Archive for the My own artistic failure Category

Below is an excerpt from the first essay I ever published.
It appeared in Mt. San Antonio College’s literary journal Mosaic just a bit over twenty years ago, in April, 1989. I was 23.

from Growing up with Steve Garvey

by “Michael Sean Fallon”

…When I was a kid in 1974, there was only one thing on the minds of the kids on our block. The Dodgers were in the hunt for a World Championship. They were powered by a line-up including four very young and talented infielders: Bill Russell, Ron Cey — the Penguin — Davey Lopes, and, our favorite, Steve Garvey. Now here was a real hero, someone that kids could admire and look up to without question. Even our parents seemed to think he was mostly on the up-and-up. He was clean-cut, good-looking, had graduated from college, had married his beautiful college sweetheart; he never swore, he never spat, and he never grabbed his crotch (at least not when the camera was on him he didn’t). He spent time with the fans, was always eager to talk to them and sign autographs; he talked to the press, and they wrote that he was just too good to be true. He batted. 312 that year, hit twenty-one home runs, drove in 111 RBIs [author’s note: This was at the height of a long era of pitching dominance], and he was awarded the Most Valuable Player award in the National League.

As a nine-year-old, I was ga-ga for Garvey. Here was a man that I wanted to be just like; I used to dream of trading place with him for just one day. I could see myself sidling up to my lovely wife Cyndy in my lovely Bel Air home and saying something like, “I’d really love to stay home with you and the kids, but we have that game against the Reds, and, gosh, we have to win this one if we’re going to get to the World Series.”

That would make her happy for a moment, but then she would be sad. She would look at me with large eyes and coo: “Can’t choo just stay a wittle wonger?”

“No,” I would be my chest stoically. “I have to do it for the team. But, if you like, I’ll hit a homer for you, and I’ll bring you the game ball.”

Every day without fail as part of my nine-year-old morning ritual, I checked the box score just to see if Steve Garvey had gotten any hits (I did this even if I had already seen or heard the game the day before). It would be a moment of sweet anticipation when I first opened the newspaper, and my hands would quiver until my eyes finally fell on their destination. If he had gotten a hit, it would be a good day; more than one hit, it would be a great day. No hits and forget it — I may have just as well not gotten out of bed. But with Steve Garvey, the bad days were rare because he was a model of consistency. He played all the time and eventually set the National League record for consecutive games played, and he always worked as hard as he could. Seldom did he go longer than one or two days without a hit, seldom did he let himself crush the fragile hearts of nine-year-old children whose well-being depended on his performance in the clutch.

Of course, there was The Slump. For weeks there were no hits. It was the worst slump of Garvey’s career, he could do nothing right. Three hits in his last fifty at bats. I was devastated. My family could probably tell you the date better than I could from ho I suffered and how I made them suffer with me. I believe it was 1976, the year the dreaded Big Red Machine won its second consecutive World Series. But like all low points in a person’s career, it couldn’t last, and he lived through it (we lived through it), got back on track, and eventually Garvey batted .319 for that season. I well remember the day he came out of The Slump and went five-for-five — the best day of his career and one of the happiest days of my young life. Turns out he had promised a crippled girl that he’d get a hit for her that day. It made all the papers. And, as in the movies, he couldn’t hit just one, he had to hit five: one grand slam, one other homer, two doubles, seven RBIs.

All these memories came flooding back to me just recently upon reading one of the many articles that have been written about my boyhood hero. It was like how you might recall a painful breakup with a serious steady one day while looking at your old photo album. The times I spent with Steve and the gang were sweet, or at least they used to seem so. Lately though, they’ve come to seem a little bitter, not so purely sweet. I feel sorry for all those Reds fans too, despite how I hated them when I was younger. They deserved better than what happened to Pete Rose.

Still, Pete was “Charlie Hustle.” He was never pure as the virgin snow. He had a grittiness about him — the snot-nosed kid from the tenements who was fighting for his mother’s good name. I guess we just misunderstood the kind of “hustle” they were talking about. But Steve Garvey was Mr. Clean, and there’s really no getting around the fact that he was not at all true to his image. He once was even quoted as saying he did everything as though there were a nine-year-old boy following him around. Or words to that effect.

