In the following quotation from William B. Irvine’s book on Stoic philosophy A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, substitute the phrase “the art world’s approval” or “art world status” for every instance of the phrase “social status” to understand my purpose in posting this. My emphasis.
“Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. But if we seek social status [the art world's approval] we give other people power over us: we have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavour. Epictetus therefore advises us not to seek social status [the art world's approval], since if we make it our goal to please others, we will no longer be free to please ourselves. We will, he says, have enslaved ourselves.
If we wish to retain our freedom, says Epictetus, we must be careful, while dealing with other people, to be indifferent to what they think of us. Furthermore, we should, in other words, be as dismissive of their approval as we are of their disapproval. Indeed, Epictetus says that when others praise us, the proper response is to laugh at them…”
“… Marcus [Aurelius] agrees with Epictetus that it is foolish for us to worry about what other people think of us and particularly foolish for us to seek the approval of people whose values we reject. Our goal should therefore be to become indifferent to other people’s opinions of us. He adds that if we can succeed in doing this, we will improve the quality of our life.
Notice that the advice that we ignore what other people think of us is consistent with the Stoic advice that we not concern ourselves with things we can’t control. I don’t have it in my power to stop other people sneering at me, so it is foolish spending my time trying to stop them. I should instead, says Marcus, spend this time on something I have complete control over, namely, not doing anything that deserves a sneer…“
Any of this ringing any bells, artists?
(ART AND ETIQUETTE)
While going through my books and trying to find some background information for a looming proposal deadline, I naturally encountered numerous opportunities for displacement activities, dithering and procrastination. One of these distractions was a slim book called ‘I like your work: art and etiquette’, which was published in 2009 by New York’s Paper Monument, who seem like fairly decent coves. The book itself was given to me by somebody (thanks, Ruth!) who said it reminded her of my book.
Like pretty much anything that comes out of New York, it’s sometimes New York-centric to the point of absurdity, but both publications definitely have in common a distinct exasperation and frustration that arty people so often act like complete tools. And there’s no art world tool like a New York art world tool.
Anyway, it’s worth buying and checking out in full- support indie artists and small publishers, etc.- but I thought I’d pull a few gems out from it, if only as a way of putting off the actual work I’m supposed to be doing right now.
“If you’re a skinny artist, be clean and neat. If you’re a fat artist, be crazy looking and dishevelled. Not sure why, but this seems to work best. Negative comments about an artist’s work at their opening is the equivalent of taking a shit on someone’s birthday cake at their fortieth birthday party. The proper thing to do is to save your negative comments as an anonymous blog post!” Ryan Steadman. Continue reading
OR: WHY ARE YOU WRITING?
“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind”
George Orwell, Why I Write
Orwell was giving some background on the concepts and thinking behind his most famous works, most obviously the deployment of language by the ruling classes as a weapon to divide and exploit workers in Animal Farm, and the totalitarian Newspeak engineered by the Big Brother state of 1984. The application to literary and art criticism should also be obvious, however, especially if you’ve read some of my other demolitions of artbollocks on this site. For the especially dense, though- the writers of this press release, this curator’s gloss and this artist’s statement, for example- I’ll try rephrasing it: art world language is designed to make artists sound authentic and stupidity intelligent, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind. Continue reading
The book from which this blog originates- also called, with irrefutable logic, CAREER SUICIDE- is available this month and next month (only) for 15% off its usual price. This new price will be valid in whatever currency is your native one. I’m sort of celebrating the book’s upcoming first birthday. I know it’s a bit weird to go beyond the whole “books are the author’s children” thing to the point where we’re celebrating their birthdays, but then I have to look at everybody’s damn pictures of their children doing mind-bendingly tedious child stuff on Facebook so I think it more than balances out. You love your shrieking rug rats, I love my book, OK?
Anyway, in the context of my current writing about La Biennale di Venezia’s 2011 effort, what better opportunity to read about my experiences of showing my own work at the 2005 Biennale? It wasn’t even all bad. Read also about what’s really going on at Frieze Art Fair (clue: it has very little to do with art), passive aggressive ninja interview techniques of Japanese art professors, what happens when an artist refuses to be a cheerleading sock puppet for the Chinese government, the benefits for an artist of having all their old work set on fire, and more. 276 pages of my personal stories about the pleasures gained, the lessons learned and the really fucking annoying realities of the art world.
Why do some artists spend their whole careers doing stupid stuff like mutilating mannequins or painting old bits of wood with baffling phrases? Why does everyone in the art world get paid, apart from the artists? Why do most students spend years doing their MA, closely followed by them doing sweet FA? Who are the HoWiAs, and what the hell do they think they’re doing? How and why did a bunch of paintings that looked like vandalised portraits of SpongeBob Squarepants get taken so seriously as an international art fair?
‘Career Suicide: Ten Years as a Free Range Artist’ was and indeed still is my book about the realities of working in the art world for most professional artists, the thousands of unfashionable, underpaid and little-known ones who have to do all manner of unfashionable, underpaid and little-known things to survive. You should buy it, it’s really great because I’m a really excellent writer and I’m much more interesting than most of the boring old tools who write books about art. Continue reading