the underpinnings of the art world. Some prefer to show in this environment, taking advantage of the restricted opportunities to push themselves forward with what is called white privilege.

One of the things that I find very helpful is this: If you open your studio or have a show and you get verbal or published criticism that is not positive, write it down or talk it into a tape. I find that that gets it off my mind, as I do not need to bother remembering it because it is captured along with my reactions to it. Once you have distance from it, you can decide what is useful.

You should also try to be aware of archival practices so that your work will physically survive. Also be sure to keep track of where your work is and who owns it. Records that I kept or did not keep years ago have profound consequences for me now - positive or negative. Try to select your representatives carefully. Do they pay the artist, and how quickly, when the work is sold? Will they tell you who bought it and for how much? Are they truly honest? One big caution is showing abroad, as there can be economic losses. One can have problems with import and export tariffs and taxes on art that vary from country to country, as well as large shipping bills. The best way is to have a reliable dealer take on that headache for you if you can trust her.

We all isolate ourselves. Try to get together with people you trust. Also keep your mind fresh. I try to read every day from about 11:00 P.M. until 1:00 or 2:00 A.M., or I try to read first thing in the morning. The hard part is finding enough work (a job) to pay the bills - and pay off student loans - so that you can afford to make art. I worked for a museum for twelve years (five days a week or more) before I could find a teaching job. Some artists work in construction, some work on Wall Street, some wait tables or work for other artists. Some teach and some are librarians. Whatever works for you. Try not to get overly discouraged. Isolation can also cause this. One thing that helps is reading about the lives of other artists.

I wish you all the best. Be true to your work and try not to take the pits and valleys of the art world personally.

Howardena Pindell
New York


Digital Scott's Illustrationblog said...

Thanks for sharing this, Andrew! It was good for me to read, and I learned a lot. I also enjoyed seeing your profile on the Stuart site. I hope your art brings you much personal fullfillment. One thing I'm learning is to take better care of myself, so that I'm in a better space. On a tangent from what was in the letter from the post below, I'm learning that I must be the "gatekeeper" of what I let in and out of my creative being. Criticism can be great, and it can break you. I can choose when to be open to, and when to trust myself. It's ok to close the gate for a while until you're sure of yourself again. It's also ok to close the gate to some and not to others. Am I too ambiguous? Hope not. There are so many things for a creative soul to navigate in this world, that most people just do not understand.

Hey, I really want to do your mix CD exchange. Find my contact info on my web site, scottcuzzo.com and let's get a couple of CDs exchanged. Music gets me really excited!

Blessings upon your journey.


Andrew Thornton said...

Hey Scott.

I definitely agree. It's important for you to be in charge of yourself. I don't really believe in negative criticism. If it helps you to better your work and refine your visual vocabulary, how is that negative? Now, if someone is malicious about one's work... then that's not criticism, but masturbation. I may not like everything that I see, but I always think that there is something that I can give as a viewer and an artist back.

When things settle down a little bit, I'll definitely pop a CD in the mail for you.