Holly Solomon Criticizes My ArtThe lecture hall of the art museum was standing room only for what was sure to be a lively discussion. Despite over 1,000 entries from 12 states the juror of the 20th Joslyn Biennial was not impressed. The juror thought of us as uneducated and that our art would not even be considered acceptable in the world of art she lived in.
Her Juror’s Statement read: “it is apparent to me that these talented artists have little or no reference to the vocabulary associated with contemporary art and therefore very little possibility of achieving work which would be considered acceptable in an art historical reference. It is a great hope that this community, both the financial and intellectual, will support this institution and its staff in order to further educate the intellectual/artistic community”
Since many of the pieces she chose to exhibit were from university art professors and Bemis Foundation artists, it wasn’t long before someone challenged her opinion. In the ensuing dialog I sensed that she was genuinely interested in helping us understand her point of view. And her point of view needed to be carefully considered. She was Holly Solomon, an important collector of contemporary art and founder of the Solomon Gallery in New York City. And New York City was where art was sold, made, defined, and legitimized.
However, it became personal when she spoke specifically about my painting: “Don't get me wrong the work in the show is very well done, but my god, someone painted a cornfield”. I had been used as an example of someone who didn’t understand and whose art was not acceptable in her contemporary art world.
|Same message but a new technique|
A New DirectionRather than defend myself with my credentials and artwork, I challenged myself to re-examine everything I thought I knew. I studied what the art critics wrote, both past and present. I was determined not to be a “Sunday Painter” having no clue as to the meaning of fine art in a contemporary world.
I came to the conclusion that new media had assumed most of art’s traditional functions and the common man cares little for the theories, art, and events done in the name of contemporary art. The art world was obsessed with their theories, their message, with being the first to do something different. They were creating art for themselves. I came to believe what Francis Shaefer said:
Only when the technique matched the world view being presented could it be considered great art.Armed with a new technique to wrap my theory in my new work was a hit and attracted an art representative with connections. I was even accepted into a Minneapolis Art Gallery without them even looking at my work. I saw the promotion of my art and art as one. The more outlandish my work and promotion the more successful I became. But I realized that I needed to live and work in New York City if I was ever to attain my goal. With little money and 2 young children this was something I was unable to do. I put my art career on hold for the next 20 years and concentrated on a professional career that had nothing to do with the art world.
The Mating Dance of the Artist
The “time off” from making and thinking about art was good for me as it gave me a perspective on life and art I would not otherwise have understood. I realized that the artist wishing to make a name for himself in the fine art world really has little choice but to live and work in New York City and do the mating dance described in Tom Wolfe's book “The Painted Word”:
“Because he could close his eyes and try to believe that all that mattered was that he knew his work was great… and that other artists respected it… and that History would surely record his achievements… but deep down he knew he was lying to himself. I want to be a name, goddamn it! – at least that, a name on the lips of museum curators, gallery owners, collectors… even the journalists!”
And here my dear readers is the mating dance:
- The Boho Dance, in which the artist shows his stuff within the circles, coteries, movements, isms, of the home neighborhood, Bohemia itself, as if he doesn’t care about anything else; as if, in fact, he has a knife in his teeth against the fashionable world uptown.
- The Consummation, in which culturati from that very same world, le monde, scout the various new movements and new artists of Bohemia, select those who seem the most exciting, original, important, by whatever standards–and shower them with all the rewards of celebrity.
Holly Solomon saved my artistic life by making me realize what was required if I wanted to live and work in her world. But I have rejected the path that so many take. Instead -
I have made a deliberate choice to live and paint in obscurity far from the art world. Without the pressure to sell or exhibit I am truly free to paint according to my own vision and convictions.
Maybe I have attained the modern ideal of an artist described by Tom Wolfe:
“The poor but free spirit, plebeian but aspiring only to be classless, to cut himself forever free from the bonds of the greedy and hypocritical bourgeoisie, to be whatever the fat burghers feared most, to cross the line wherever they drew it, to look at the world in a way they couldn’t see, to be high, live low, stay young forever-In short, to be the Bohemian.”