Index - Links to articles
These texts have been published on the LinkedIn publishing platform LinkedIn Pulse and are based on the article series "Application Sunday & What I learned from a year of artist call applications" published on my blog The Artist's Predicament. The links in the texts to other articles of the series lead to the respective articles on the LinkedIn Pulse platform.
Artists, It's time to take your career into your own hands
If the sight of the work piling up in your studio is choking instead of liberating you then maybe there is something you should be doing outside the studio as well.
Last year, for the first time, I started applying to artist open calls and doing it in a systematic way. The night of December 31, 2013 found me on my computer making the final adjustments to my first application for 2014. That is how I chose to welcome the new year -I didn't even allow myself a break for a glass of champagne!
All through 2014 I strived to stick to the year's resolution: Submitting to four artist open calls per month. As an artist open call would count any of the following: A call for participation in an exhibition, for an interview published by an online or printed review, a call for a contest/ competition, for an artist residency, for a grant, etc.
And even though strictly speaking I didn't reach my goal, I managed to roll in over 28 applications. Which, for someone who until that time may (or may not) have had applied to any of the above two or three times in total, was a real breakthrough.
These things always overwhelmed me. I felt that the list of the application material requested was too long, too demanding, often irrelevant, and even when I started the procedure with enthusiasm it wasn't long before black clouds would appear over my head and defeatism would set in. Not to mention the discouragement because of all the paperwork that needed to be done, something that -surprise!- in the digital age I woke up to find myself into, was at last
a thing of the past (with the occasional exceptions).
My commitment to this practice, applying and applying with a system, guided by the determination and single-mindedness to push what I was currently doing in the workshop out into the world (living in Greece, I realized after a while that it was either that or total obscurity) indeed bore some fruit. As a result I was invited to participate in a couple of exhibitions abroad, was featured in some online publications, became a member of a curated artists' network in Berlin, and even got to reject a feature by a printed publication when my awareness about what is good publicity for an artist and what one would rather avoid started rising (something that happens only if one applies and applies a lot).
The aforementioned results/accomplishments are far from impressive but they were something. And something compared to an endless desert of nothing amounts to a lot, even solely on
a psychological level, of which, every artist knows the value.
These few steps forward as far as getting my work noticed were enough to convince me that whatever was to “come", wouldn't just “come” to me in the form of an angel landing in my studio, but would most likely occur as a result of certain targeted actions.
I finally grasped in a real, three dimensional way, and not in vague hypotheses, that, to the degree I was doing work I believed in and could back passionately, it would get through or remain in the workshop depending considerably on the amount and quality of actions I would succeed in taking after the work in the studio was done.
This strategy, that I continue in 2015, was also my antidote to despair. On the day I would have completed and sent out a strong application I would fall asleep like a baby, content with the fact that through my persistence a bird was set free, a messenger-bird taking my work out into the world (as mushy as it may seem, this is the metaphor that would come to mind!) and giving it a chance.
As much as the thought of spending time outside the workshop crafting applications gets you down, you can rest assured that it won't be long before:
1. This too becomes a habit, almost second nature, complementing the work in the studio
2. It brings new life into your practice. Taking the necessary steps that will allow your work to enter into a dialogue with the world will fuel your practice in the studio and fill you with optimism and a sense of self-reliance.
Beating artist's block: Know yourself
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto I, Dante Alighieri, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For a long time the best word to describe my relationship with my work was agony. The kind of silent, paralyzing agony that takes over when one is lost in a dense forest, or tied by an undecipherable riddle. Love and desire, in the way Plato means it when he uses the word eros, defining it as the desire to give birth within beauty was still there but that desire had become too elusive, too vague, and thus too unfulfilled.
Typically I would start working on an idea, or an impulse, only to abandon it, feeling no strong commitment or desire to complete it.And despite the fact that I managed to get into the flow of creation several times I still didn't have the feeling, or the understanding of continuity in my work. My works were more or less perceived as fragments, failing to form a picture of self.
The vicious cycle would repeat itself again and again paving a path of unfinished works, fragments of an unfulfilled desire. A desire that was there, but only to torment me and make me feel trapped. It existed, but it was weak, lacking in direction, clarity and focus.
This landscape of torment and despair (as if the myth of the tormented artist needed any further reinforcement) makes it hard at times even for me to believe how I reached the point (described in my previous article, Artists: It's time you take your career into your own hands) where I began to actively take steps towards getting my work noticed. It would seem, given this form of artist's block I was going through, that I had a lot to deal with before any concern about showing my work would be legitimate. And this is exactly where the key to break out of that vicious circle lied.
