Episode 126 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Fact-Finding


However, parts of this story were probably made up. Apparently, research shows there were no tartars in that area at that time. And furthermore, eyewitnesses say the pilot died shortly afterward, and Beuys was conscious and was taken to a hospital to recover for three weeks. Beuys was making his own myth about himself, and you can just as easily adopt this strategy even if you do not want to be a major figure in the art world as he was. Does that mean that you should make up a story about yourself? Possibly, but embellishment isn’t out of the question, and this is straightforward myth-making and self-aggrandizement at  that.

The point I am making with this example is that your statement can also begin to create a myth about yourself—that is, a fictional story that is mixed with the truth. If this appeals to you, then use it and experiment, and if it doesn’t, use one of the other methods. The point of an artist’s statement is simply to get the attention of the person you are showing work to or the institution that you are applying to for a grant, or for your average juried show. No matter which it is, it is important to make your- self stand out and look different from others who are competing with you.

More on the Critic

As I said earlier, the New York art critic Jerry Saltz has a Facebook page, and at one point, he offered to edit people’s writing if they posted their artist’s statements. On his page, he said an artist’s statement should be

[written] in plain language. Keep it short, simple, to the point. Use your own syntax; write the way you speak. No platitudes! With giant abstractions (“nature,” “beauty,” “ambiguity”) say what you’re doing with these big things. Or AVOID . . . them. Don’t be afraid to be funny/weird, your stupid self! A glimpse of real self is powerful.

He is affirming much of what we are saying here, that you need to be straightforward to a large extent, and that you need to be clear. But what he is not saying is that you can also break the rules, as Beuys did, and make a story up that is compelling, edgy, and effective.

Editorial Help

I am not saying you should not seek the help of an editor. All writers use editors, and even a friend who is a good writer can be of assistance.

After you finish your statement, show it to someone who will give you their honest opinion. Show it to someone who knows nothing about the arts; show it to a child, and examine the responses you get. The statement should be understood easily by almost everyone. If it is difficult to understand, then something is wrong and should be adjusted. Ideally, it should also be very exciting or engaging so that it is memorable and makes one want to see the work.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 121 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Artist’s Statement and the Critic

Chapter 5

The Artist’s Statement and the Critic

What I will tell you about an artist’s statement will be different from what you will read in other books on the topic. There is a New York art critic, Jerry Saltz, who has a Facebook page, and one day he told all the artists that he would edit their statements on Facebook or give commentary. He got tons of replies and, for the most part, was very critical and even began cursing at artists and calling them mediocre! As a critic, he can often be mean and hurt people, but at the same time, the ones who are not getting hurt find that attractive. I mention this because I think it sheds some light on critics and how you will view your artist’s statement and responses to it.

When I was in the Whitney Biennial exhibition, I was thrilled to find that Arthur Danto wrote about my work in The Nation and, in general, said wonderful things about the show. Danto is one of the most powerful art critics in the world. He has written many books on art, theory, and art history and is a profound thinker that many in the art world reference. I asked the curator at the Whitney why there were so many terribly angry reviews of the show, but Danto loved it. She said that Arthur Danto was very powerful and could write what he liked because he has nothing to prove. Isn’t that an interesting thought? Perhaps the reason that some critics as well as artists can be so negative and even downright mean is to boost their own status because, in general, that impresses people. Kind of like the bully in the school yard—that is, if he isn’t beating you up, you consider him a friend. The reason to talk about that before I discuss how to make a good artist’s statement is that you should be interested in what others say about their work, be curious, be open, be aware that all the artists that have ever written statements are writing something very personal, and it should be handled gently.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 32 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / The Transfiguration of the Commonplace

Arthur Danto Interview Continued…

Carey: So now that we’ve inherited this, and young artists have inherited this, and most artists living today, but where is this evolving to? Are we still operating under this new paradigm?

Danto: Yes, I think so. But people have to be taught to live under this paradigm because the question isn’t an epistemological question. That is to say, how would we tell them apart? The question is an ontological one: what is it to be a work of art in contrast with an ordinary object?