I suppose all good things end, nothing last forever. Fortunately, the shock of shattered boyhood dreams is lessened by time. Steve’s not played for the Dodgers for seven years now. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday when my father and I were sitting in the living room watching the boys in blue struggle through the 1974 season to reach the World Series, chanting along with the home crowd as the first baseman is announced to bat with the game on the line: “Gar-vey! Gar-vey! Gar-vey!” (This was our variation on the more well-known “Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie!”) We watched on TV, my dad and I, as they clinched the pennant late in the season, and we jumped around the room and screamed and gave each other five and jumped and screamed some more.

But, on the other hand, it seems like that happened eons ago.

In the wake of the recently announced demise of VACUM, the Art Newspaper posted a story on the forced death march facing arts journalism. Here’s some key info:

Arts journalism as we used to know it is sinking with the ship…. The problem is that the cuts [to newspapers] are deepening an already miserable shortage of resources, set against a cultural universe that continues to expand [emphasis mine]. We are past the tipping point: it has become acceptable to run a paper with just a skeletal culture staff. Specialised writers are giving way to generalists. Culture sections are being tossed overboard (standalone book review sections, in particular, are a dying breed). Article lengths and “news holes” (space for editorial content) are shrinking. All this has eviscerated newspapers’ ability to deliver quality arts coverage, which, as a result, must migrate elsewhere…. Many experts believe that daily newspapers will never find a way back to sustaining solid arts journalism. Magazines are doing marginally better, but they cannot shoulder the burden of timely local arts coverage, especially for non-specialist readers — and some are folding.

None of this is a surprise to me, of course. Whereas I once had no problem finding home to 30+ yearly articles (even as I struggled to keep up on a dayjob) in local and national magazines, newspapers, newsweeklies, and online magazines, this has for the most part gone away in the past year. Most of these formerly welcoming venues have folded or been forced to cut back their space for arts writing. In fact, I’m back to writing almost solely for the first publication that was brave and daring enough to accept my very first review back in 1997. This is less of a tragedy for me than it sounds. While I’ve enjoyed writing about and supporting local art, it has not been without its hassles. And arts writing has never been much of a money-making venture.

This downturn in fact has given me freedom to evolve. I’ve been dabbling this past few months — ever since my most recent online magazine venture folded for budgetary reasons — with other writing forms: poetry, journalism, essays, fiction, memoir,… not to mention my eccentric and self-absorbed blogging (blogging, BTW, seems to be what the Art Newspaper pins all future hopes, even as it acknowledges that a general lack of funding for the practice keeps it marginal and ephemeral).

What’s perhaps the only unfortunate thing about this death of arts writing is the effect of the decline of attention being paid (not just by me, but by other writers across the board) to local artists. As the article hints, cultural production continues to expand even as less public attention is paid to it. As evidence, I note that today I am receiving more notices from artists — in the mail, via email, on Facebook, etc — than I ever have. Artists seem increasingly desperate for someone to notice them.

Alas, poor artists. In response to all your notices, emails, and public interruptions, all I can say is: Sorry. I can’t respond to your art, at least not in any official published way, but hey, that’s the way it goes.

Blank

As the TC Daily Planet just announced a few hours ago, the Visual Art Critics Union of Minnesota (or VACUM), a group I founded in 2002 (and led until 2005), has just announced it is disbanding.

For a sense of the history VACUM, as well as some insight into my feelings on its accomplishments, posted below is the letter I wrote to the group on reading the announcement.

Dear (now soon-to-be-ex-)VACUMers,

As this group’s original (some might say evil) step-parent, its namer, logo-maker, and its erstwhile co-founder (along with Jennifer Amie), I thought it might be appropriate at this point to say a few words of retrospection about it.

In 2002, after kicking around a few curatorial project ideas with several working critics in town, Jennifer and I took the plunge of calling as many visual arts writers as we could find at the time to the conference room of the Bell Museum, where she worked, on an unseasonably warm February weekend afternoon. Making a point of excluding no one and remaining open to everyone’s ideas, our intent was to investigate creating a critical cooperative of some sort, a banding together and pooling of resources and information that might help foster critical activity in town and act as a representative body for all critics. All in attendance seemed somewhat jazzed about these ideas, and some brought their own ideas, so we agreed to meet again and in time a group was formed.

