Sunday, February 18, 2007

Inside Out (and Upside Down)

Ruminating on an Art World Malaise

Adam, a character from "Northern Exposure"
Courtesy Universal Studios

The arctic front that swept south over New England and the MidWest two weeks ago further dispirited folks already battling seasonal affective disorder, but even before Punxsutawney Phil botched his forecast at Gobbler's Knob, many of my artist friends were brooding. Since the middle of January, I've sensed a general anxiety or frustration in my bar conversations, art blog trolling, and gallery exchanges. Initially, I dismissed these vibes as transference or projection of my own doubts and uncertainties, but, in fact, my work has been going very well, and I cherish the winter months. Could it be, then, that the New York art world (and maybe the art world at large) is slogging through a mild doldrums now? I decided to ask others if they were aware of any upsurge in art world agnosticism.

Apparently, they were. One artist told me that his friends were "fed up with New York" and had begun fantasizing about "escape." Another friend, when asked what she made of such general malaise, replied "Everyone is over it now. We're all just having a really hard time." Such sentiments were expressed often, irrespective of an artist's market success. Unlike many of the artists and curators I talked to, I'm not struggling in the studio, but neither am I free of angst. Of late, I spend my studio breaks browsing property listings in Maine and New Hampshire. Looking at photographs of beautiful, undeveloped tracts just outside Bangor - available for a song! - the escape fantasies percolate. Likewise, I find myself critiquing my attempts to participate in art world reindeer games. After seven years in New York, I'm asking myself some very difficult questions. The questions aren't new, by any means, but they are more pressing.

With these uncomfortable questions foregrounded, I revisited "Inside Out," an HH post from December 2005. In that essay, I compared Outsider artists to a "less acknowledged class of art world outsider," a type that I dubbed the Insider Outsider artist. (It's an awkward term for an vague class, but it serves its purpose well enough!) This caste, I wrote, wants to be part of the art world, but they are unwilling (or unable) to schmooze - attend openings, smile handsomely, shake hands - and they don't fill the bill in terms of their work or, sometimes, their physical appearance and carriage. As a result, they remain at the scene's fringe; if they're represented by a gallery, they're likely the "other" artist.

A sub-class of Insider Outsider is comprised of those artists who, having secured a tie to the art world while living in a cultural center, retreat to a rural setting to work in seclusion. The two examples of this sub-class that I discussed in "Inside Out" were Winslow Homer and Lee Bontecou, the former a historical figure and the latter a contemporary. I chose them because both were celebrated artists prior to their relocation. Eventually, many years after their respective departures from New York City, they were again pulled into the fold, although, in Homer's case, posthumously. Lee Bontecou found creative sustenance away from the city, too, and even though the art world has reclaimed her as one of their own, interviews with the artist suggest she is still most comfortable away "from the noise, the parties and the intrigue."

In the fall of 1999, when I moved to New York, I intended to leave town after establishing a relationship with a reputable gallery. Although I realized that nurturing such a relationship would take time, I still assumed that I would be living somewhere other than New York City by my 30th birthday. Green as I was then, at 22, I nurtured the naive fantasy that, after moving to some remote New England farm, I would spend all of my time painting, writing, and enjoying the outdoors, interrupted once in a great while by a dealer visiting the studio to select works for exhibition. My direct art world participation would be limited to occasional trips to one city or another, during which I would visit galleries and museums, catch up with friends, and maybe participate in a lecture or panel.

Within a few years of arriving in New York, however, I understood just how unlikely (if not impossible) that idyll was. At first I didn't much mind; I partied and met lots of people, and lived pretty much the way any other twenty-something does when they land in the city. But, as I wrote in "Inside Out,"
"Kicking off an evening of excess with an opening can be fun, but these events, like the evenings themselves, start to blend together; if you've been to twenty openings, believe me, you've been to them all. Frankly, after six years of New York thrills, I admire more the artist who tells me she plans to skip out on an opening to get work done in the studio."
So here I sit, typing this post on a Saturday evening. I'll head back into the studio in short order and, hopefully, get some good work done before I retire for the evening. But to secure this time for myself I turned down more than one invitation to an opening or a party. It's not that I'm a misanthrope; I do enjoy the company of others, but one or two social evenings a week is ample. Those weeks when I find myself committed to four or five social evenings, I grow frustrated, and struggle to keep smiling. That frustration can quickly turn into resentment as it carries over into my studio time.