I don't think that things would lead up to that first artist call application in January 2014 that marked the beginning of a drastic shift, if not in my overall position in the art world, at least in my psychology and sense of control, without the necessary work within.
As much as it was several factors that came into play, the basic prerequisite for a change to happen was the untangling of the mess inside me.
I had to realize what I wanted, where my heart and mind were as an artist, who I was, or at least what certain fragments of myself looked like and how they connected to each other. When the transition from my confused state to a sense of self-coherence started taking effect things began to fall into place. A newly acquired confidence set in, hesitation and fear, the paralyzing self-doubting started to recede.
Connecting the dots in terms of who I was played an immense role in my liberation from this impasse:
It seems that a rough design was all I needed to begin.
The Death of Mentors
The story is all too familiar: Whenever there is scarcity in something, whenever a need once met through the crafting of genuine relationships can no longer be satisfied, its satisfaction is catered to a product.
This is so evident, and has come to be so much our civilization's reflex, one can argue that when the sirens of the market begin to sound, this is the lament for something that is dead.
Only that here, the dead are not buried and lamented properly, in the way all passing people and ideas should: By putting them underground, remembering them for what they were, keeping the good they gave to us, using it to create something new.
The sirens' song is a false lament, seeking to mask the sad, disheartening reality of the event with noise, confusion, and by stirring up a longing that can no longer be satisfied. There is no catharsis, the loss cannot be fully realized and overcome. Instead, it turns into profit.
Among our unburied dead there lies the corpse of the mentor.
Fortunately, not the Mentor per se, as meaning and possibility. I was lucky enough to find this in my father and know that Mentors do exist. The mentors in question are the ones traditionally found in establishments meant to perpetuate the practice and ways of a craft or profession. And what signals among other symptoms their death is the sudden surge of “mentors” we see recently, in art, as well as in other professions, usually offered for a price.
The mentor-apprentice relationship, no longer emerging naturally, as a social phenomenon engendered within institutions related to a profession, exists only as an anomaly, or as the vampire version of the mentor-protégé framework that
is force-fed (in lack of the real thing) to potential clients.
The death of mentors started dawning on me early on, but, I am afraid, not soon enough. The joy I experienced, about fifteen years ago, when I succeeded in entering the Athens School of Fine Arts, that was, entering the school of my dreams, offered a first row seat to that reality. This success, that came after years of longing and trying, after a series of rejections, led to my encounter with this object of desire having the taste of rejection as well: This time served cold, by the School of Fine Arts priesthood, the artists/professors I wished to be a pupil of.
An anatomy (or should I say postmortem?) of that first encounter could be this:
In theory, each “successful applicant” was to choose the workshop they wished to attend, choose, in essence, their teacher. Only, in reality, it was the other way around. The professor chose the student, and in a way that was quite humiliating and disheartening, for the aspiring artist. After years of apprenticeship, most of them spent within institutions where one was taught “the right way to draw” (a process that came with a price tag and a hefty time and temporal investment), now one had to line up his/her drawings before the School's professors in order for them to determine (once more) whether he/she was worthy of being their apprentice.
One was either chosen or rejected on the basis of a handful of more or less institutional drawings, during a procedure that resembled a parody of the initial, already insufficient, method of determining the applicant's value. But, more importantly, this ritual was performing, a second, informal and essentially illegitimate judgment. In one of these five minute sessions -there I was, having spread what it felt to be some kind of merchandise in front of the master's feet- the professor, after glancing at my drawings hastily, uttered “there are weaknesses”, to which I answered, “but this is why I am here”. Note that one was not always lucky enough to get to this informal showing, instead was rejected from first glance.
This first encounter confused me but my gut saw this exactly for what it was, an injustice. I didn't let this initial bad taste get to me though, instead I kept on hoping that somehow
I could be part of a workshop as I imagined it, a structure where I could learn, be challenged and grow.
The experience of the subsequent five years failed to justify the hope. In hindsight I realized that everything was structured in order to make the experience as painless as possible. Painless for the teachers as well as the students. One thus could easily reach graduation without really having been challenged, at least not due to a rigid and structured academic regimen. One would reach the end, the purpose, without really having been tested. Whatever gain one was to obtain over these years would come in principle as a result of some kind of structure one would succeed in imposing on him/herself, or merely as a result of more or less chance events of self discovery.
Where are the teachers, you might ask? Where are the mentors? Those that know how to respect and are respected in return and give for the sake of giving.
