Art World Hype

Fascinating article in today’s New York Times about art world hype. The story centers around graduate art students who are selling their work quickly to hungry dealers and investors. <Read: Get in cheap while they’re still unknowns.> Heads of art schools don’t like this a bit, but, seemingly, ignore that the commercial side of the art world exists at all.

The dilemma: How do you let students take the time to develop their work without having the stress of selling it?

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8 comments to Art World Hype

  • Read this post a while ago, went into my studio, and had some thoughts pop into my head. The hype over youth is not new–I’m thinking of artists like Eva Hesse and Cindy Sherman (two artists whose work I admire). It is what it is–we live in a very trend-obsessed culture. Fact of the matter is, it’s not a concern for the average art student. It’s like applying the concerns of Hollywood stars to the rest of us. New York hype does not really apply to the majority of artists. For me, graduate school was a great time to develop my work, full of long blissful hours in the studio. That said, art schools should pay more attention to the commercial side of art. Too many art students feel blind-sided upon leaving art school. I really enjoy the nice blend of practical information and theoretical questions you post on this blog.

  • Thanks for posting – interesting article. It may be about grad students in NY, but the concept is still relevant – Lisa Call and I were discussing something similar last weekend in Philadelphia. We both agreed that we are at a stage in our work that we’re not focusing on selling, in fact not even that interested. School or not, utimately you will always have to decide what is right for you at the time.

  • The New York Times writer misses a big point. There are thousands of MFA students graduating every year in painting alone. This article singled out the extremely rare experience of a dozen or so students. The casual reader though would come away from the article thinking young artists are routinely corrupted by commercialism of art dealers insatiable lust for their work . Of course having big name art dealers crawling through one’s work would confuse and disorient most young artists. But I think the danger of this is a less than the peril they face from being hit by metiorites.

  • Sorry for the typos in the above comment.

  • Good point, Philip. Don’t you think they’re primarily talking about only a few schools in the NYC vicinity: Columbia and Yale being the ones that stick out? Here’s my question: What does that mean for the rest of students in the country? As a teacher, what does that mean for your students? Does it leave them opportunity or, as some caution, should you ignore the ambitious collectors?

  • When I attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York (1984-85), it cost my father an exorbitant amount of money- it must have been something like $25,000cad for tuition, boarding, airplanes & limos…I later transferred back to the Canadian system- Mcgill University in Montreal cost about $450.00cad per term… What I am saying is this- those art students attending say, Yale University in New Haven, are, well, rich…Buying their work is an investment in connections…I don’t think this is about art…I think this is about money…a little bit about power-because who knows which student will be a future president? Notice the article spends its time looking at financial concerns rather than aesthetic ones?

  • I believe the big pressure on graduating MFA artists is the same as is faced by artists in general, namely the tendency of the art world to ignore you to death. There are some MFA students who will get confused in their direction in the unlikely situation of a collector finding his or her way into the graduate studios. But a much more likely scenario that graduating MFA artists have to struggle against is finding that after graduation they have no audience for their work at all. Along with deep financial problems this also deals a hard blow to their confidence and enthusiasm. My art school does organize a once a year open studio tour of the graduate MFA studio designed to bring some potential collectors in contact with our MFA students. A few pieces actually sell. I think the benefits of this studio tour far outweigh the dangers. All artists have to grow their inner vision to make work that has lasting quality, but to continue to be able to make art one also has to craft a relationship between their inner vision and the outside world. There are steps artists can take to make their situation more tenable- that is the whole point Alyson is making with her webiste. Sooner or later every artist confronts the need to make this balance between creative work and marketing work for them. At some point the artist has to start meeting the public.

  • I have two concerns about art school that weigh much more heavily for me than being exposed to dealers at an immature stage. The first is that it seems to me that younger art students are quite likely to be unduly influenced by their profs and their peers… I’ve known a lot of art students whose lack of originality in their work was a result of, well, essentially seeking approval and seeking to fit in. I feel that art school is something best left till later in a career when the artist has developed their own style and seeks to refine their chops in the technical aspects of their work. The other concern is mentioned in the article, and that is the fact that most art schools do not include much business and marketing training. If you’re going to art school to become a career artist, it’s important to learn this stuff. I have a lot of friend who went to great art school (SAIC, etc) made great art, and then wound up giving it up because they couldn’t figure out how to pay the bills. If I were going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for art school, I’d certainly want to feel there was a chance I could pay off my student loans at the end of it without having to go into a non-arts job. But I’m biased somewhat. I didn’t go to college because I was too eager to get out and start working right away. It worked out for me, but wouldn’t be the path for everyone. What I most feel I missed out on by skipping school was the connections, shows, tools and again, the connections that can be made at schools. The exposure to people who can help you after school is often the most valuable part of education in any field. The situation discussed in the article isn’t as new as they make it sound (after all, there was Satchi, as they mention, and others , no doubt, before him). I think adding a little more career curriculum would help these students decide whether they want to run the risks of selling early or waiting for maturity.