The idea to start a critic’s association had been on my mind for several months in late 2001 and early 2002, during which I talked to similar groups (like CACA in Chicago and AICA in NY) and I searched my conscience to be sure I really wanted to take on such a chore. I recall sitting with Jennifer over a winter dinner, explaining my reluctance to add any more work to my busy schedule — because I assumed (correctly) that the bulk of the org’s work would fall on its nominal leader and also I assumed (again correctly) that that leader would probably be reluctant me. But, sure the cause was worthy, I assuaged my fears by making Jennifer promise that if we did this thing she would stick with it as co-leader/organizer (or whatever) and not abandon me. Jennifer lasted for about a year’s worth of meetings before she stopped attending and eventually gave up writing for publication.

Of the ten or twelve people who attended the meeting, fully half have fallen away through the years. Some have moved on to other towns. Some have given up writing. Some I’ve lost track of. Other people have come and used the group as they’ve needed to, then stayed or gone off to other things. A few rare others have stuck around through the lean and in-between, right up to the very end.

At its peak, real membership in the group (as opposed to the Yahoo group count) has hovered just above thirty, though meetings have never seemed to grow beyond the number of attendees at the first meeting. I myself gave up the leadership position of VACUM (I ended up disliking the term “president,” since we never had any formal standing as a body), in the spring of 2005. I was burned out and ready to become emeritus, though, because I truly cared about our efforts and about members of the group, I had to use the pretext of a move to Pittsburgh to extract myself.

In its first three-plus years, as was stated in the final meeting’s minutes, VACUM was remarkably successful. We gave each other mutual support; we mentored a number of young writers; we shared clips and critical information; and we met and mingled with artist groups in town (who, it turns out, were always happy to meet an organized group of critics). Then there were the programs we created from nothing and with nothing more than our collective effort. Sometime after the first year, we set up a lasting relationship with the MAEP through the “Trialogue” program of lectures on each of their shows. A year or so after that, we established the VACUM Attachment in the Rain Taxi. Further, it has also been suggested that VACUM’s greatest role has been providing connection and friendship between critics, who were formally not known for their tendency to mingle with each other. Significant relationships and passing dalliances, important mentorships and ongoing partnerships (as well as the opposite of each of these) are all part of VACUM’s legacy.

What I recognize now about VACUM is it came about during, and contributed to, a golden age of criticism in the Twin Cities. To list some examples of this: At the time of its founding and during its early years, Mason Riddle and Thomas O’Sullivan (two VAC-members) wrote art reviews as stringers for the Pioneer Press, and Judy Arginteanu (another member, though one who’s never attended a meeting as far as I know) and Matt Peiken (FoV) published regular art features for the paper. The Star Tribune of course had, and likely always will have, Mary Abbe, but it also published, back then, reviews by early VACUM member Doug Hanson. MPR had a weekly arts magazine with three dedicated arts reporters: FoVs Marianne Combs and Euan Kerr, as well as Chris Roberts. The City Pages regularly used to publish lengthy pieces on visual art (hard to believe, I know)—including reviews, features, and investigative reports by me, Patricia Briggs, and several other writers. Jennifer Amie wrote a regular column reviewing art shows on Mpls-St. Paul’s website. The Daily Minnesotan still had its vaunted weekly A&E section, and some alumni became VACUM members. The Pulse of the Twin Cities published, every single week, short art reviews by VACUM’s Valerie Valentine and by other writers. South Side Pride published pieces by VACUM’s Clea Felien, and the odd newsprint publication (Skyway News, etc) published the random arts writer, some of whom entered orbit around VACUM. Of course, there were also a constant cycle of well-meaning, short-lived, one-name publications — Object, Push, Ache, and several others that I no longer remember the name of — founded by idealistic 20-somethings who seemed sure they were going to singlehandedly revolutionize the art world; these, before they inevitably blinked out, published occasional member writings and contributed occasional VACUM members. Nationally, if you had interest, there were lots of publications to write for — including New Art Examiner out of Chicago, Dialogue out of Ohio, Art Issues out of L.A. — and some VACUM members did just that. Finally, when mnartists kicked off in 2002, right around the time VACUM was formed, for a time and up until recently the website published a wide range, and a significant number each month, of critical pieces. Many of the site’s visual arts writers have been VACUM members; some were steered to the site by their connection to VACUM. And some came to VACUM through mnartists.

