Sunday, May 24, 2009

The ugly duckling

"Who knows how many egos are stroked by moments of artist awkwardness?"

Yesterday I took the 6 train to Soho to look at Jean-Michel Basquiat shirts for a friend at Uniqlo, which is a fabulous Japanese clothing store. I wondered what the artists who are now household names would make of the merchandise that their work inspired. It's often the artists who are the ugly ducklings of their time that become venerated in this way: Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, the list goes on. Would they not give a second thought to all the fuss, would they think it's too little too late, or would they delight in being a posthumous celebrity?

This train of thought persisted as I walked through the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibition, feeling a bit envious at seeing artist upon artist fitting perfectly into his or her category (artists are organized under painting, sculpture, etc.). My work never feels quite at home in the category of fibre art because it doesn't use traditional techniques other than embroidery. Since the cocoons aren't entirely in the round, they never feel entirely like sculpture either. When I had a booth at Toronto's equivalent of the Washington Square show, more than once, the first thing out of someone's mouth was a quizzical, "What ARE these?" Fortunately, the curator who asked that immediately said he loved them, which undid a lot of the damage of hearing a stumped passerby follow the question of 'What are these?' up with, "But, I mean, what are they FOR? Are they pillows or something?" and walking away in frustration. Perhaps it's the better position to be the ugly duckling than the swan. Ultimately, what's important to me is making the work.

Although I had a great time wandering around Manhattan, the ugly duckling feeling seemed to follow me. I stopped by The Strand for their art book sidewalk sale (incidentally, I felt a surge of nationalist pride when I heard one customer rave about the Marcel Dzama catalogue she had just purchased). I'm certain that the man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt on a bad day thought I was interested in him, as I kept hovering around the corner where he was leafing through books. In truth, I didn't want to ask him to shift so that I could see the book of naked baby photos any more than I wanted to admit to waiting for the book on bridal clothing, both as references for my artwork. Who knows how many egos are stroked by moments of artist awkwardness? As artists, we want to affect people and enrich their lives. And if Brad Pitt's inferior doppelganger left feeling like a swan, all I can conclude is...mission accomplished.

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