It's discouraging, then, to read articles like Sharon Reier's "Contemporary art: The new status investment," in the International Herald Tribune, or Jerry Saltz's recent Village Voice piece, "Seeing Dollar Signs: Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid?" In Reier's report, a former gallery owner and art collector lists some of the principal criteria by which emerging artists are judged by auction houses. Firstly, the collector says, these artists should be under 35 years of age. They should also be represented by a gallery with auction house recognition, have been reviewed by an established art critic, have had their works purchased by known, respected collectors, be part of a "community" - African American, gay, Jewish, Native American, etc. - and, ideally, have participated in the Venice Biennale. Granted, these criteria needn't be met for an artist to have a viable career, but reading the list I can't help but think that I've jumped the shark on the whole art thing.

I still have six years before I reach the 3-5 mark. I'd like to think that I'll be represented by a gallery and have had a review by an established critic before I reach that milestone. But I'm skeptical; I don't play the game well. As Saltz writes in his article,
"The current market feeds the bullshit machine, provides cover for a lot of vacuous behavior, revs us up while wearing us down, breeds complacency, and is so invasive that it forces artists to regularly consider issues of celebrity, status, and money in their studios."
But Saltz also points out that the burgeoning art market "allows more artists to make more money without having to work full-time soul-crushing jobs" and that "everyone is trying the best they can." True enough. When I consider my artist friends who do have promising careers in the making, I appreciate the opportunity born of a market flush with cash. They do, too. But they also enjoy the social aspects of the contemporary artist lifestyle. Me? Not so much. When I look at photographs of art world dinner parties on the Painter Paparazzi blog, I feel revulsion. If I could "make it" without ever having to attend one of these events, I'd be a happier man for it. That's nearly impossible, though, so I'm forced to return to those aforementioned, fundamental questions.

Professor Srikumar Rao asks students in his "Creativity and Personal Mastery" class at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business to compose a list of things they need, as individuals, in order to be happy. Most of the men and women taking Rao's class have already earned MBA degrees; business is their trade. You'd expect many of them to respond that financial security, if not wealth, is essential to their happiness. Perhaps because they know Professor Rao wouldn't want to hear so mercenary an answer, or perhaps because they really are on the path to enlightenment, they list more soulful needs: laughter, hugs, and sunshine.

I'm impressed, surprised, and, frankly, a little suspicious. The promising young business executives surely accept that their line of work requires them to pore over the pages of Machiavelli's The Prince more often than those of the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness. But Professor Rao goes a step further. He accepts their answers as honest, but proclaims them all wrong.
"None of this is necessary for you to be happy. None of it. Most of us function under the model we have to get something in order to do something, in order to be something. If this happens then I will be happy. And I'm suggesting to you that we live our entire lives based on that model, and that model is fundamentally flawed."
This idea isn't revolutionary, but it can still seem extreme. We don't need the support of friends and loved ones? I'm incredulous. And sunshine? I mean, c'mon, Professor Rao...unless we're content to evolve into Morlocks, we do need daylight. But my objections are beside the point. As Rao points out, "Anything you can get you can lose." In other words, if you believe you need to get this or achieve that to find happiness, you're setting yourself up for failure. Individuals who set out to find sunshine, a good laugh, or love usually find what they seek only when they stop hunting for it(1); it finds them, in fact.

One of Rao's students says, "[these ideas] reinforced a lot of what my parents taught me as a young person, but which I never believed." Indeed. In particular, I remember my parents telling me that they would love me unconditionally, but that they still expected me to work very hard to perform up to their expectations. Although I know well that they do support my decisions and that they are proud of me, it's no longer their expectations I'm worried about.

