Archive for the Artists as survivors despite it all Category

Just over three years ago, CAFA was contacted out of the blue by the West Coast artist and art teacher Jeanne Finley of the California College of the Arts. Finley had come across this Chronicle while preparing a syllabus on an art seminar she was organizing around the theme of Failure. She expressed interest in organizing some sort of collaboration between her class and this site, and we readily agreed.

The resulting final projects by her Failure students were mounted on CAFA, each in turn, at the end of the semester in May, 2009.

Although CAFA has mostly been inactive over the past few years, as various society, cultural, and familial pressures limit the ability and inclination of the site’s admin to post new stuff, we are proud to announce that, starting on Monday (December 19) and continuing with one new post each day (in a kind of Failure version of the 12 Days of Xmas), we’ll once again be presenting final projects from Jeanne Finley’s revisited seminar on Failure.

So stay tuned, Failurephiles — and please be sure to spread some love to an artist in this desperate holiday season.

Alas, good gentle souls who still read CAFA, my humble apologies for not posting in many, many months. Please be assured it is through no fault of yours. It is merely the result of my own changing life circumstances.

To report on said circumstances and the reasons why CAFA languishes, here’s what I’ve been up to over the past year or so:

  • After a six-month layoff from meaningful daytime employment, I have found work enough to sustain myself for the time-being, and it’s completely outside the art world (phew!); though, of course, adjusting to new employment, new expectations, a new work environment and culture, etc. means less time for things like blogging about artistic failure.
  • Baby CAFA — a.k.a., the light of my life — now 17-months of age, continues to grow and develop and slowly gain some independence for herself; yet, it will be some years until she can be expected to blog alongside me instead of her current habit of inserting madcap and unreadable keystrokes and spaces anytime she comes near a keyboard I happen to be working on. Again, not a great support for free and unfettered blogging.
  • That does not mean I’ve given up blogging (nor art) altogether — since October I have written regularly for the venerable Utne Reader at their online Arts portal.

[Please note: You can, in fact, keep tabs on what writing I still manage to do by checking out the one area of this blog that remains active: The Writer’s Archive for Michael Fallon.]

[Also note: If you want less-fettered access to me than you get from the Artistic Failure blog, you can always Facebook-friend me at my other, somewhat inactive identity, ArtHappyHour.]

[And final note: If you have ideas for art stories, want to take (respectful) issue with something I’ve written, have questions, or need to reach out, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. I’d love to know what you’re thinking!]

[Viva la Failure!]


The New York Times today reports on the goings-on at Governors Island, a 172-acre cultural refuge just 800 yards off the shore of a larger island of somewhat more cultural renown, Manhattan. The article describes how, over the past four years, as the Manhattan boom reached a peak and then turned quickly to bust, artists have begun a daytime habitation of the non-residential island. (Governors Island is described a quirky amalgam of empty Victorians, a high school, forts, parade grounds, ball fields, an artificial beach, and an “encircling promenade.”) It describes the happenings today as “ingrown and wildly experimental,” akin to an Art Wonderland.



Governors Island was originally, before the 20th century, a military base. It has been managed through the years by the State of New York, the U.S. Army, and the Coast Guard, until it was finally was shuttered by the federal government in 1997. Thanks to the efforts of Leslie Koch, who runs the Trust for Governors Island, the island now is replete with such ongoing cultural whimsies at “artsy miniature golf, avant-garde theater and whimsical sculpture.” Its participants include “trapeze artists, bicyclists, conceptual artists, D.J.’s, musicians, dancers and dramatists,” and its attractions range from “a free miniature-golf course designed by an arts group, where fanciful stations allow players to take metaphorical potshots at a national missile defense shield or putt a ball in support of carbon-neutral footprints” to “outdoor dance performances in one of the island’s forts, a mock archaeological dig meant to play with ideas of the island’s past, an African film festival, outdoor Shakespeare,” an Art Fair, “and Civil War re-enactments.” So far, this season the island has attracted 250,000 curious gawkers, a sharp uptick from only a year ago.