That is really the problem that I worked on beginning a little bit with The Artworld but mostly in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace because in there I’ve identified two conditions—it’s not sufficient, but two conditions of invisible things.

The first thing is meaning and second thing is what I call “embodiment.” How the meaning is mapped on to the object, but then you need a third thing which is interpretation. I think the first thing that happens is you get a real vulgarization of what Warhol did, where people say, “Oh, here’s a fuse box, it’s a work of art.” And so you have to say, “What makes it a work of art? What is it to be a fuse box?” and there what you have to do is to start thinking about the meaning and how the meaning is mapped on to the object and how we interpret it, which doesn’t come at all intuitively when we’re just talking about real things.

Carey: Would you say this is what artists are working with today? 

Danto: I would think so, it’s easy to back away from it because it doesn’t seem very inspiring. But sooner or later—I like to think people read my books—they’ll begin to see that they have to work even harder than traditional artists did.

They’ve got to be able to deal with meaning. I was very eager when I was writing those things to back away from the formulas that Greenberg, for example, had introduced and where you’d hear all the docents in museums giving talks—what would that mean? What is the point of that?

My main interest was to reintroduce the idea of meaning, which was basically what Duchamp was interested in. He talked about retinal vision, retinal pleasure. He thought that most of the art that was being made—in his dialogue he says that contemporary art, everything—has been retinal art. He said that’s not the way art history was. There was philosophical art. There was religious art, etc. The primary thing was not to give pleasure to the eye. The fundamental thing was to instruct the eye and he was very adamant about that.

When he talks about that—there was a dialogue at the Museum of Modern Art where he said that with the ready-mades, that they’re surely an aesthetic, they’re picked for their absence of any retinal pleasure. That’s not so easy to find because he only came up with about twenty of them.

Carey: So today, no matter what artists are doing, whether they’re doing landscapes or different kinds of conceptual projects or performances, everything has to have this sense of meaning?

Danto: That’s right, and what I would say about that, Brainard, a good example was Marina Abramovi, performing at MOMA. I mean, anybody could sit across from another person but for it to be a work of art you’ve got to think about what it means and so forth. People responded to it as though they were aware of that, and it was in some way a very profound experience for them.

Carey: Let’s talk a little bit about art criticism today. You are writing, as you say, a bit of an autobiographical piece, and where you are coming from is very different from most critics, in my mind.

Danto: Yeah, there are very few people who’ve gone from philosophy into criticism. I just fell into it because with my history I had set myself up as a kind of a nineteenth century philosopher. I was doing a five volume work on the theory of representation and I began with a book called the Analytical Philosophy of History. I thought, why don’t I just carry that out and say that what sets us apart from the rest of the world is the way we represent it. And then I did two books, one on knowledge, the Analytical Philosophy of Knowledge. And one called Analytical Philosophy of Action.

Then I got the fourth volume, which was going to be about art. I really didn’t want it to be thought of as philosophy, but I found a wonderful title in a Miriam Sparks novel. And I never wrote the fifth because I felt that I was turning art into mainstream philosophy, which I would only get into arguments with, and there was no reason to finish. I did write a one volume work of the whole system called Connections to the World, but that was my thing.

So the treatment of art in The Transfiguration was permeated with traditional philosophical questions about action and knowledge and was not so traditional about history, because what philosophers mostly have done has discounted history as differentiating people. But we’ve got the same physiology now that human beings had twenty thousand years ago, but we’re very different. So history is a really an important puzzle factor there. So that’s not as mainstream as the other stuff was, but it was most original, it seemed to me, with my work.

Carey: Yeah. I think so, too. Your work to me has often seemed very generous in the sense that you’re probing, you’re looking, you’re trying to understand as opposed to critics that are very opinionated in the sense that they’re putting down work.

Danto: Yeah, there’s a lot of that.

Carey: Like the popular Jerry Saltz.

