Editor’s Note: We received the following “Dear Universe” letter in our inbox and we are publishing it here with the author’s permission.
I don’t pretend I have figured out what art is, and with the same non-existing deception, in addition to my rebellion against the intellectual arrogance that plagues some of my fellow students, I admit not to really care. Even though something inside of me twists and shouts “Liar!” Well, maybe if I tell myself I don’t care enough times I will start believing it.
It’s a bit idiotic to endure three years of a Masters in Fine Arts degree not even knowing the exact definition of the subject in which you are becoming a master. Every other major/career carries the strength of their title in the definition of the work you will be doing and the desired outcome of such scholastic endeavor. For example, you go to medical school to become a doctor, to treat and cure people’s physical and sometimes mental ailments. You go to law school to become a lawyer, to argue before a judge and a jury — assuming the defendant is as bad as it’s claimed and set him behind bars — or to let him loose to either have his own conscience sink him into despair or have his villainy boast on the error Miss Justice, blind fold and all, have committed. OKAY, I acknowledge even such professions have their gray shades of “what, what?” But, not in the same philosophical way art does. Because the only people that agree on what art is are the people who have no idea what art is, and Thomas K[inkade] collectors.
The lack of clarity surrounding the word lead me to discover the disconnect that exists between the “real world” and the art world. In the “real world” people go to the Louvre on their way to the Eifel Tower and tear a little when they see the “Mona Lisa” for the first time, then jerk away darting right pass “Liberty Leading the People” when someone mentions fresh baguettes are coming out of the oven of the bakery around the corner. With such a cultural experience engraved in their souls, bless their hearts, they are now experts on what art is. Consequently, as they walk into places such as the Whitney Museum (which they only ventured in because they heard cultured people go there) wearing overpriced t-shirts featuring the green lady on Liberty Island, they utter indignant whispers “This is not art!” or “My five year old could have painted that!” as de Kooning turns in his grave and Rirkrit Tiravanija starts twitching somewhere not far. Such eloquent art criticism fills my ego with terror and the realization, I’m doomed.
Then, I look at my own art show in front of the dean’s office, a mangled mess of objects and ideas giving out passive aggressive vibes, and I think, “What the hell am I going to do when I graduate?” And the practical “me” starts to worry, and hear the voices in my head from the old lady in the farmers’ market, my brother-in-law, and many others, “What are you going to do with art?” This echoes in my mind and it’s followed by the image of frowning faces showing sincere concern or arrogant pity. With fickle conviction, if such thing is possible, I decide I will go back to my studio and start making art under the “real-world’s” definition of it. I will make pretty objects that will charm and appeal to the viewer’s emotions, cover them with bliss, beauty and the pretense life is a wonderful fairy tale full of color, light and fluffy kittens and then they will rip their wallets open and shower me with the fruits of their labors in exchange for an object with the power to take them out of their miserable lives for two seconds without any thought required, free of any self-inquisitive pain. Spoon-fed by corn and cheese people will be able to sustain a thoughtless life, and as of myself, after obtaining financial security and the praise and love of a crowd of “looky loos,” I‘ll only wish to die by lack of self-respect and shame. How wonderful!
Or, I could kill the crafter within me by chopping my finger off and shouting to the heavens “Objects are evil!” And make art worth displaying in the art world. In such realm the very question “what is art?” is a monstrous stigma, and to let your lips voice such words only proves you are as ignorant as a door knob and as stupid as an ostrich. It’s a land common folk do not tread and if you dare say “This is not art” you will be immediately booted out, followed by the copy of the latest Nicholas Sparks novel you carry under your armpit in case you get bored. But I dare say under artistic death penalty, art there is Business. And these are a few art appraising questions artists should keep in mind: Who do you know? (If they’re not VIP, don’t even mention them.) Which blog, magazine, newspapers have written about you? Do you wear purple pointy shoes at your show openings or smoke long thin cigarettes? Most important of all questions — Did it rain at your debut in Chelsea? (Some of the info and opinions were gathered in the book Seven Days In the Art World, read and discussed in the Business Practices class)
Yes, I’m generalizing, perhaps among the lemmings that plunge into burning their millions on whatever the “experts” say is “it” exists an alternative dimension where different kind of art lovers dwell, the ones who appreciate art with their hearts and minds, not merely with their eyes or wallets. But, where are they? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the Gagosians hired Greenbergians to beat them all to death.
In this noodle salad, of rotten cheese and fancy martini olives, I drown in the chaos of my own biases and assumptions mixed with reality. I want to kick and shout, but here’s what I do instead, I wake up in the morning, skip breakfast, put my red lipstick on and go to my studio. I get my ancient white MacBook (I make sure I put a textbook between my lap and the computer, or it burns my left leg right above the knee), go online check my email, then delete the 23 unread junk emails that in a bizarre way make me feel popular and loved by their sheer number. Then I check my Facebook to know what fun things my friends are doing this summer that I’m not, because I’m supposed to be making art. Then, I type an “n” in the navigation bar that magically fills in the rest of the link; I click on a reality TV show, the kind that people have to survive in the jungle by eating maggots and snakes. When I’m done I turn off the lights and lock the door.
With lots of cynicism,
An Art Student in Training to Sell Her Soul or Wait Tables (aka Camila Nagata)