What’s truly remarkable about all of this activity — some of you may have noted — is that, in the intervening seven years, it has all pretty much gone away. VACUM has proven unsuccessful in the face of all the insurmountable cultural forces chipping away at the perceived need for critical writing. And while a few venues have tried to fill in this gap — minnpost, a few blogs and web efforts (many focused more on marketing than fair and balanced writing), and, last but not least, ARP — the arts criticism cup now seems more empty to me than full.

Of course, we’re not alone in facing this constriction. Newspapers and magazines, publishers and writers are struggling all over the country. Just yesterday, one of the nation’s longest-employed newspaper critics, Alan Artner of the Chicago Tribune, was unceremoniously laid off. (He would not have been shocked; when I spoke to him last in the spring of 2006, he knew that his time would eventually run short, even though he’d been at it for nearly 30 years.) As I wrote in January of 2008 for mnartists:

“It’s easy to imagine a future time when there is no more art criticism. After all, daily newspaper art coverage, these days, is going the way of the mighty Wurlitzer, while new art magazines come and go more quickly than new iPod models. And the digital media replacing these old analog communication forms has turned out to be much more fickle and impermanent and generally incomprehensible than what once was….”

While I’m proud of VACUM’s successes, and I’m thankful for the sheer amount of dedication and effort that so many people have given to VACUM’s projects, at this point seven years later I realize I completely failed to accomplish my initial mission for VACUM: To bring about more and better art criticism in this town of ours. I have failed in particular in the goals of mutual support, of fostering critical efforts, of bringing people together. And, most egregiously, I have failed over time to make a clear case, to those in a position to help support us, in favor of criticism and in favor of VACUM.

I missed the meeting last week due to a prior commitment. If I had been in attendance at the meeting, I would have abstained from voting to scuttle VACUM, but I would have understood the reasons why people voted as they did. I can’t say I’m not disappointed in how this turned out, and in where we are culturally these days, but I don’t know how it could have turned out any differently.

In the aftermath, in the empty hole now left after VACUM, I only hope that a few people, at least, thought some of this was worth it. I wish you all well and hope to see you at a future Art Happy Hour, every 2nd Wednesday at the Bedlam Theatre, where we can at least continue the mission of getting shit-faced together in the name of art (www.arthappyhour.com; admin@arthappyhour.com; on FACEBOOK: “Art HappyHour”).

Yours,
Michael Fallon

I promise to post new material to CAFA very soon (once funeral fallout has settled, grant deadlines have passed, and life falls back into its regular pattern), but in the meantime here’s an updated version of the material I linked to in my previous post.

The reason I reposted this piece, and the reason I’m resubmitting it here, is I added more thoughts at the end based on events that occurred on September 15. By this I mean, in particular, “…the country’s continued and deepening economic decline and slide into oblivion; its inexplicable and pathetic fascination with Sarah Palin; its continued and maddening political gullibility; and the suicide of David Foster Wallace, who once, appropriately enough, observed in his essay ‘Consider the Lobster’: ‘After all the abstract intellection, there remain the facts of the frantically clanking lid, the pathetic clinging to the edge of the pot. Standing at the stove, it is hard to deny in any meaningful way that this is a living creature experiencing pain and wishing to avoid/escape the painful experience.’”

 If you’re lazy (like me!) and just want to read the new material, here it is, block-quoted:

AFTERWARD: SEPTEMBER 15, 2008: So it took ten long years—after giving it all I had to give—for me to fail in art. And while there are lot of platitudes that I could spout off here—about what one should do when given a bowl full of lemons, about what one should do if at first one doesn’t succeed, etc.—let’s be realistic for a moment. On July 15, 2008, I learned, plain and simple, that my expectations for art will never be met, that I will never be quite the success in art I hoped to be, that the arts community will never rise to the levels that I dreamed for it, and that I am lucky to have escaped.

