Friday, June 10, 2005

The center of the art universe

A question often arises in the world of contemporary art, "Is New York still the place where artists' careers are made or broken? Does an artist have to live in the city, or at least frequent the many galleries and museums there in order to stay on top of the art scene in America (and by extension, the world)? Is New York City, in effect, the center of the art universe?"
I propose that a more relevant question would be, "Does the art universe need a center?"
Most of us know, and budding artists quickly learn, that networking among peers is essential to establishing and maintaining a career in art. This usually meant going to galleries and museums of contemporary art, visiting other artists' studios, trying to get work assisting artists, joining trade groups, etc. But, while there is no substitute for meeting someone face to face, I would argue that it is becoming more and more acceptable to establish a working relationship with someone you've never met. It is not only the advent of the internet and cell phones that has pushed this trend, but simple demographics as well. There are just more people, and not all of them can, or choose to, live in cities like New York. It is also quite feasible for an artist to travel wherever they need to be- even an international flight is relatively easy to manage.
But it is not just the artist who needs to make connections in the community. What of the collectors- the support of whom the artist cannot survive without? There is an expectation that if you want to find and buy art from someone "up and coming," or at the peak of their career, you will seek them out in New York. If someone doesn't show in New York, they are nobodies- or, as is common with folk art here in the South, they are labeled "outsider art." There has been a presumption that an artist can't realize national or international fame without the stepping stone of NYC. This may have been based in reality at one point, but to continue this belief is delusional isolationism.
Yes, New York's art scene is still extremely relevant, and most artists who gain widespread recognition will have their work shown in its galleries at some point. But it is no longer a de facto precondition for success. Much more important is for an artist to take advantage of the resources in their own community. Networking can happen anywhere there are other people with an interest in art. There are galleries, museums, arts councils, and schools everywhere, and if someone is willing to take an active role in their community, connections will be made. It may happen more slowly than in New York City. It may mean more frequent travel as an artist's career outgrows that locale. It may eventually lead to New York City. But a successful art career can find nourishment anywhere the artist is willing to work at it.

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