So, I can share some stories of the different art cities I’ve experienced.
I lived in Dublin for four months in 2005 as an artist-in-residence at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Ireland cherishes its artists, and even if much of the general public (like most general publics) doesn’t understand much of the contemporary art, they still regard the artists as their cultural ambassadors. Artists and art spaces of various types - including non-commercial spaces - are well funded as valuable assets to society.
Also in 2005, I lived in Berlin for four months as an artist-in-residence at the Karl Hofer Gesellschaft. Art is everywhere all the time in Berlin– on the streets, in galleries, in non-profit spaces, in various residency programs, in the universities. No one waits for a green light, they just make it. Many artists get significant funding as well as substantial help navigating the art world. It is standard for serious young German artists to have printed books of their work (which they didn’t pay for themselves). It is cheap to live there and easy to find a way in even without funding. Artists aren’t afraid to make mistakes; they just learn from them and move on and everyone lets them.
While earning my MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2001-2004, I lived in the cornfields of the midwest two hours from Chicago. Like a jealous younger sibling, Chicago suffers a “second city” complex — as in, the second-best American art city after New York (shhh: don’t tell them that L.A. would likely rank second) — and seems to move through the art world with a chip on its shoulder the size of Lake Michigan. Yet the city has some great things going for it, namely it’s cohesive relationship with the academic communities in the region. The faculty at the various universities – urban and rural alike – are active players in the art community, and respected as such. While the art scene as a whole doesn’t seem to be structured to participate internationally, there are many motivated, smart artists that are making their way individually and collaboratively, with little or no funding coming from the city itself.
I guess I can talk about Seattle on a personal, as well as a global level. For me, functioning as an artist in Seattle hasn’t necessarily been easy; that is, I’m still trying to find a way into the community. Had I stayed longer, I think I might have had an easier time in Dublin or Berlin– which is saying something, considering I barely speak German. Sometimes I wonder if the difficulty is because I make paintings instead of conceptual art. I often sing myself, “You know it’s hard out here for a painter” (yes, to the tune of ”It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”). It’s not that I’m not used to the sorry plight of the painter. Much of the energy in my grad program was focused around conceptual art; which was good in many ways, as it meant my teachers were articulate and thoughtful; also, I enjoy talking about conceptual art even though I don’t make it. I was certainly not encouraged to paint, and I tried not to, but the painter in me won. Anyway. It’s probably not the painting thing and I just need to be here longer. Also, half of my time here has been occupied by a medically eventful/frightening babymaking process (Oh yeah, that!), not by art openings and First Thursday. Thank heavens for the internet!
On a non-personal level: Seattle. It’s easy to go through the qualities of Dublin, Berlin, and Chicago and see what isn’t happening here. The most puzzling to me is the disconnect between the art scene and local/regional academia. Is that an accurate perception, or are they connected in ways I can’t see?
Writing all this, I’m not setting out to be down on Seattle. I have, after all, chosen to live here as an artist. But I do want to help make this a better art city.
More soon . . .