It's increasingly hard to accept anything less than our teenage aspirations. Those of us living in the industrialized First World are more entitled than ever before. Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, calls those of us born in the last three decades of the twentieth century "Generation Me." In her book, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before, Twenge suggests the ambitions of "Me'ers" are peaking "just as the world is becoming more competitive, creating an enormous clash between expectations and reality."

The two episodes of American Idol that I've watched this season focused on the audition process. I feel sorry for the rejected (and dejected) contestants, but I'm also appalled by their delusions of grandeur. When they exit the audition room without a "golden ticket" - representing passport to the next stage of the competition - their friends and family embrace them and commiserate, saying the appropriate things, often assuring them, as mine did and do, that they "still love you." (As if that was ever in question?!) Most of these rejected contestants will recover, of course, and their brief appearance on a television-show-cum-cultural-phenomenon may even become a fond memory in time, but there are some who react in a way that disturbs me. These are the truly ambitious people, those who aspire to "greatness" (or mere fame), but have put the cart before the horse. They can't sing or dance - many of them don't even look the part of a pop star - but they are determined to become "the next big thing." These are people who would do well to sit down and compile Professor Rao's list of needs, then consider his philosophy. It would do them some good and, possibly, save us all some grief. (2) But, lest I only judge, so might I benefit from Rao's exercise.

Things I need to be/remain happy in life:

- Continued experience of the Universal breath and the pneuma
- The love and support of a core group of friends that I can trust and rely on
- The love and support of my family
- A home that allows me to easily access untrammeled Nature
- Enough income from art sales (or a day job) and, more importantly, enough time to continue making art and writing

Right now, living in Queens, New York, I satisfy four of these five needs. Knowing that I will move eventually to a more rural locale, I'm happy enough with my present standing. But the list above isn't quite complete; I left off one need, neglected because I'd rather not accept it as critical to my achieving happiness. So what is this embarrassing need?

- The respect and admiration of the art world

I cringe just acknowledging it. I'm just one more ambitious "Me'er," looking to "get mine." This sense of entitlement, this belief that I will eventually succeed in the art world because I deserve to, would send Professor Rao into apopletic fits.

I've always claimed that I make art for myself, that art is a calling, a vocation, that I must heed. To some extent, that's accurate. When I must stop painting and drawing for a time, whatever the reason, I suffer from a kind of withdrawal. Worse still, when I sink into a trough period, I become a very unpleasant person, misanthropic, and judgmental. Even when my art is going well, I'll lie to friends and others in order to secure more studio time. It's also true that I'm most content when alone in the studio. In that sense, I'm a loner, and my art is made to satisfy a very personal need.

But, significantly, it is also made to communicate. I smile at the thought of another person living with - and having a "conversation" with - one of my paintings, just as I enjoy living with the work of other artists. Admittedly, collecting is a base instinct, akin to the animal desire to scent mark. Collectors proclaim their individuality by displaying their tastes and, in this sense, it's related to the act of art making itself; artists assemble their visions to better explain themselves just as collectors - and many artists are also collectors - assemble the work of others because they find something of themselves in it. Again turning to an old artist statement of mine,
"In essence, this is the stuff of art – a flawed platform with no up or down, no east or west, on which to build the self and, in turn, shape objects to explain the proposed self. Art reveals the private obsessions of the psyche and better expresses the individual’s inner fragmentation, a consequence of the ideal being at odds with the real."
The ideal being at odds with the real? I wrote that statement almost ten years ago, but it seems all too pertinent given the questions at hand. Were I to fully embrace Professor Rao's teachings, I'd leave New York City this fall. Discouraged by the social component of the art world game, staying in NYC can only further wear me down, potentially corrupting what optimism I have, an optimism rooted in experiences more often had outside the city. At the risk of sounding hokey, my spiritual life is most enriched and informed when I find myself in the woods, the marsh, or any landscape relatively free of the human footprint, or at least free of the heavy marks of human industry.