I could point out that it took twenty wasted years, after graduating from college with a hopeful degree in art, for me to understand that a life in art is a doomed life, but I won’t dwell on this. Instead I’ll point out I’m not particularly unique in realizing the nature of the art world. The great German painter Gerhard Richter, for instance, said as much when he proclaimed: “Art is always to a large extent about need, despair and hopelessness.” The great American painter Jasper Johns said, about his early career as an artist: “I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that didn’t matter—that would be my life.” The American realist painter William Bailey said: “…Frankly, I believe that every painter is in a state of continual failure. The only constant in a painter’s life is failure.”

Now, in mid-September, two month after my grim nadir and a few weeks after the debacle of the lipsticked Pit Bull, while the days retract, gardens dry up, and a wan chill fills the air, I look back at all the drama and despair of the end of my arts career, and I am happy I am still able to breathe. I say this full knowing that the economic and cultural woes have only deepened since July 15. Lehman Brothers has tanked; Merrill Lynch has been bought up (even after nearly 100 years of independent operation); the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped on his day by nearly 500 points (the sixth highest amount in history); and David Foster Wallace committed suicide after battling with deepening depression (ironically enough while living the hometown of my brother, where I had just happened to be visiting at the time because of the death, at age 84, of my grandmother).

Yet despite the ever-darkening clouds outside my existential cabin, I am placid now, after having removed myself from the turmoil of a life in the arts. I’ve started a new, more sane, less soul-sucking, job, and I’m quietly, after two years and two months of dismay, coming to terms with my potentially misspent artistic life. If I had been, back on July 15, more level-headed and more prone to thinking for the long-term, I might have realized that—despite the individual failures of thousands of young people like me, despite the constant struggle and eventual capitulation of all of us in the arts, despite the endless climb against the raging current—it doesn’t matter really. Art goes on. Art survives and continues to be made, usually by the next generation who, in their energetic ignorance, relives the failure over and over again. Over the long term, individuals like me matter little in the face of the painful human compulsion to realize beauty from the labors of the hand.

If I were more resilient and long-suffering, or perhaps more talented or more cutthroat, all I’d have had to do is wait until these things that are ruinous to us now—in the culture, and in the art world—had passed, and we’d moved on to a more optimistic and hopeful time. Some of my more long-suffering artist friends have already spoken such words to me since July 15, the worry-lines of resignation on their faces giving lie to their optimistic words: “Music always gets made,” one said to me, “and it’s up to us—each of us—to come to the music.” Those who walk away from the music, he seemed to be saying, aren’t worth worrying about.

Maybe, I nod outwardly. But inside I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t an end time looming in the arts. Yes, people will continue coming to the art in their way, sticking with it or not on their own terms, finding their own equations for success and failure, and all will abide. But I wonder just how many more of these smart and capable young people who become fascinated by, and fall in love with, art—against their better judgment—have to ruin their life because of it. How many of us will continue to fall in love with such a life partner, passing twenty rocky years with her until we find out she’s been unfaithful since the beginning? Yes, maybe the music will go on no matter who is there to make it. But will the music have the resonance and beauty it’d’ve had if the culture had somehow agreed to make at least a minimal commitment of energy to it?

Truth is, there’s just no good way to spin a post-July 15 world. The only solace, perhaps, are words by the Irish critic and poet Edward Dowden, who said, “Sometimes a noble failure serves the world as faithfully as a distinguished success.” Perhaps July 15, 2008, simply had to happen so I, and perhaps you, could at last look at the artless world with new, and clearer, eyes, and realize that failure just is our lot in the arts. It’s just the way it is.

And while it’s sad that a person who’s dedicated so much time to art should be so bitterly resigned to failure now, perhaps this need not be a tragedy. Perhaps, in fact, this is a liberation and a blessing, a full license for me to investigate a number of new questions about art. Instead of wondering how I can survive the next week as an artist, I now can ask, with deep intention, why can’t the life of artists be better in this country? Instead of worrying about my next opportunity to exhibit or be on display, I can chronicle of the various aspects of failure in the arts in our time—with the view of someone who’s seen it and lived it—and expose the unaware to the depths of the problems faced by artists in America. I can take pause and wonder why can’t the beauty made of artists’ hands become a more integral part of the everyday life of Americans? Why aren’t we all working together—all of us, in all corners of the country—to prop up the arts and make our land more rich with beauty, with artistic ideas, with the well-crafted trappings of an elegant life? I can wonder exactly what it means that we’ve created a culture so antithetical to all the things that art stands for.