Danto: Oh, Jerry Saltz? Yeah, I don’t think that well of him. I mean, I think he’s a good writer more than one would think, but he does come in as a kind of ordinary person who is responding as an ordinary person will respond.

He does a lot of that, but his wife Roberta Smith is worse. I’ve got an enormous respect for Roberta but every once in a while she just goes off—just goes off on a tantrum where she bashes artists of high achievement, it seems to me. So she’s saying, “You can’t get away with that,” and so forth. Artists like David Reed or Mark Tansey, for example, or Sean Scully, and I don’t know why Roberta does that but she’s a good critic for the most part if she’s not dealing with artists who’ve gone off to a higher achievement.

Carey: And Jerry Saltz you feel is in a similar area?

Danto: I think so, yeah. I remember a few years ago I was writing a lecture for the University in Cleveland. They had a show of William Kentridge and they wanted me to write a lecture on it. He said there, “William Kentridge is an artist in deep trouble, deep trouble,” and so forth. Why is he in deep trouble? He’s trying to make art, and he is an animator, that won’t work.

Carey: That’s what Jerry Saltz said? That Kentridge was an artist in deep trouble?

Danto: Yes. Jerry said, “He’s trying to be a gallery artist using these things as drawings and so forth and he’s not going to make it.” And I thought they were gorgeous. And I thought: What’s Jerry Saltz doing something like that for? Where does he come from by saying that he’s in deep trouble? I mean, this is really one of the best artists around and is doing precisely the kinds of things that I feel artists should be doing, which is to awaken the viewer to the meaning of human life and love.

That is “making it as an artist” of many kinds, and when William showed his work and became suddenly a universal star of Documenta in the nineties, he suddenly was giving people something that they felt was deeply missing from art. That is to say these questions about the power of love and so forth. I mean, it seemed to me that Jerry thought, “I’ve got him. I’ve got him by the balls,” and he didn’t, it wasn’t within range of him. I mean, that kind of thing. It stuck with me.

Carey: Yeah. I’ve heard him speak that way about many artists. In a sense saying what they should do or what they shouldn’t do or how they should make that work, which seems an unusual position for a critic to take, really.

Danto: Yes, well I think a lot of people think that’s what a critic should do, as a matter of fact. When I got started, I have to say that my first impulses were similar to find my way. At first, I really was more negative than I ever thought I had the right to be later on, but that’s how everybody who was writing criticism for a national publication was, really mean.

There was Hilton Kramer who is a paradigm. There was Robert Hughes who was a paradigm and he’s getting off these terrific jokes, but demolishing people that way. It was difficult and at the same time that’s not the way to be a critic, and so I changed the style and really tried to say what the meaning is, how the artist lets you know what the meaning is.

That, the two things: the content and the presentation that I found in Hegel’s aesthetics. There’s a lot more of Hegel in my writing than you’d be aware of, that anybody would be aware of. I used to read Hegel as a guide to what I was doing.

He was a great philosopher and I came upon him really almost when I was retiring but students asked if I would take them through Hegel’s aesthetics. And I thought, well, it’s a nice way to wind up so I did, and I was stunned by what a great thinker he was.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.


Episode 31 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Arthur Danto

Arthur Danto Interviewed

The next interview was one I conducted with the late critic and philosopher Arthur Danto, shortly before he died. Danto wrote for The Nation for twenty-five years and is credited with inventing the term “the art world.” He is a critic I very much admire since he writes through the lens of being a philosopher, and I am very fond of philosophy myself.

In reading this interview and applying it to studio practice, he gives a background of how he observes and thinks and thus, what a critic might be thinking in your studio when looking at your work. He also talks about what it means for an artist to have a “meaning” for their work.

The Interview

Carey: To begin with, let me ask you what is it that you’re working on these days, is there a particular article or writing? 

Danto: I’m working on a couple of things. I’m writing an essay on going from philosophy into art criticism. How I suddenly found myself, at a certain age, writing in a very different way for a very different audience. I did art criticism for The Nation for twenty-five years. So I’m writing a little, so to speak, an autobiographical study of my own feelings about that.