As you and I know, artists are like this. They’re opportunistic like bacteria (the good kind, you know, that helps you digest food and so on). When the economy, or political factors, or the standards of society blocks to them and many of the rest of us from doing what we most want to do, artists are among the only ones of us who will not rest until they find a place to rest. In the gutted sections of a gutted city, in the blown-out industrial areas of a postmodern city, even on an abandoned island — you can bet that artists will be among the first to begin looking for creative and sustainable ways to rebuild, reconfigure, restore, and recover.

Course, I don’t have to remind you what usually happens next; once the artists have brought a place back to life, once the culture of the formerly dead and dilapidated and all-but-destroyed parts of our society is restored, then come the moneyed interests, the developers, the scammer, skimmers, and other scabs who would never do the hard, dirty work and who capitalize on those who do. The article notes a “master plan” that outlines  “development zones,” phases of construction, and so on. And Ms. Koch herself makes no bones about using artists as a launching point for creating an “island culture,” even as her $12.5 million budget includes no money to pay artists or for programming. She talks, without apparent irony, about the island’s “brand” being “summer vacation with irony.”

Still, as this is the new feel-good CAFA, we’ll not be our usual cynical selves and just try to enjoy the whimsical, populist, free-ranging and free-spirited Art Wonderland that currently inhabits Governors Island. Then, when island development inevitably takes off, and the artists are shuffled off in the usual unceremonious fashion, we’ll go find the next Art Wonderland that artists create.

(Photos are courtesy the Figment Project)

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything on The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America. You may be wondering a few things. First, why have I been away so long, especially after chronicling with singular obsession the ongoing failure of art in this country for nearly two long years. Also, more importantly, why am I suddenly back and posting again now after such a long hiatus? What gives?

Well, in answer to the first question: It’s complicated. I stepped away from CAFA in the summer of 2009 for several reasons. The biggest was simple burn-out. I had simply grown tired of covering, week after week, month after month, the ongoing failure of our citizens to support the arts and what that failure was engendering for the country and its future. I was depressed and cynical and growing full of repressed anger and resentment of humankind — something that is not part of my usual nature. Also, I should add, at the time — in August, 2009 — my wife and I were planning the biggest creative step our lives: We were expecting our first child, and I did not intend to step into that experience with a pocketful of bad feelings. So for my own well-being, and for the well-being of my daughter-to-be, I stepped back and stopped following the madness that is the struggle to make and support art in America. I turned my back on it, and I don’t regret that.

As to the second question — Why revive CAFA now? — well, that’s simple. Because, for the first time in a few years — indeed, for the first time since I started this thing — I feel hopeful again. About art, about my life, about our prospects for the future. I am full of hope.

Why? I don’t know exactly. It’s not like there are many tangible signs of success out in the arts landscape (nor, for that matter, in my current professional life). Arts organizations and nonprofits continue to suffer in Minnesota and elsewhere. Arts organizations, in clear view of the increasingly ambivalent moneyed class, continue to struggle. Groups are being kicked out — both nationally and locally — of their locations and forced to scramble for alternative digs. Meanwhile, the art market continues to be in the tank. And, of course, individual artists, who almost always exist in a state of struggle, are feeling the recession particularly acutely. Plus, there are my own circumstances: Wherein, after twelve productive years in the arts writing biz, suddenly pretty much all freelance writing gigs have all but dried up; and, to put icing on the cake, this past spring I was laid off (for the first time ever) from my day job at a local nonprofit.