A month ago, I was inspired to revisit the television series "Northern Exposure," a program that originally aired on CBS in the early 1990s. In "Aurora Borealis: A Fairy Tale For Big People," the final episode of the first season, Dr. Joel Fleischman, the fish-out-of-water New York City doctor, meets Adam, an intensely misanthropic hermit living in the wilds of southern Alaska. Although Adam is rumored to be a Bigfoot-like monster by the townsfolk, Fleischman discovers that Adam is, in fact, an accomplished gourmet chef who, after having become disillusioned with the industry in New York, fled his previous life and landed in Alaska becoming, in Fleishman's words, "big, threatening, wild." The episode is terrific, but I found myself squirming uncomfortably as I watched it. In one scene, Adam becomes angrily jealous when he learns of the success a one-time student of his has had in the New York restaurant world. Adam may have fled the business, but he hasn't escaped his ambition. Similarly, I remain unwilling (or unable) to adjust my expectations; even if Professor Rao would have me recognize that "need" as a cancer, I'm compelled to stay put for the time being. I'm not yet enlightened. That last, embarrassing item on my happiness list remains.


(1) Most successful hunting consists of reading signs and waiting. This is true in the rest of the animal kingdom, too. There is usually a burst of chase and violence in the final moments, but hunting requires, above all else, methodical observation (using all senses) and patience. Those "hunts" in which quarry is actively pursued - fox or rabbit, for example - are really the provence of the dog and can be more accurately considered chases.

(2) Unrealized ambition in highly motivated and determined individuals can manifest itself in terrible ways. Peter Schjeldahl says most artists arrive at their vocation for three reasons: joy, revenge, and camaraderie. The first and the last are healthy, but the second? I've often argued that Adolf Hitler was one of the 20th centuries "greatest artists," despite his early failings as a painter. Rather than explain this assertion in my own words, I'll turn to the film critic Peter Bradshaw's review of "Max" in The Guardian Weekly: "The point of the movie isn't that Adolf is fatefully tempted away from a mediocre but harmless artistic career. Rather the reverse: art remains his vocation, but he reinvents it, horribly. He embraces the grotesquely higher artistic calling of popular politics, which he is to supplement with spectacle, stagecraft and hatred, fusing the kitsch bad art that comes so naturally to him with the boiling subversion of modernism..." Not that I'm particularly worried about those American Idol participants grabbing on to the shoots of fascism that are sprouting in the United States, but ambitious individuals who prove themselves impotent in one milieu often look for greener pastures, sometimes at extreme cost, and not only to themselves.


jason said...

even if Professor Rao would have me recognize that "need" as a cancer

Funny, I had this very realization about 6-8 months ago. I found it to be true that my personal drive to be an "artist," or more specifically, to pursue an "art career," was something like a cancer, more significantly contributing to misery than happiness.

I had many of the same issues that you mention (and that frequently surface on artists' personal blogs), especially the nagging guilt (or superego, I guess) that prevented me from enjoying any non-artmaking activities. It got to the point that I couldn't even enjoy a simple night at home with my wife without obsessing over lost studio time.

For me, it required an intense analysis of my own motivations for making art. This is admittedly a seemingly impossible task, if not entirely doomed from the start, and one that most artists would rather avoid (a kind of deep stare into the dark creative abyss, we're told).

Like you, I found that what I'm really interested in is communication--a kind of visual, or aural, creative communal activity that could hopefully transcend, or at least supplement, spoken or written communication. And yet, I was deliberately obfuscating my attempts at communication. I think I was buying into too many of the art world’s own myths (like its confused link between mystery and genius--a link that shows itself, among other ways, through the art world’s infatuation with certain continental philosophers). I had to stop believing in art world myths that were antithetical to my own natural purposes (especially those that ran in opposition to my political philosophy).

Once I realized that the goal of any creative activity (or anything at all, really) should be meaningful human interaction, it became easy to see that I was primarily pursuing art out of selfishness (yes, me-ism). This begged the question, why would I want to pursue meaningful interaction with an art system that is, above all else, obsessed with fame, wealth and style? Obviously I wouldn’t, which explains my unrelenting antagonism with the art system ever since I escaped graduate school 3 years ago.

My new challenge is overwhelming, but clear. How can I still pursue creative activities that engage in meaningful communication, but are inclusive instead of exclusive? How can I be creative, and make creative objects, while remaining opposed to the capitalist ethic of competition over cooperation? I’m still searching for a suitable answer, but I’m certain that the standard art-world gallery career isn’t it.