It was a truth everyone seemed to avert their eyes from that our teachers had given up on their apprentices, before even trying. Looking back, it seems like they had decided early on not to engage. The students were left more or less to their own devices (there must have been some anomalies, some rare professor-specimens I wasn't lucky enough to come across).
When I came close to believing I had found one that seemed to be present, eventually, when the need of a deeper understanding emerged, the relationship crumbled; it wasn't based on mutual respect, but on feeding the professor's need for power and establishing her undisputed authority. The mentor-apprentice relationship was but a bubble bound to be popped.
Why, would be the natural question that comes into mind. Why are mentors dead? How and when did this happen? As important as this is to resolve, it is necessarily part of a different discussion. Louis Aragon, the Surrealist poet, once stated: “All that is fragile must be broken”. And as much as I don't see this dictum as being legitimate in every single case, I do see the point here.
Given the urgency of shattering our illusions and whatever feeds on them, what we are called upon to do now is to bury our dead.
Develop by the law of quantity turning into quality
Having a clearer view of myself (see Beating Artist's Block: Know Yourself) was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes and everything, my past works, the works of other artists, the skills
I had acquired up until then, suddenly appeared in a new light.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact source of this brand new sense of clarity or the precise moment in time when it emerged. Perhaps the best way to describe it's beginnings is by invoking a word from one of my favorite books, back from the age of eighteen: Maturare. This is the word that Mr Test, the main character of A night with Mr Test by Paul Valery, used to describe the necessary process for an intellectual problem to come to a resolution. Things have to mature, the stars have to align in a certain way, events have to play out, before something “suddenly” becomes clear.
But: This process and its fruition, as much as it lies outside of our control, linked as it is with the slow and painful process of maturation, also depends on our being there to see it through. Mr Test, an imaginary creature that had chosen the citadel of the mind, putting it in Markus Aurelius' words, as his battlefield (or, had the battlefield chosen him?), was as much an object of his thought processes as he was their master, taking the steering wheel of the intellect when he had to and leaving the boat to its devices when the coordinates were right.
So I was aware of that logic. I believed in this law, one that is also rooted in our culture as Greeks: Things do come by the virtue of the gods, or, if one prefers, by the virtue of destiny,
or chance, but they also come by virtue of our efforts. And so, as much as I despaired, feeling trapped in this vicious cycle, I never really believed that this cycle was all there was to it. Since the need was there, the question was there, there must have been a well grounded reason for it.
Eventually, another, more material law made itself apparent. One often invoked by economists but having an extremely broad range of applications, referring to the transformation of quantity into quality.
According to this dialectical law known from antiquity, small changes, that are incapable of bringing a qualitative change by themselves, reach a point where they do exactly that.
They change quantity into quality.At some point the quantity of our efforts (not disregarding the importance of their quality) is bound to turn into a qualitative change in our condition, whether it be our material condition or that of our consciousness. In other words, our efforts must amount to what in scientific terms is known as critical mass. They must reach the point that will allow for that qualitative leap to happen.
All we have to do is not give up, keep listening to our desire and be attentive to anything that sounds like good advice from our surroundings.
Artists: Name Your Demons
An artist's statement (or artist statement) is an artist's written description of their work. The brief verbal representation is for, and in support of, his or her own work to give the viewer understanding. As such it aims to inform, connect with an art context, and present the basis for the work; it is therefore didactic, descriptive, or reflective in nature.
Artist's statement - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Once an artist decides to give this applications enterprise a chance and start submitting work to artist calls, one of the first things they are confronted with is composing this brief text, known as an artist statement. For me this proved to be quite a daunting task, but intimidating as it was, it also proved to be quite a revelatory experience.
One would think that every artist should be able to compose such a text off the top of his/her head. After all, if one isn't in a position to say what one's work is all about, or at least utter a few words on the subject, then who can? But therein lies the first obstacle; In order for one to be able to define something they must first understand it. Or at least be able to trace some of its basic components. And for that to be remotely possible one has to be free from the utter state of confusion such as the one I described here, one that essentially comes from the inability to discern basic elements of one's desire, elements of the self.
Naturally, this process that leads to a certain degree of self-coherence is gradual and cannot be forced, but, as explained in the last post, it is a development that can also be determined by our actions. We only have to persevere, to not give up, and trust in the law according to which quantity (of efforts) eventually leads to a change in quality.
