Saturday, October 20, 2012

Taking AIM! The Business of Being an Artist Today

“This social cherry-picking is a valid strategy…”

Two years after I moved, people still ask whether I miss New York. I always respond by contrasting life in the Bronx with tourism in Manhattan and the hipster art scene in Brooklyn. My sole regret about moving out of my apartment in the Bronx is that I never had a chance to participate in the Artists in the Marketplace program run by the Bronx Museum of the Arts. I was delighted, then, to discover Taking AIM! The Business of Being an Artist Today (Fordham University Press, 2011, Ed. Marysol Nieves), a book marking its 30-year history of promoting professional development through guest speakers, peer-to-peer studio visits, etc. As I started reading, I wondered if I made a mistake by leaving (prompted by the realization that I shared a glass of wine with one of the two artists interviewed in the introduction after blogging about a book she wrote, and also for my blog, I interviewed one of the three artists from the first chapter). As I settle into my new life in a city with an approximate population of 53,000, it was good to read artist Whitfield Lovell say, “The most significant moments in my career happened when I left New York” (p. 28) and to read Steven Rand from apexart express the need to send New York-centric individuals to remote regions of the world for a broader perspective.

Though partly celebratory, Taking AIM! should in no way be perceived as navel-gazing. Its advice to artists has universal application. Like other professional development books for artists, it emphasizes (repeatedly) that being an artist is hard work. As is typical of these guides, it deconstructs the art world—which collector Dennis Scholl rightly calls a subculture—through multiple perspectives. The content is organized by roles, such as art critic, which is useful if an artist wishes to bolster one section within a CV or foster a particular relationship. This social cherry-picking is a valid strategy, as seen in the advice of, for example, collector Ella Fontana Cisneros to develop a relationship with curators before gallerists, or in the chapter on art fairs, which stresses that gallery representation precedes art fair participation.

As a librarian who conducts collection development in the arts, I always ask whether there is a need for the latest artist guide. The answer is in gallery director Paula Ha’s comment: “Much has changed in the art world, but in some ways, much has not changed at all” (p. 60). In other words, advice on, say, applying for grants and residencies already exists in written form, but there’s always something new to add. At this moment in time, newness is summed up by a cartoon in the introduction of a present day Leonardo da Vinci looking at his laptop and being perplexed that Michelangelo wants to be his friend. The final chapter of the book is entirely devoted to social media, something that was only mentioned in passing in artist guides a few years ago. Curiously, in this chapter, professionals’ comments from separate interviews are cobbled together in the imagined transcript of a single discussion, but it works well, as does the book overall.

Another fantastic resource, also at the end of the book, is the timeline of art events and global news (with bold and regular type differentiating the two). Interdisciplinary educators will appreciate that it highlights art’s role as a social barometer. It reveals, for example, that Keith Haring’s Crack is Wack mural in New York coincided with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and that Nelson Mandela was freed from jail the same year that African artists began exhibiting at the Venice Biennale. It would be nice to see more coverage of Canadian content besides the development of NAFTA* and CAFKA**, especially since content relevant to Canada is included (for example, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage is included, but the surge of weddings of gay American couples in Canada is not). This presumably unintentional editing out of Canadian content is the very reason I submitted work to two exhibitions about reproductive rights this year in the US: to emphasize parallel politics. In the same way that I don’t think Canadians as a whole imagine life in the different boroughs of NYC to differ substantially, I don’t think Americans as a whole realize how deeply connected Canadians feel to their politics. Let me assure you, though, the meme ‘binders full of women’ was discussed all the way up in North Bay at the reference desk this week.

*Not that I don't appreciate the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is, after all, the mechanism through which I was employed in the US.
**Contemporary Art Forum, Kitchener + Area

Image: reproduced in 2019 via fair use/dealing. Source:

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