All that said, great post. But I do think you’ll be more satisfied once you finally leave the pavement for the woods. Also, why are you tying yourself in knots trying to please an art system whose goals are in direct opposition to your own? I say better to forge your own path.

Hans said...

Hyaena, you spoke from heart. Thank you. Best regards, Hans

Oly said...

Chris, I don't think dissatisfaction with NYC belongs to any particular industry, trust me.
I was told years before I moved here that the 1st and 4th years are the hardest.
The 5th is the year most move away, and the 7th... well, if you've made it that far, you're to be saluted.
Great blog as always.
My lonely lamgelina site salutes you.

PS-- Prepare for me to get competitive with your readership, for my aim is to go worldwide with my art blog dominance.
I challenge thee to an art blog duel with the coming fair weekend.

Hungry Hyaena said...

First, a general response to the emails and phone calls that I've been getting regarding this post:

If the post's tone is pessimistic or downbeat, I assure you it doesn't represent my present least, not entirely. I'm no more distressed by the system now than I was seven years ago; I just know more about myself, and about what does or doesn't suit me.

Yes, I am frustrated by some of the less pleasant - from my perspective - requisites of success in the contemporary Art World, but are they really any different than they were sixty years ago? No, but they are necessarily amplified, more acute.

The only reason I find myself again residing in a question - the city or the country? - which has resurfaced from time to time over the last fifteen years of my life is the channel marker I set in place before moving to NYC. 30 years of age. I just turned 29, and I feel the need to take stock of the situation.

I don't resent the Art World for being what it is. I'm just trying to locate myself in it...or relative to it, perhaps.

A few appropriate quotations come to mind.

"Cities force growth, and make men talkative and entertaining, but they make them artificial."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"There are natures that go to the streams of life in great cities as the hart goes to the water brooks."
- Philip G. Hamerton (contemporary writer)

"In Rome you long for the country; in the country - oh inconstant! - you praise the distant city to the stars."
- Horace (Roman poet)

All three are agreeable to me, but even if I'm tempted to agree with Emerson - fashion, for example, is something which continues to baffle and, in some sense, offend me - I long for the "stream of life in great cities" every bit as much as I do that of the country brook; Horace's remark, then, is the most applicable to my situation.

It's a problem for many folks, though, and it isn't one that need generate excessive worry from friends. When I get a note that reads, "Jesus....are you OK?," I'm taken aback and surprised. I'm the same as I ever was...just getting older and trying to peer into the crystal ball for some answers. That shit don't work too good, though.


Thank you for the thoughtful remarks. I'm not sure I'm tying myself in knots, though.

Art is just what I do. I'm not much of a "people person." Painting, drawing and writing are my modes of communication. Excepting close friends - and I'm a hard person to befriend, resistant as I am to fluid socializing - I struggle to express what I feel in personal interactions. Even with friends it can be tough.

Three years ago I actually became convinced that I had Asperger's Syndrome, and I spent months of late nights taking tests and trying to confirm my diagnosis. Frankly, from what I learned, I still can't rule it out, but I'm clearly not severely emotionally or socially retarded (I'm using the word in the medical sense, of course). I like writing because I can communicate effectively and painting/drawing because, well, just because it was my first language, and it remains the principal translator between the world of my imagination or spirit and the everyday.

The ambition was there early on, though. My sophomore year of high school I wrote in the front of my religion book (without a trace of irony), "I've connected to God by a string of semen from my cock." Alternatively, and a bit more philosophically, that string of semen can be interpreted to be the mesoteric realm, the connection between the fallible human form the spiritual - ugh, that word again - enlightenment. In that respect, I still like the statement, if only because cum, mucus and other bodily fluids are so base and, therefore, closer to the existential experience, unencumbered by so much pretense.