Only, as I eventually realized, all these steps, all the battles won, would probably have remained unfulfilled if not for that first
artist statement that forced me
to put my work into words.Plato in one of his writings has Socrates arguing that something had only to be named correctly in order for its essence to emerge. Knowing a thing's true name was therefore enough to offer us an insight into its true nature.
There is something magical in the process of putting things into words. Something coming from the simple fact that this process forces us to make sense of what it is we are trying to describe, to see the connections, and to name them.
The opposite is also true. Failing to lend a thing its proper name leads to losing sight of its nature. Something that is especially evident in an era named and therefore ruled by whoever has control over the mass media. Yet in issues of self-coherence, the importance of a self-audit that would lead to the correct naming, and therefore understanding of things, is usually underrated.
If you are to have any chance of grasping the essence of things that go on inside you, you need to sit down and ask yourself specific questions. And this is exactly the service that the seemingly mundane task of writing a paragraph about my work provided me with. It forced me to name things. Connections between works and periods that until then seemed to be randomly succeeding one another started to emerge. I realized that there were indeedrecurring preoccupations in my practice, but which, because they were expressed in all sorts of different forms, and because I hadn't looked for the connections, had remained hidden. I started seeing patterns that were repeating themselves, meanings and processes revisited underneath the “garment” they happened to wear.
From this process a brand new world of me emerged, and I felt like a child with a new toy. Having named my demons I had managed (albeit for a moment) to conquer them, and break the vicious cycle of them dominating over me.
Artist opportunities: Choose the right kind
December 25th, 2013 found me in the intensive care unit of a hospital in my home city of Athens, Greece. It was Christmas Day and there I was, instead of celebrating with my family and enjoying one of my mother's delicacies, I was lying in one of the beds of the respiratory ward. How did I get there? The answer may not be what you expect: Art.
Sure, if I wanted to be more literal I should perhaps refrain from blaming art and instead blame it all on my frivolous behavior. But the fact of the matter is that it was indeed my precarious involvement with art that landed me this Christmas gift.
A recently adopted drawing method in combination with my failure to take all the necessary protective measures it called for brought this on me. Thankfully I came out of it unscathed (and wiser); What's more, I had a “trophy” to show for what I'd been through: What I was working on when I got sick: Thirty-six blue moons.
This was the last work I finished in the year 2013, but it felt as if it were the first one in a long time, maybe because its creation coincided with a newly acquired sense of self-coherence that came after a long period of confusion. It was also the first work I submitted in response to an artist call after my 2014 new year's resolution to get my work out there. My desire to take this particular work out of the workshop was probably what gave the final push for that first application to happen.
Not very long after the submission I received the news that it was successful.
The opportunity had been posted by an independent curator and it involved participating in a group show in London. When the news came I was overwhelmed. This was a huge morale booster, especially following a lengthy “exhibition drought”, and was interpreted as an early confirmation of my newly implemented strategy.
I found it kind of entertaining, and not lacking a generous dose of refreshing irony: The work that not so long ago had landed me in a hospital bed was now landing me an exhibition abroad. Things did come at a price, it seemed.
But, as I would find out, refreshing irony aside, I was also in for a generous dose of disenchantment.
This was the kind of artist opportunity that had all three: The good, the bad and the ugly. Let's take it one by one because there are valuable lessons to be learned from all three:
The good: Thirty-six blue moons, a work playing with the concept and form of the calendar, consisted of 36 drawings set in calendar structure. When news of its success came in, the individual drawings weren't yet mounted on the surface that would carry them. The work was more or less still open. This proved to be a good thing. Faced with the logistics and considerations of transporting a 1.5 x 1 m frame to the UK from Greece I realized this was out of the question. The cost of transportation, all of which had to be covered by me, and the potential cost of damage (it was certainly possible that the glass would break in transport), also to be covered by myself, all these added to the costs of travel and subsistence for over a week (thankfully a friend living in London had graciously offered to be my host) was turning the whole enterprise into a science fiction scenario. Where is the “good” in all that, you might ask. The good was that being faced with what seemed to be an impasse in the beginning forced me to find a solution that eventually led to the work itself evolving.
I finally flew to London with the work securely packed in my carry on. In the days preceding the exhibition, Thirty-six blue moons evolved into an artist book in a process that proved to be the continuation of its creative process (that is why I now consider 2014 as the year of the work's conclusion). If one comes to think of it, there are always rules and limitations in the workshop as well, often set by us to function as catalysts during the creative process. In this instance it was this logistical problem playing the role of this limitation. The challenge was met not only by harnessing the best possible results for the work but also with the best possible outcome for my budget.