I really had a twenty-five-year career when basically I was at the edge of retiring from philosophy. Well, it took another ten years. Then I’m trying to write a sort of a little book, about the scale of the book on Warhol that I published in 2009, about really the simplest question: What is art?

I’d like to do that because it seemed to me that in my profession, the thoughts were laid out, like in the Transfiguration of the Commonplace—and that I’m part of the tradition, the traditional set of answers to the question of what is art. I think the history is that you can’t get the definition of art until it’s all happened, and it seemed to me that those great and important things happened in the sixties but have to be taken into account in any definition of art all through history. And so that’s a kind of a culmination of all the arguments I’ve been making down the years on the definition of art, beginning with The Artworld but then basically to the Transfiguration of the Commonplace.

Carey: That was when you talked about After the End of Art as well, which was really when you began talking about Warhol and a whole new world of art which really carries us up to the present.

Danto: That’s right.

Carey: We’re still operating in this world of not reproducing, but where almost anything goes now. It’s based in theory—which is was part of your theory, isn’t it?

Danto: That’s right. I mean, when you began to get the kind of cases that came up in the middle sixties where you couldn’t blankly look at it and think, “Oh, that’s art.” You’d have to have a little bit of theory and you’d have to have, as I say, a little bit of history to see it as art. You’d have to know something about how a thing like that got to be considered art.

So that was what the theory is and how the history contributes—those were not traditionally taken into consideration, it seemed to me. My own experience of walking into the Stable Gallery and seeing all these things, boxes in particular, I thought, “I think I’m ready for that.” I could see that experiences in my own history prepared me for that, but I also thought there are a lot of people who are not going to be prepared for it.

So I had this experience which I think I transcribed in one of the books. I had a friend out of Columbia who was the head of the art department, Andrei, who was a fine artist, a wonderful artist. But he told me a couple of years later, he said, “You know what I wrote all across the guest book?” He said, “I wrote, ‘Shit,’” and I said, “Andrei, I wrote The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.”

Carey: Was this the Warhol show? Brillo boxes is what you’re talking about, right?

Danto: Yes, but what people called different things—there were not that many Brillo boxes by comparison with others. There were eight different kinds of boxes but the Brillo Box was by far the star of that show. I mean, it’s the only one that ever gets talked about. Nobody talks about the Del Monte Peach Halves Box.

Although all of the same questions come up with those as with the Brillo Box but the Brillo Box was originally designed by James Harvey who was an abstract expressionist, second generation abstract expressionist and he was a master of lettering. You could see how influenced he was by the hard-edged abstraction of what was in the air and it’s a magnificent piece of rhetoric for the contents of the box, whereas Warhol got no credit and Harvey got no credit for that at all.

Carey: We’re now almost fifty years from the sixties, when this huge shift happened in work. Now, we have students graduating school that are steeped in the theory from that time. As you look at art, as you look at all this time, where do you feel that has brought us now? Is it just a continuity of the past?

Danto: I don’t think it’s brought us sublimity. You know what I mean? I think that was in a way the end of art as far as I was concerned because you have a situation where anything could really be an artwork and the paradigm of that was Warhol’s making a facsimile of an ordinary utilitarian box, and that they at least looked enough alike that you could think of them as indiscernible and, at that point, what’s the difference between art and reality?

The answer to it is that what separates the two has to be invisible. You can’t tell by looking at them. You can’t tell by picking them out—if you read philosophy in those days and could talk about what art is, you would get a kind of Wittgensteinian answer which says that you can, anybody can just pick them out. If you had a warehouse of pieces of furniture and artworks, you could just pick them out. You don’t have to have a definition. And I thought that with Warhol and Duchamp you really did have to have a definition.

Wittgenstein was very, very eager to get rid of the millennial question of what is art. Which was raised by Socrates in The Republic and has been going along for centuries. You can’t just get rid of it by saying you can pick it out because we now know that you can’t pick it out. You’ve got to have other ways of thinking about it.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.