The choice then for me isn't one between a "gallery career" and other activities. Because painting, drawing and writing are what I do, no matter what the prospects, there is no other activity for me. A gallery career would make me plenty happy, provided I found a dealer(s) who would be sympathetic to my motivations. I don't want my hand held and I'm certainly no prima donna. I just want to make my work and not worry about the rest of it too bloody much, "it" being the Art World here, not the rest of it in the more universal sense, which is what I do want to be considering and experiencing. That sounds a little convoluted, but I'm tired....

Anyway, thanks again for your response, Jason. I hope your own ruminations are bringing you closer to meaningful, ethical communication.


Thank you for reading. Best regards, Christopher.


Thanks for the kind words. I actually don't have any beef with NYC at all. I like it here. Unfortunately, excepting the Meadowlands or Jamaica Bay, it's hard to spend much time in Nature (the Romantic wilderness as opposed to the city, which is also Nature, after all).

As for the blog wars, I'll preemptively throw in the towel on that one. HH is pretty much comprised of little blurbs or full bore essays these days. It's an either-or kinda deal.

Also working against my participation in any real art blogging relevance...I'm not going to any of the fairs this week. The fairs annoy me and I run into way too many people I know. Instead, this is a great time to hit the gallery circuit, as no one will be around. Word.

bioephemera said...

I had to let this honest post percolate in my head a while before responding. I'm dealing with this issue in my own life - but I am dead set on moving to the city immediately. I should never have come back to the country at all.

I'm with Horace, to some extent - it's human nature to want what we don't have. When I lived in Berkeley I would sometimes feel such claustrophobia, I had to drive out to the country to calm down. I became obsessive about gardening because it was my only contact with nature. I became rather antisocial because I was depressed. I thought how lovely it would be to own a piece of land.

But now I have a huge yard in a small town, a short distance from mountains and a river; I can be alone in nature quite easily; and I'm far too alone. The loneliness has, far from making me more productive, made me even more morose and depressed! There is no community of the mind here. Frankly, the Northern Exposure idyll is a charming fiction. There may be eccentric wilderness havens peopled by educated, interesting, creative people, but I'm sure I don't know where. All I see is a mini-middle America, where the construction of a new chain restaurant is the event of the year; where I can't buy paints or paper or matboard, or rent an independent film; where there is absolutely nothing to do socially except go to a chain restaurant. Hardly anyone here shares my political or social sensibilities, much less my academic interests.

You talk about going out two nights a week. . . what a dream! I'm thrilled if I can have a good conversation once or twice a month. (Sometimes they start out good - then turn into an attempt to help me get to know Jesus; or marry me off; or both). I haven't dated in. . . well, never mind that.

I have a deep need to communicate with other people; that's where I get my creative inspiration. And that's my attraction to a more competitive, high-stress environment. I honestly have no ambition, but boredom makes me a real bitch. And an unproductive bitch to boot.

I know you know what the country is like. Only people who have never lived in the country completely romanticize it; the rest of us have our moments of nostalgia, but we know it's not paradise. But you might need to remind yourself that country life is not inherently more virtuous or pure, unless you really are going to be an Adam and live in primitive, self-sufficient, dirty isolation as a strict philosophical exercise. It's often just boring out here, at least for those of us with an inquisitive streak.

When you say you want the recognition of the art world, do you mean you have adolescent dreams of accepting awards and being fawned over? I doubt it. Isn't it more of a desire to be engaged in dialogue with an informed community who are able to understand and evaluate your work? There's probably a lot of BS (I'm guessing, I've never even dipped a country toe in the urban art scene) but at least it's literate BS, right? At least if you say "I was influenced by Lee Bontecou" someone will know who the hell you mean! Don't knock that.

Anyway, when you do move out to the country, which it sounds like you eventually will, have a system in place to ensure you don't stagnate intellectually. It's just too easy to do.

Oly said...

Oh, come on, Reiger.
Your blog wins hands down any day... though it does hurt my lil' brain somewhat to process so much detail.

PS-- There's something to be said for the city's own nature as well-- recently I've found my small townness coming out by chatting up many pigeons, sparrows and squirrels.

They're just a tiny bit of natural realm inspiration, I find, in a concrete jungle.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Yeah, reading the "About" section of your blog, your current dissatisfaction is evident; you're clearly unhappy in middle-America. But not all "country living" is Walmart and least not yet.