The bad: This was an international call for an exhibition held in London. Meaning that the artworks would come from all over the world. Therefore shipping the selected works to London and back was a logistical prerequisite for the exhibition to be held, which in turn makes the works' shipping costs by nature an integral part of the exhibition's budget. However, these expenses, in many cases considerable, were to be paid by the artists themselves.
When asked whether the works would be covered by an insurance the curator gave me no clear answer, other than that once she received them the works would be “under her care” and while in the gallery they would have “public liability insurance”. Reading the terms stated in the contract between the gallery and the organizers, I understood that this didn't amount to much. There was no guarantee whatsoever that the artist would be compensated in the event of damage or loss of his/her work. The Liability section of the contract read: “...the Gallery shall have no liability whatsoever for any theft, loss, damage or destruction (including incidental losses) to or relating to, artwork, exhibition elements and personal property”. Doing some research I found out that the lack of insurance coverage in international exhibitions was not an uncommon occurrence. Quite the contrary, at times even prestigious venues left that aspect unfulfilled. This realization served as a kind of perverse reassurance for me to put this issue aside and go on with the show.
The ugly: I think one of the worst scenarios for an artist when his/her work is shown in a group show is for that show to take the form of something that doesn't represent him/her.
Sometime after I learned my work had been selected I found out that the number of participants was no less that sixty. No indication of the show's scale was given in the initial call, and combined with the fact that there was an exhibition fee of 60 GBP to be paid in order for the successful applicant to be included in the exhibition, that didn't have a good ring to it at all: Was this some kind of predatory “opportunity” luring artists, eager to participate in a London show, into an exhibition that provided them with no essential career value, while incurring high costs that they would be called on to cover? I wanted to show this work and looked forward to experiencing this to the end regardless - this would be the first time I'd travel abroad on such an occasion after all - so I didn't let these doubts deter me. Unfortunately, they were confirmed.
Walking in the gallery for the first time, when the works were being set up, was when I received the first actual confirmation of the negative signs I had been getting. There was no coherence in this assortment of works, no apparent connection between them or between them and my work.I was under the impression I had walked into the wrong gallery, until I spotted the curator, whom I recognized from a photo posted in the initial artist call. I wondered if the other artists stood frozen like me when they first walked in. I snapped out of this pretty quick. I was there after all, Thirty-six blue moons was there, and I had to get to work. Plus, deep down I knew that what I was facing at that moment could in fact have been foreseen.
So I decided not to worry too much about the incoherence from that point on. But at the same time I knew that this was an indicator of the show's questionable value and it also posed questions about the motivation behind it. I would have to be on my toes until this was over, since failure to provide for the show's aesthetic and conceptual coherence made me think that a lack of professionalism would be demonstrated throughout.
And yet the lack of aesthetic quality, and the poor taste that was eventually demonstrated in all aspects of the exhibition, was something that had manifested itself months before I took my moons and flew to London: Early on, yet over a month after the fee to participate in the exhibition had been paid, a new element about the show emerged. The exhibition press release sent to us by the curator read that the show was being held “in aid of OCD UK”, meaning that somehow (it wasn't disclosed how exactly) the show was connected to a charity organization. This alone should have probably sufficed for me to up and walk away from the event since it revealed an utter disregard from the part of the organizers for the participating artists: It was obviously considered to not be their business to know about the exhibition's profile and be able to make an informed decision about whether its overall profile suited them before they opted in. Adding insult to injury, this news was followed by an e-mail inquiring whether any of the participating artists who may have suffered in the past, or still did, from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (the condition connected to the charity) would be interested in providing a radio interview in the days leading up to the exhibition to talk about their condition. This I leave up to the reader to assess...
Regardless of the fact that this venture provided me with little to no value professionally, I do believe its overall effect at that time was constructive:
I gained indispensable experience just when I needed it, I did something new that pushed my practice further leading to a breakthrough in my work, and, maybe most importantly, I met a couple of fellow artists with whom I have a valuable exchange to this day.
Lessons to keep:
If you find yourself at the receiving end of this kind of opportunity, make some friends along the way, because this is one of the few valuable things that remains from any venture. And in the end, look back on the experience and evaluate.
Keep Calm and Stand by your Work: The Gatekeepers are Wrong
An application portfolio contains mandatorily: ………. a letter of recommendation (e.g. from a university institution, an art college, a gallery or other institution related to art and culture etc.) _Part of an organization’s awarding residencies to artists official application call
Whenever I failed to provide a letter of recommendation to authorities in the art world, I felt inadequate, even ashamed. I have been experiencing this as a failing, a black whole in my practice. Could it be that I should be wearing this inadequacy proudly instead?