And so, with my hard-earned awareness of the precarious nature of a life in the arts I am driven now to seek potential answers about why, if art is doomed to failure, are we living creatures so attracted to its pain.

I’ve been distracted and out of town this week due to work and funerals and other everyday matters, and so I’ve had no original material to post on the subject of artistic failure of late. To make up for my distraction, here’s a link to a story that was posted this week on mnartists. It’s a story about my own latest bout with–what else?–artistic failure. Until next week…

My grandmother, Billie Sinclair (Noland) Barnes passed away on Wednesday morning, September 3, 2008, at 5:05 am Pacific Daylight Saving Time, after a long illness. She was 84 years old, and survived by her husband, John Wesley Barnes, son Jay, daughter Pamela, and three grandkids.

The poem posted below—which was originally posted on CAFA on May 15, 2008, just after the death of Robert Rauschenberg—was actually intended to be a tribute to my Grandma Billie, who had just become bedridden at that time. I’ve added an additional Postscript, in honor of my grandmother’s death, to the version I originally posted on this site. Enjoy.

The 1964 Venice Biennale

for Billie

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
Kenneth Noland’s paintings occupied half the American pavilion
at the Venice Biennale,
and Robert Rauschenberg won
the Gran Premio—
the youngest artist to do so to date.
As a result Europeans raged about America,
its Pop sensibilities
and its imperialistic designs—
though they didn’t riot like they would in 1968,
when I was two.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
my parents met on a blind-date trip down to Tiajuana,
in Baja California,
and my mother’s mother,
my grandmother Billie Ruth,
celebrated the twenty-somethingth anniversary
of her divorce from Kenneth Noland,
whom she had met in Asheville, North Carolina,
during the Second World War
when she was just eighteen-years old
and had run away from her mother.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
the esteemed Cardinal Urbani proclaimed a Biennale ban,
and the president absented himself.
Critics fumed too,
at Castelli’s campaign for the American.
“An offense to dignity,” said one;
“A general defeat of culture,” another.
But the artists could care less,
Chamberlain hopscotching across piazzas like a bear,
Oldenburg and his melting typewriter,
Cunningham and a safety pin to hold up his pants.

In 2007,
Forty-three years later,
long after half of these men’s deaths,
and after I had reached the age that Noland was at that time,
I would read about the Venice Biennial
and its embarrassment of riches,
about Rauschenberg’s combines
which had everything but Merce Cunningham’s pants.
And I would pause and consider
how things never really change—
unless you are a cobbler or a typewriter repairman—
and that is both a good and bad thing.

(Postscript)
Then, in 2008,
In the spring of the year,
I passed through Captiva Island,
Where Rauschenberg kept his own council as he faded,
And my grandparents in California
Barked at hospice workers,
Accusing them of swiping their savings,
And treated their family like gold-digging strangers.
When my mother shunned Billie Ruth’s funeral in September,
I sent a note to the artist Noland—
Though he wouldn’t know me from Adam—
And he replied that he had fond memories of her.

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.

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 CHRONICLE OF ARTISTIC FAILURE IS THE STORY OF THE DECLINE OF ART IN AMERICA. It’s a tale of the failure of the entire support structure for artists and arts viewing. The narrative encompasses the life work of artists and arts workers from a variety of backgrounds and places around the country, but it is a story that touches all of us in America, whether or not we think much of art or the plight of artists in our time.

How I came to write this chronicle is difficult to explain. Part of it, I suppose, is self-pity. Part of it too is a reaction to the timbre of the times, with how difficult it is for creative voices—those people who truly have something new and inspired to offer the world—to be heard above the cultural din. But the biggest part of all has to do simply with concern for the future of art.

