Archive for the Friends of Failure Category

Friends of Failure, and sundry outlying readers of CAFA, in case you’re wondering why production has fallen off of late on this site just know it’s not a sign of the end times. I’m currently in the midst of several upcoming projects, including an analysis of the state of Minneapolis arts and a longish essay on the f*cked up nature of young artists these days (both of which I will discuss/link to on this Chronicle in due time…).

Also, I’ve been working to establish a new arts writing initiative (and ruminating on the nature of “success” in the wacky world of arts writing), seeking (and closing in on) new daily sustenance, dabbling at some poetry (in an effort to keep myself sane), organizing community events, and giving a careful reading to Bill Ivey’s intensely documented and highly opinionated new book, Arts Inc.

It’s summer, after all—the perfect time to step back a bit from the usual goings on to ruminate somewhat on what it all means. And so that is what I’m doing…

I promise things’ll pick up (quite a bit, in fact) in future weeks here on the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America.

An alert Friend of Failure sent the text to J.K. Rowling’s recent Harvard commencement address, wherein she credits failure for her eventual success.

…Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

First, some rare good news: The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America has learned that one of its blog postings, the first of a two-parter about the Colorado artist Dean Fleming, was picked up this week by the website of the Minneapolis-based magazine, The Utne Reader. Thanks to the Reader for their interest in this unusual artist, and in the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America.

To read more about Fleming, you can also go to this post. To read more in general about struggling, aging artists go here.

Meanwhile, the bigger news this past week in Minnesota was the demise of the monthly feature magazine The Rake. Now, some would say–in a market where the local papers have downsized significantly over the past few years (cutting numerous arts and cultural writing position), where the local newsweekly has fired and replaced its entire writing/editorial staff over the past year, and where the local media market is constantly in flux–the loss of The Rake was just another blip on the path to local media/cultural/practical illiteracy.

It’s not putting too fine a point on things to say that all local publishers (and media professionals) are running scared. “Things have changed radically in the last six years, and I think it’s going to get worse long before it gets better,” Rake Publisher Tom Bartel said. “It’s too expensive to produce journalism and then have Google come along and take all your advertising.” “At best, these are challenging times, maybe even recessionary times,” said John Rash, a senior vice president at advertising agency Campbell Mithun who follows the media market and writes a monthly column for the Star Tribune. “While there is some tremendous journalism on websites and in smaller publications, it is more difficult to monetize it, both locally and nationally. Newspapers themselves have struggled.” “We think the next 18 months are going to be tough for advertising in general,” said Deborah Hopp, publisher of Mpls.St.Paul magazine, based in Minneapolis. “Our expectation is that, around here, weaker players will fall by the wayside.”

For purposes of our interest in artistic failure, however, the loss of The Rake hits home because this publication was particularly invested in and involved with the arts locally—initiating a quarterly arts insert (and a celebratory event) called 10,000 Arts, hiring a former arts writer as their editor-in-chief (which meant lots of interest in arts writing), and partnering with and supporting a number of local arts organizations on a range of projects.

The Rake will be missed…

By the way, as a separate, but related note: I wasn’t even aware that the Utne Reader still existed, were you?…

I’ve been busy with administrative tasks on CAFA the past four days, so I’ve not had time to think any new thoughts about failure. (I promise, by the way, to have my blogroll back up soon…)

However, here are some interesting links from sundry Friends of Failure:

—One of my favorite artist blogs, SELLOUT, which is an examination of the hard issues facing artists—written by artists—declared suddenly yesterday it’s going on a hiatus to refine and retool. The reason for this sudden stoppage, despite the quick notoriety the site has gained: Overwhelmed with email… Hey, SELLOUT, I hear ya. If you figure that one out, let me know. But hurry back!

—Sharon Butler, author of the arts blog Two Coats of Paint, which recently went through its own retooling, just published an expose-style article in the Brooklyn Rail, called Swimming in Pigment, about the lollapollooza art fairs that occur in Miami Beach. Her conclusions about the events? They’re a mixed bag, but mostly, when you take into account only the good art that was there, she found the experience positive:

It’s too easy to scorn Art Basel Miami Beach and its satellites as a vulgar coalescence of dilettantes and profiteers. Beneath that veneer, they provide an invaluable one-stop annual inventory of the art world: a dazzlingly broad array of artwork, much of it vigorous and thoughtful, in two nearby neighborhoods geared for high-intensity viewing, through which art becomes a proud rallying point for an entire city. On an individual level, accepting the challenge of apprehending such a vast ocean of work without props, as it were, is to rediscover the very process by which you first figured out what you loved about looking at, and making, art. The opportunity to redefine and articulate your passion is a lot more than just a good party.

—Meanwhile, Art Happy Hour!, which also just retooled (must be the season for it), wrote that it is holding its inaugural gathering in Minneapolis. If you’re anywhere near the area, you simply have to come check this out—the first artist community-wide happy hour in the country (that I know of)!

–And, finally, your favorite CAFA administrator, Michael Fallon, has just caused himself no small amount of trouble by publishing an essay about the artistic drive in artists, titled (provocatively, on purpose) “The (Endlessly Annoying, Horribly Consuming, Creepily Off-Putting) Drive in Artists to Make Art.” Here’s just a little teaser, in which I take to task a pretentiously wannabe-artist, and former friend, named Mike:

EVERYONE AT SOME TIME IN LIFE ENDS UP WITH A FRIEND LIKE MIKE. Mike wanted desperately to be a screenwriter. Or, to put it more accurately, he wanted you to think of him as a screenwriter.