Being a fatherless child
In the article The Death of Mentors I explain that it is not the death of the Mentor per se I am proclaiming, but rather the gradual extinction of a particular kind of mentor, one that used to be taken for granted in the course of an artist’s development, and that was for the him/her (but usually him) an invaluable Guide into Art. This Mentor was generally to be found in institutions the aspiring artist would turn to in order to learn his trade (the fact that once art began to no longer be considered a trade, the mentors became scarce calls for closer inspection). As I go on to say in that same article I myself in fact do know what a real mentor in the broader sense is because I had the fortune to meet one in the person of my father. That in turn goes to say you shouldn’t take the term “fatherless child” literally either: Fatherless here means with no mentor in one’s trade.
But what does that mean exactly? There are books (nowadays there is also the internet) and there is the history of art, accessible now more than ever. Furthermore, if we agree that a mentor is essentially a guide and a mystagogue in one’s art, it is no secret that artists could always choose their mentors among the legions of the dead. Dante never met Virgil in person, in fact the latter lived over 1000 years before him, nevertheless, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the ancient Roman poet is awarded the role of the young poet’s guide across the dark waters of Art and life. Dante’s infernal journey that ended with his triumphant vision of God is one in which Virgil as his guide helped him take.
Not having a real life mentor doesn’t mean that you are left with no guidance in your quest to meet your vision in art and life. Given this, one might ask, why is being a fatherless child even an issue? Having no guidance seems to have never really been an inescapable situation (except for extreme cases defined by much serious problems than not having a mentor), but rather one that an artist might find him/herself in voluntarily (although, everyone, whether they choose to admit it or not had at some point some spiritual guidance). Maybe I should add something to my previous definition: A fatherless child has no real life mentor to guide or protect him/her. The mentor here needs to be among the living and therefore be able to protect in a certain way.
But let me clarify this, again with Dante’s help:
In Canto XIII of Divine Comedy when the young poet and his Master are about to enter Hell’s eighth circle they are stopped by “more than a thousand” that inquire who might this man be daring to enter the gates into the regions of the dead “without death first felt”. Virgil is urged to enter alone and leave Dante behind to return on his own “by his witless way”.
At which point Dante extends a plea:
O my lov’d guide! who more than seven times
Security hast render’d me, and drawn
From peril deep, whereto I stood expos’d,
Desert me not,” I cried, “in this extreme.
And if our onward going be denied,
Together trace we back our steps with speed.
His guide replying:
Fear not: for of our passage none
Hath power to disappoint us, by such high
Authority permitted. But do thou
Expect me here; meanwhile thy wearied spirit
Comfort, and feed with kindly hope, assur’d
I will not leave thee in this lower world.
Dante’s guide was able to protect him. Nevertheless, he wasn’t alive. Actually the fact that he was among the dead made it possible for him to guide him in this infernal journey.
Things in today’s art world are rather measured by different standards. The divine guidance of the dead may at times not make the cut. In order for one to not become disheartened or loose faith in one’s art, he/she should be able to discern when they are being judged for their work and when for something entirely different. And to know that being a fatherless child can be enough for the gates to remain shut: Because, getting closer to a more complete definition, being a fatherless child in art today means starting out with no real life mentors (not the kind that officially counts anyway) to protect you in the face of the gatekeepers.
The gatekeepers are important here, because, like in the case of Dante attempting to enter inferno’s eighth circle, they are the ones that will judge you. And if you happen to even remotely be interested in engaging with the official world of art it doesn’t take long to find, gatekeepers are everywhere;
Taking all the possible forms of authority, from artist residency directors to grant awarding committees, to heads of post graduate studies departments, they, never mind their proclamations of nothing being more important than your work itself, request, or rather require that you do nevertheless have a protector, a real life one, that is ready to vouch for you if you are ever to be let in through those gates.As I mentioned in the beginning, whenever faced with a gatekeeper’s request that I was not able – or not willing – to satisfy, I felt inadequate. At some point this question set in: What if not having protectors was to a degree the inevitable outcome of my actions? And what if it had been who I was ultimately that had led to my present “predicament”? To the degree that
I still recognized myself gladly in the actions and choices that made me who I was, could it be that my predicament was just how things were meant to be? This realization, one that can be considered as a kind of realization of the self, made the regret, the shame, the feeling of inadequacy to seize to have any power over me.
