photo collage C. Ascher
“Academics are killing the arts!”
Most recently, I heard this complaint from an artist who is suddenly being refused admission to exhibitions in a gallery that up to now has eagerly represented her art. Why was she refused, she asked? She was told that her artist’s statement was too vague. “But I’m a painter,” she complained, “everything I have to say is in the painting!” This concept seemed to stymie the curator.
I read the exhibition requirements. The gallery’s request for submission documents seems to expect the artists to articulate the exhibition’s concept through their statements about their work. It’s as if the curators come up with impressive-sounding catch phrases for their exhibitions but then rely on the artists to flesh these out convincingly. I suspect more and more that many so-called curators can’t ‘read’ the art they see at all unless words decipher it for them.
I see this as a symptom of a widespread problem: in Quebec anyway, people who run galleries in the public sector compete for grants or status based on their curatorial concepts (or on their academic alliances). The concepts are so specialized that only the artists who’ve mastered the specific ‘art-speak’ being used are admitted, regardless of the qualities of their art.
So I say:
J’accuse! I accuse curators running grant-dependant exhibitions of dog paddling in the art waters, relying on fancy words to provide them with a life jacket.
J’accuse! I accuse granting agencies of reducing dependant galleries and their curators to circus performers, forcing them to greater and greater feats of word-based contortionism to continue operating. The ones that survive do so on a very narrow, conceptual tight rope.
J’accuse! I accuse art education post-secondary degrees of miring the image in words, as if images aren’t ‘conceptual’ by their very nature, and simultaneously creating a quagmire so extensive only those who can operate in the virtual realm can now venture in safely.
Of course there have to be standards, of course there has to be a high level of ‘discourse’ but tone the language down and open your eyes gallery people! Be clear but flexible not fortified and defended. You run art galleries, not forts or universities.