Still, despite all this I’m hopeful because — as I pointed out in another venue in 2008 — the arts and artists often stand at the front gate of innovation and recovery. Indeed, as the New York Times reports today, this is exactly what’s happening in one of America’s Ground Zero locations for artistic and economic failure. In an article titled “Wringing Art Out of the Rubble in Detroit,” Melena Ryzik reports that the failed urban landscape of Detroit, dotted with abandoned buildings and decimated neighborhoods, blighted with its own “particular brand of civic and economic decay” has also drawn something unexpected: “a small but well-publicized movement of artists and other creative types trying to wring something out of the rubble.” She sites the upcoming appearances in Detroit of Maker Faire, of the brainstorming conference TEDx, of the performance artist Matthew Barney — fitting for a place that is suddenly home to a “slew of handmade salvagers” and a growing D.I.Y. culture. Among the Detroit-based projects that the article lists are: Loveland, a “micro real estate” enterprise that sells parcels of Detroit by the square inch for $1 a piece; the Heidelberg Project, which turns houses into found-object sculptures; Mitch and Gina, who buy up houses for art and gardens; and more. Go and check out the article — it’s an object-lesson in what creative thinking can accomplish.

In the end, I figure, if Detroit can lift its weary, embattled head once again, so can the arts. So can you. And so can I.

In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.

–Ernst Fischer

This NYT quotation of the day caught my eye (for obvious reasons):

“Nobody wants me to do anything, so I’m just doing what I want.”
Liz Fallon [no relation], visual artist, Portland, Me.

It’s from an article on how the recession is affecting artists called “Tight Times Loosen Artists’ Creativity.”

Here’s another quote:

“This too shall pass. Artists must continue to create no matter what happens around them.”
–Diane Leon-Ferdico, painter, Elmhurst, Queens

A Statement by Jeanne Finley: 

My graduate seminar at CCA is a fail. While on sabbatical and leave for the past two years, I developed a seminar that would focus on the cultural construction of failure identities both historically and contemporarily; the failures of graduate student’s work created and shown publically during the seminar; and a further public reflection and celebration of those failures through the forum of Michael Fallons Art Failure website.

The Failure seminar filled on the first day of registration and quickly a long waitlist developed for the class. FAIL. On the first day I walked into the classroom and over twenty people were fighting for a place in the seminar. FAIL. I opened my computer and patched it into the projector. FAIL. I went around the room and asked the student’s department affiliation within the fine arts department. FAIL. I am a professor in the media arts area and have always had classes populated with about seventy-five percent media arts students. FAIL. Things had changed at CCA during my leave. FAIL. None of the students in the classroom were media arts students. FAIL. Most of them were painters. FAIL. The projector would not see the power-point presentation I had prepared. FAIL. I struggled with the technology. FAIL. Students went to the AV center to try to fix the problem. FAIL. Some of them never came back. FAIL. I told the students that most of the work I came prepared to show was media arts based work. FAIL. I gave up on power-point and presented from individual files. FAIL. I showed some things off U-tube. FAIL. I heard a student ask under their breath, “Did she just do a search on failure on u-tube?” FAIL. I showed a work of my own that was a failure in my own eyes although successful publicly. FAIL. I showed a work of mine that is a success for me although curators have been uninterested in it. FAIL. At last it was break. FAIL. Students began telling me they were dropping the seminar. FAIL. Students began saying that the description of the seminar didn’t match what was happening that first day. FAIL. By the end of the day almost everyone dropped the seminar. FAIL. Almost everyone on the waitlist left too. FAIL. I have never felt so devastated in all my years of being a professor. FAIL. Five students in total remained in the class. SUCCESS.

The intimacy of the seminar and the commitment by the students to both the seminar topic and their own work resulted in a remarkable class. We took an overnight field trip hosted by social practice artist, Gregory Gavin. Richard Olsen brought us to his high school art classroom and Tina Takamoto gave a talk on her work. The process of creating a seminar from a focused group of students through the first day’s failure was not something I would necessarily wish to repeat, but I am grateful that that it happened this semester as the seminar would never have succeeded in the way it did if we hadn’t first failed.

Here is the final project proposal from Jeanne Finley’s class on Failure, by the student Zina Al-Shukri:

What happens when people get together drawing and painting in the same room?

