These days the worlds of my leisure and professional reading have converged in the book “Seven Days in the Art World” by Sarah Thornton. She examines the art world from seven different perspectives—the auction, the “crit,” the fair, the prize, the magazine, the studio visit and the Biennale. She immerses herself in each of these situations as a proverbial “fly on the wall” before diving into the action of each one, interacting face to face with those involved, asking them broad questions about the indefinable and unpredictable nature of the art world—the creation, the exchange, the competition, and the nurturing of artwork. The result is an entertaining and enlightening read for people like me who lurk somewhere outside each of the venues she explores. As an appraiser, that really is where I see myself—lurking nearby these venues but not usually a direct participant in them. In fact, if I am doing my job well, I am an observer, analyzer and reporter on the art market, not a manipulator of it. And yes, in case you are wondering, I do strive to do my job well.
I digress. The real point of this post is to share a fascinating observation in it made by Michael Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths. (Goldsmiths is arguably the most forward-thinking, go-against-the-grain art school in the UK.) Craig-Martin observes that artists need “friendships with an in-built critique . . . if you look at the history of art, all the Renaissance artists knew their contemporaries. So did the impressionists. There was a moment in their lives when they were all friends or acquaintances. The cubists were not simply individual geniuses. Their greatest works happened in conjunction. Who was van Gogh’s best friend? Gaugin.”
This observation challenges the view of an artist as an isolated genius—or madman/madwoman in some cases. I agree with Craig-Martin–there seems to be something energizing and electrifying about creative minds working in tandem. His words also dovetail* nicely with the energy behind a group of area artists I have come to grow quite fond of on a personal level. It’s a group which gathers weekly to sketch together and then to unwind over a few drinks afterward. Some of them earn their living with their artwork, others pursue it in addition to a day job. Although no formal critique is built into their time together, all of them seem to understand the value of Craig-Martin’s belief in the need for a certain amount of artistic camaraderie to spur individual artistic development.
Artists, I ask, who are your artistic comrades? Have you allowed yourself to be critiqued by a fellow artist lately?
The drawing group I mention happens to have a Facebook page. You can check it out here.
*A side note–the term “dovetail” was forever ingrained in my mind by Michael Fitzgerald, history professor at St. Olaf College in the 1990s. He helped me learn everything I know about the American Civil Rights movement and coached me as I dove into the microfiche reels containing the SNCC papers at the University of Minnesota in 1995. The research I produced was recognized by a dear historian who has since passed away, Duane Matz at Augustana College. These men did much to foster my love of history. Which, as you might imagine, “dovetailed” nicely into the study of art history when the time was right. Couldn’t help myself on that one.