I’ve been a media artist for more than twenty years. My work is most often shown in group screenings at festivals. While I attended a name school and have had a number of solo screenings at art institutions and cinema venues, I’ve never had a solo gallery or museum exhibition that was up for any duration. I got rejected from some grant applications shortly after graduating and decided not to waste my energy pursuing them. Last week, an artist friend forwarded info for a grant that he thinks would fund a new video installation project I’ve been wanting to do in an unrented storefront property. The FAQ says that the grant is for “emerging artists,” which I feel instantly disqualifies me. My friend and my wife both insist that I count. How can I be an “emerging artist” if I’ve been showing work for so long?
Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? You’ve been riding alone on that high lonesome trail for two decades, making costly and unsellable work without financial support from the powers that be. It is honorable that you have persevered. Many artists lack your tenacity, and those who chase money often go soft. However, your hard-fought independence may be the very reason that you can’t get your foot in the door.
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The term “emerging artist” is indeed tricky because it sounds like code for a young artist. But it can also apply to artists of all ages who haven’t caught a break. Your ego may not let you see it, but after screening your work for audiences of eight or fewer people for over twenty years, you are basically under the radar. Group shows can be galvanizing, and they build up an impressive resume, but they are not the attention equivalent of a museum exhibition or a ridiculous limited-edition Platinum American Express card like the ones designed by Kehinde Wiley and Julie Mehretu. Once you recognize that your name isn’t recognizable to jurors who sit on grant panels, you may discover that there is money awaiting you on the other side of their constantly crashing online portals.
Don’t forget that working your connections is one major factor in getting grants, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It isn’t necessary to start getting all sleazy and networky, but do make sure your supporting papers include an abundance of references, names, and venues that will catch a juror’s eye. Your associations must be at least as strong as your password-protected Vimeo links. And make sure to let those who support your work know that you are applying, because they may very well be having a torrid affair with someone at the foundation who can push your application to the top of the pile.
I need to know the truth: Is art criticism dead?
Was this submission occasioned by the photo of Jerry Saltz and Beeple you saw on Instagram? You may view art and writing about it as inextricably linked, but the reality is that most art is never written about at all. So much of the writing out there covers the same artists, shows, and institutions repeatedly. If you’re asking about the prospect of having a paid career as an art critic with a respectable platform, then yes, art criticism is most likely dead. If you accept that there are more opportunities to self-publish than ever before, and a bigger pool of potential readers, then it is sort of alive. An article published online won’t sit around like a Peter Schjeldahl article that you eventually read in the bathroom six months later, but it could land a top spot on the fifth page of an undergrad’s late-night Google search. If you’re lucky, they might even honor you by plagiarizing your writing in the paper they have due in the morning.
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