A show happens.

On Thursday, March 26th, I will be having a show in the place of productivity — My studio.
I am transforming my studio into a gallery called, Gallery 90.
The title of the show is:

What Happens Here Stays Here
Thursday, March 26th
6-9 pm
California College of the Arts
Graduate Center, Hooper St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

A series of small drawings and watercolors done by an emerging group of artists will be put up for display while people enjoy refreshments and the finest songs that contemporary rap can provide.

The artists involved are:
Anna Simson
Queena Hernandez
Maja Ruznic
Zina Al-Shukri
Justin Hurty
Liesa Lietzke
Brigid Mason

All of these small works on paper contain figurative content. It just so happened this way. They are all very different and are considered not to be any ‘real’ work of the artists’ in that they are secondary practices that are not really meant to be shown to the public eye.

So, all the pieces are failures.

Kamil Dawson

Fish Space Gallery Proposal

What Is Your Daughter Doing?:A proposal for an art event at the California College of the Arts Fish Space Gallery.

A weeklong event, highlighted with an opening night participant based art show and film screening. This would take place Saturday, March 28th and would be removed on April 4th, 2009.

I’d like to propose an event based on what daughters are doing. The event is prefaced by the underlined theme of what daughters do when mothers are away: watching sexy movies, eating junk food, looking at magazines, making naughty drawings, taking pictures, listening to music, as well as conversations based on “bitching” and “trash talk.”

The opening event will include a film screening of Led Zeppelin’s concert film, The Song Remains the Same, from 1976. During the duration of the film, event goers are encouraged to participate in the further mentioned activities. The documents and objects created during this event will then be displayed on the walls of the gallery for one week’s time.

The objective of this event is to encourage community and group collaboration between women, girls, boys and men in order to create a freeing and stress relieving space through the act of art making.

Erik Madsen


I am going to document my successes and failures in my attempts to make contact with certain galleries or organizations as well as send work to a juried competition. The first venue is Alternative Television Access in San Francisco, CA, I intend to show either some experimental works on large graphic arts film or an experimental video. My second venue will be Donna Seager Gallery in San Rafel, CA , where I will attempt to get some recent works on paper exhibited. Thirdly I am going to enter an international competition for innovative printmaking. This will be held at the Musee Hamaguchi Yozo in Tokyo, Japan and is free to enter but work must be sent to Japan and will be juried in person with prizes ranging from 1 million yen for first place as well as six 400,000 yen prizes.

Here is the second project proposal from Jeanne Finley’s class on Failure, by the student Rebecca Ora:


My mother is a failure.

My mother is the most intelligent person I know, and the person closest to me in the world. I love her more than I love my life.
She has said that her goal, as a mother, is for each of her children to know that he or she is the favorite child.
I am my mother’s favorite child.

She single-handedly raised seven children through two failed marriages, no money.
We all went through private school, from nursery through high school, beyond.

We are

1 Columbia BA graduate, works for the Boston Symphony Orchestra
1 Masters candidate in Fine Arts
1 lawyer, NYU Law School
1 Masters candidate, Middle Eastern Politics through Hebrew University
1 Barnard College BA graduate working for Legal Aid
1 Psychology BA student, USC
1 BA candidate, Brandeis University

but she, my mother, is a failure.
She had been a silversmith, a political campaign manager in New York, a dean at our high school.

Now she has no work, and no children at home.

The reason I am my mother’s favorite is because I am an artist. My mother majored in Art History because she never thought she was good enough, never had the courage to make anything herself.
She had seven children so she wouldn’t have to make anything herself.

I have asked my mother to make art—anything she chooses—and I will display it for her.

She will never have to meet the people who will view her work, and she needs to meet no standards other than her own.

I hope to give her a sense of purpose, accomplishment by creating a sign of her presence in my endeavors and her responsibility for the achievements of her children.

My mother is not a failure.