Another friend of mine, G. (who wouldn’t care much whether or not you knew how accomplished an arts writer, artist, and craftsperson he actually is), first encountered Mike after a meeting which was initiated for the purposes of “screenplay research.” “Man,” he said, “that’s a guy who’s just desperate for attention. Do me a favor and keep me out of the loop next time.” S., yet another friend and a self-taught artist who earned his skills by hard toil over band saw and workbench, after a few months’ acquaintance took to calling Mike an intellectual Baby Huey. “You know Baby Huey, right? Always wanting attention, always bumbling into every situation like an attention-seeking whale in a wading pool. That’s Mike!”

The following is a quotation from a brilliant exhibition essay for a brilliant exhibition curated by my brilliant friend and colleague Glenn Gordon. You can read more of his exhibition essay on, and you can find out more about the show, called “Functional Sculpture: Furniture from the Upper Midwest,” on Charleton College’s website.

EVERYTHING IN THE CURRENT WORLD OF ART and design seems to want to be what it is not, or at least not what it used to be. Contemporary craft wants to be thought of as art. Art, disdaining the fuss and preciousness of craft, wants to be conceptual. Photography wants to be painterly and painting wants to be photographic. Architecture wants so much to be sculpture that it shoulders actual sculpture aside. Sculpture, meanwhile, maybe in self-defense, wants to be about the creation of sites—it wants to be architecture. Furniture, like other fields of design, is restive with its niche and pushing against the limits of genre. You could look at this churning of old categories as a symptom of ferment, or as a sign of confusion, or both. With imagery streaming freely in all directions, formerly unrelated ideas are combing through each other and giving rise to hybrids that would have been unimaginable as recently as 10 years ago.

–Glenn Gordon

I will get back to the subject of the civic exploitation of artists, and I will describe the interesting life story of my promised second example of an exiled artist, in a day or two. Stay tuned!

Another tip of the failure hat to Rich for alerting the Chronicle of the exhibition called “Failure,” slated to open soon at the Belmar Lab just outside of Denver.

Subtitle to this exhibition?: “FEEL FREE TO HATE THIS EXHIBITION”


And after reading Executive Director Adam Lerner’s statement for the show, I’ve decided I have to find a way to get out there and see the show, come hell or February snows.

Failure is an exhibition that considers the artistic implications of disappointment, rejection, malfunction and breakdown. Sounds implausible, right?

That’s what I would have thought until about a year when I went to visit a friend of mine who is now a professor at Cornell University. Jason called me on my cell phone the morning of my visit, “If you drive to campus directly from the airport, you’ll be able to catch Judith Halberstam’s lecture on failure as a political strategy.” “What? Yeah, sure.” And as I sped through the winding roads of upstate New York, I thought, “Wow, I must be really out of touch.”

Speaking to an eager crowd of philosophically-hip Cornellians, Halberstam presented the notion of failure as a means to affirm marginal voices in our society, people who missed out on the happy social and economic networks of family and work. But, as I listened to her wrangle a political theory out of the concept failure, a flood of images came to mind suggesting that that failure is a wide current hidden in plain sight at the very center of contemporary American culture.

Like its opposite success, failure runs deeps through the fabric of our society from the “Turn on, tune in, drop out” creed of Timothy Leary, to the aggressive nihilism of the punk rock generation, to the identification with the beautiful loser among skateboard and graffiti generation. It’s seems to be the theme of every other story on Ira Glass’ radio show This American Life and Dave Eggers literary magazine McSweeney’s. American dysfunctionality is the very subject of American’s longest running sitcom, The Simpsons.

When I shared my academically inspired insights with artist Ethan Janzer, he convinced me that visual artists have a great deal to say about failure, so I asked him to co-curate this exhibition with me. The works we selected for Failure suggest different ways of failing, and by doing so offer a critique of what we are told is right.

Right on, Adam. Failure does run deep through the fabric of our society. And, I’d add, through the fabric of art!

England has got it going on these days, at least in terms of national dialogue about art.

Here in America it’s been 18 months’ worth of presidential elections, punctuated by the occasional reference to whatever Britney, Paris, Lindsay or the latest (sh)it girls are doing out on the free range. Of art and other cultural subjects, these days we hear f*ck-all (so to speak).

But an alert FoF (Friend of Failure), Rich Barlow, who’s just back from a long holiday on the Isle of Crumpet, notes that there’s a major national discussion going on currently in England regarding how to foster and support “excellence” in that country’s art (as opposed to merely subsidizing art target levels).

A report called “Supporting Excellence in the Arts,” that was written by Sir Brian McMaster, a former director of the Edinburgh International Festival, and commissioned by the culture secretary, James Purnell, asserts that the arts “have never been so needed to understand the deep complexities of Britain today.” McMaster argues for a new “appreciation of the profound value of the arts and culture,” and a “reclamation of excellence from its historic elitist undertones.”

I can’t even imagine such a debate happening in America, where one of the most burning questions in recent years is whether or not the average Joe Schmoe is as smart as the average ten-year-old. No, here, in our great Democratic nation, all you have to do is suggest that maybe—just maybe—we could be doing a little bit more to foster our smarts and raise our cultural discourse and you suddenly have every Tom, Dick, and Harry Arse who knows how to write his own name screaming “elitism” and “pomposity” at the top of his lungs.

One good reason no one will probably ever write a song called “English Idiot.”

Somebody get me a Snakebite & Black, stat.