This inadequacy was part of me, and one that was welcome, since it came as a result of
a series of choices I recognized myself in. Still, somehow I wasn’t good enough for the gatekeepers. Could my inadequacy be just a reflection of the gatekeepers’ own failings?
How one ends up being a fatherless child in art anyway? For one, there is the death of mentors, then there is the element of chance (not everyone is fortunate enough to have real life guidance in art), and ultimately, leaving out the case of one not being worthy enough to be awarded a guide, there is the kind, not so rare in the ranks of the artists, that doesn’t make friends with flattery, nor so much with authority. And the sad truth is that most “mentors” today, require something in return. That something not being solely respect or gratitude but rather an acknowledgment of their complete authority, that is, the student’s humiliation.
Gatekeepers were always used by authority to control behavior. By rewarding a certain kind and punishing another they participated in the kind of social engineering we are familiar with since our childhood.Some of the brightest kids I met when teaching art in public schools were also the ones being “punished”, either by low grades, or by actual means of punishment by the school’s “gatekeepers”, the teachers. These kids were guilty of being too free in the face of authority.
So even though the gatekeepers may be wrong in demanding that a young artist provides them with proof of an authority figure’s support, they are also right: One must expect this from the gatekeepers, at least on occasion, and not be surprised when allegiance to authority is considered a requirement.
So let the gatekeepers do their job while we entertain this thought: If Dante felt in any way obliged to meet such demands in order to enter the infernal gates would he ever reach the vision that awaited him at the end of his journey?
Maybe the gatekeepers of the art world aren’t always the ones we should keep our sights on.
Artists vs rejection: A battle that can be won
There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. _Epictetus (A.D. c. 55 – 135)
The taste of rejection and what is really at steak
If you have ever submitted your work to any kind of outside official judgment, and done it more than once, then you must have seen your work being rejected as well. Odds are, if you happen to have submitted your work many times over a certain period of time, in response to exhibition open calls, calls for artist residencies, grants, etc., you tasted rejection many times as well, and with it one or more of the following: Self doubt, confusion, anger, frustration, withdrawal from submitting any more work, symptoms of depression, feelings of hostility towards the “unjust” outside world and the kind of overall anxiety you cannot put your finger on and effectively deal with. Oh, did I mention envy towards other artists' successes? Needless to say that what all these maladies have in common, is their ability to drain you from your energy, deprive you of your focus, sink you in negativity and ultimately incapacitate you in regard to the single thing most valuable for an artist: his/her ability to work.
What is known as an artist block can often be the result of a loosing battle with rejection.
How then can we beat rejection?Since the outcome here is one that is out of our control, we cannot beat rejection itself, that is, prevent it from happening. We can however overcome it, that is, rise above it and prevent it from destroying what we value most. The desired here is to render rejection powerless in inflicting us any kind of pain, psychological or other, and compromising our creativity.
Fixing our relationship with rejection
Like most problems of this nature, that is, of the kind that lie outside of our control, the solution lies mostly in our perception of rejection. To bring Epictetus, who opens the debate of this article, some fitting company, here is a dictum by Seneca: We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.
What is imagined here is that rejection is indeed on and by itself an evil. Regarding rejection as a bad in and by itself we ourselves award it the ability to hurt us.But how does rejection end up to be considered a bad in and by itself? A series of misconceptions seem to be lying on the basis of our distorted relation with rejection. Seeing rejection for what it is would require that we identify these misconceptions one by one and neutralize them:
Nevertheless, it is also valid to maintain that if an artist is to achieve any real greatness, he/she should also be able to view the judgments about his/her work coldly and as being irrelevant to the work and to oneself in order to be able to continue with his/her mission. This must be almost impossible for someone that has made his/herself dependent on outside approval.
Having said that, the opinion of the environment is indeed a legitimate concern, especially when one is interested in impacting society in some way. But the usual place we look for approval is not always the right one.
An effective strategy in dealing with rejection
The pressures that are applied today on the artist from all sides, to a large extent due to the incompatibility in nature and objectives between the artist and the societal structure, are so great that a broader strategy is needed in order for rejection to be dealt with. Seeing rejection for what it is is an essential first step of freeing oneself from its effects but it can't be enough to triumph over it.