You write, "Frankly, the Northern Exposure idyll is a charming fiction," and, for the most part, you're right. I know of several small towns, however, that have an impressive percentage of creative folks living in them, far away from any cultural center.

Having said that, yes, Horace's damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't statement is responsible for my hand wringing. Part of Professor Rao's message is to overcome this dysfunctional thought process, to find happiness in where/what you are presently. That's easier said than done for someone, like myself, who spends the better part of his waking life in the future and the historical. I'm only fully "present" when I'm having one of my Nature moments, ridiculous as they may sound to some folks. But I'm getting sidetracked...

You wrote:
"But you might need to remind yourself that country life is not inherently more virtuous or pure, unless you really are going to be an Adam and live in primitive, self-sufficient, dirty isolation as a strict philosophical exercise. It's often just boring out here, at least for those of us with an inquisitive streak."

Um...I hear you, but I think we might be wired differently. Granted, I do take for granted the incredible institutions I have here (and visit regularly), like the Met or the Museum of Natural History, but the social components of city living are actually much more boring to me than isolation. When I'm at a dinner party or opening, I spend most of my time looking forward to getting back home, where I can be alone, working in the studio, writing, reading, doing a crossword or watching a movie. I feel much more engaged in that essentially interior world, even when, as I'm doing now, I am participating in a give-and-take, a pseudo conversation, if you will, online. There's no need for smiles or posturing here...instead I'm hungover, sitting in my boxers eating cottage cheese and listening to NPR. That's a pretty rockin' pre-studio morning, as far as I'm concerned and if I could paint all through the day into the night, then watch a movie and sleep, I'd be thrilled. Instead, I've got to go to a choral recital, eat cheese, drink wine and make the appropriate cooing sounds to show my approval of the performance, whether I like it or not. I'd so much rather stay in the boxers! ;)

Part of my comfort in a rural locale is rooted in my introverted childhood. Not only did I grow up in a very small town, with few playmates and an abundance of outdoor time. I was also the odd little troll who ran and hid when people visited the house, eager as I was to watch them, but not interact. When I return to Virginia for a holiday now, I'm all too happy to turn off the cell phone and have nothing to do with the outside world. Over years that brand of self-imposed isolation could well lead to stagnation, as you suggest. On the other hand, it could lead to a rather interesting slide into disconnected imagination and creative idyll, as it did for folks like Thoreau or Hoagland.

If I do move somewhere rural and that sort of experience does happen to me, I suppose there is a real chance that the "whole art thing" - ambition, in particular - would melt away into meaninglessness...and there's something to be said for that. But until I shuffle off into that state of hermitic remove and near madness (at least in the eyes of others), the Art World question remains. And unfortunately it is the "fawning" I desire. I already have a good dialogue with artists I respect and admire. In fact, I usually have more edifying, intense art talks with those artist friends who are living elsewhere in the country, over the phone or via lengthy, thoughtful email exchanges. Here, at least, everyone talks about when their next show is and how much their work is selling for. The art making experience seems to be foregrounded only when folks are a little more distanced from the market.


Indeed. I don't mean to sleep on the nature here in the city; after all, as Eminem astutely reminds us, "we ain't nothin' but mammals," and the concrete canyons and terraced landscapes are no less natural than their more romanticized, supposedly pristine counterparts.

Also, as you mention, both in the city proper and particularly just outside, in and around Jamaica Bay, for example, or in that magical landscape of nature-meets-nature-run-amok, the New Jersey Meadowlands, about which I wrote my graduate thesis, the tropic generalists, those tough-living adapters, like the European starling, the raccoon, the mummichug or the grey squirrel, eke out a living.

Furthermore, once you begin considering city living at the micro or macro levels, things get pretty crazy. In particular I'm thinking of the early morning commute, with it's ebbs and flows and universal pulse, or the countless billions of small viruses and mites that flourish in heavily populated locales. Where we gather, so too do the little things...waiting to one day take us back down a peg.

F-Diesel said...

You dont have Asperger's Syndrome. If you met someone with it, you would know. Paranoid much?!?

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