Rising above success and rejection (the former often being more harmful than the latter) especially when one happens to be particularly vulnerable to their influence, requires a positive set of actions as well the negative affirmation of what rejection is not. Here is a list of things I consider to be valuable:
Whether you are in the process of sending out applications and are finding yourself overwhelmed from the answers you receive, or are trying to bring yourself to start submitting work and are paralyzed at the prospect of rejection, here is an actionable set of methods you can start applying today that can make a difference in how you deal with rejection next time around:
To apply or not to apply? 7 indicators of the wrong kind of artist call
As is the form, so too is the soul
Ancient Greek adage
Recently I stressed the importance of choosing the right kind of artist opportunities and made this distinction: The wrong kind are those designed for the sole benefit of the organizer; The right kind benefit both parties, the organizer as well as the artist. Here I will propose a set of indicators that could serve as a tool in discerning which is which and that can be applied as early as the page with the various artist call announcements loads on our computer screen.
One of the first things that may hit one when commencing the hunt for artist opportunities is their large quantity. The landscape of artist opportunities, or artist calls, posted online is so vast that one can easily be overwhelmed and confused as to where they would be best advised to focus and where to apply, especially when they are aware that many of these announcements represent "opportunities" one should rather avoid. Confusion can lead to indecisiveness that at times can be paralyzing leading one to call the whole thing of, or at least postpone it (which often is very much the same thing). But even if one does persist, failing to make an initial sifting from the get go, in order to determine which announcements are worth clicking through and eventually applying to, one may find him/herself virtually swamped into an ocean of adds that they feel compelled to look into one by one (that is, click through the announcement and go through the details of each one on their respective page). This results in squandering valuable resources, namely time, money (if during this process one happens to be lured into paying a fee), and, maybe most importantly, tranquility of mind.
The ability to single out which artist calls are worthy of your attention from the very start becomes even more important yet for one more reason: The majority of the calls happen to be on the “dark” side of the spectrum: They could be described as misleading baits representing opportunistic ventures. At least this is how I came to realize after a year of consistently submitting work, and spending a lot of my time and energy forging through this vast field of “opportunities”. Getting better and better in spotting the misleading calls from the get go gave me the advantage of being able to focus and be more productive in the often tedious but necessary process of submitting work.
After this first stage of excluding the artist calls that are no more than “noise”, a skill that in time should become second nature, one can invest their resources
on the opportunities that matter.Of course, in this process, the individual goals and aspirations of an artist come into play too. If the most desirable thing for an artist is to populate his/her CV with exhibitions, artist residencies, features, etc., regardless of their value, then this whole discussion may probably seem as irrelevant. Here I address the problem that one may face when they are interested in the quality of the artist calls they respond to as well as in not spending their resources in identifying the few worthy opportunities. Also, it is considered as a given that an essential first determining factor when singling out the opportunities that are good for us is the particular field or practice we identify with: A sculptor will exclude the artist calls addressed to painters, a video artist will exclude those addressing performance artists, etc. So this natural excluding factor is here taken for granted and not as part of the “problem” to be solved.
I found that just as is often the case with people, here also, aesthetic qualities can be indicative of matters of essence.
What more than anything else gives out
a “false" opportunity is poor aesthetic.This is very convenient for our purposes, because it means that we can get rid of a great deal of these calls with practically no more than one glance at the artist call list. Bad aesthetic though is not the only indicator. Also, bad aesthetic goes further than just hair rising color combinations, poor quality of photos used in the add, or tacky terminology.
Here is a complete list of what I consider to be the basic indicators of α “bad call” that one can train themselves to identify practically with one glance:
Steering clear of the traps set up by self-proclaimed "professionals" of the art world is not an easy thing. After all, this is their bread and butter and they are expert in misleading artists, usually by using their “weaknesses”, namely, ambition, vanity, and sometimes even despair.The above “red lights” identified are most probably not the only ones you should be looking out for, nor is this supposed to be a watertight method, guaranteed to keep you safe from tripping over during this complicated process of getting your work out there. It is nevertheless a good start in training your “artist nose”, and hopefully a good tool in the process of submitting work, and communicating it in a way that is right for you.
So next time you click on a site listing artist calls perform this test: See how many you can strike off your list in 15''. Try it the next time as well. If you are doing things right and training your “nose”, soon you should be able to exclude more and more in less time, zoning out the unnecessary “noise” more effectively and saving your valuable resources for a handful of “gems”. And even then it is good to keep in mind that a gem too may have dark spots and often we can’t have the good without also getting a taste of the bad.
The key here is to keep trying to get closer to what we believe is good for us, and at the same time avoid setting unrealistic standards that can eventually fill us with cynicism and make the whole venture of getting our work out into the world more arduous than it should be.