I know I probably would be better served if I could redirected my creative mind’s chain of reactions and impulses to more productive and career-advancing work than focusing on failure. When I wrote my first critical review of art for the Atlanta-based art magazine Art Papers shortly after I moved to Minnesota in 1997, I did not intend to end up where I’ve ended up. But considering the life-long stresses that artists and other arts community members face—economically, socially, culturally, mentally—in their struggle to continue making or supporting their creativity, I suppose it was inevitable. This is the curse of the creative person: One often has little control of the leaps the mind will make, no matter how ill-advised or dark, and of the strange and potentially offensive forms of expression it will take on in its pursuit of creativity. The self-destructiveness of human creativity is age-old. This has been clear ever since the modern art market first emerged in the early 19th century, a century that is littered with stories of artists who were doomed to miserable failure caused by the artist’s own creative practice. Many artists on this dubious honor roll are rather highly regarded today.

In 1824, for example, French painter Theodore Gericault, creator of one of the most famous paintings in the history of art—“the Raft of the Medusa”—died of consumption at the age of 33. That the painter, whose work is widely considered groundbreaking today, was relatively forgotten at his death caused Jules Michelet to write: “He wanted to die. Nature listened, and death, death slow and cruel, gave him time to savor all the pains of a great unfinished destiny.”

In 1827, the English poet, painter, engraver, and printer William Blake died and was buried in an unmarked grave at the public cemetery of Bunhill Fields. Though Blake is widely admired today, he never shook off poverty and passed his last years in obscurity—and, according at least to William Wordsworth, in madness—even quarreling with some of the small circle of friends who supported him and his work.

In 1887, American painter Louis Michel Eilshemius showed two of his early paintings at the National Academy, considered a remarkable achievement for a young artist of the time. Afterward, however, he suffered through a long dry spell of public indifference until he finally gave up painting altogether after forty years of effort. He died in 1941, unknown and in a state of dire poverty, feeling he never received the recognition he deserved and writing bitterly at one point: “The mediocre are jealous of the superior. That is partly the case that my life has been a continuous struggle against irrecognition.”

Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s life was marked by poverty, drinking, poor nutrition, smoking, and obsessive work habits—all of which took a toll on his health. In his later years, bouts of productivity were interspersed with hospital and asylum stays, and in early 1890 Vincent’s attacks became more frequent and left him ever more incapacitated. On July 27 of 1890, van Gogh set out into a field with his easel and painting materials, where he took out a revolver and shot himself in the chest. He later died of the wound. Meanwhile, the painter Paul Gauguin, an estranged companion of Van Gogh’s, was deeply depressed toward the end of his life. In 1891, he at last abandoned his family and moved more or less for good to Tahiti, where he became ill, possibly of syphilis, and developed a drug addiction. Around 1892 he tried to commit suicide with poison but failed. He died of a heart attack in 1903.

Late nineteenth-century American painter Ralph Albert Blakelock’s early work was celebrated alongside Albert Pinkham Ryder’s work as essentially American. In midlife, though, Blakelock’s work stopped selling, and he suffered horribly in his attempt to support his family. In 1899, Blacklock was institutionalized, most likely due to schizophrenia compounded by the disappointments of his life, and he died there a few years later. French sculptor Camille Claudel was considered remarkably talented as a young sculptor, but she spent most of her adult life as a recluse. In 1913, Claudel was committed to a mental asylum, where she remained until her death thirty years later.

While these artists came from various places, background, and situations, and they each found their own unique way to ruin their lives, what connects them is the very fact that it is their creativity that causes their life frustration and ultimate failure and doom. All of these artists, more or less, could not help themselves from following their own idea of art; they pursued their own eccentrically creative approach to art-making or delved into subject matter considered taboo by most people. Their creative minds gave them no choice but to explore art in each their own way, and in the end they paid the price for this.

Camille Claudel, for example, was prone to portraying the human form in overtly sensual way that was deemed inappropriate at the time by state and press. The resulting censorship and isolation may have contributed to the decline of her mental state and to her institutionalization. Van Gogh and Gauguin, meanwhile, lived lives well outside societal norms, full of Bohemian excess and shameful decisions—one lived with a prostitute, the other took a Tahitian island girl as a wife even while he still had a wife back home. Further, their painting styles challenged the norms of the time, causing much bewilderment among the public, and, at best, ambivalence when it came to buying. Blake’s work too was wildly eccentric for the time—in fact, that’s what makes him such an enduring artist today. However, his unique artistic choices led, as with Van Gogh and Gaugin, directly to his economic dissolution.

Perhaps the greatest, most archetypal failed artist, Theodore Gericault, was a creative maverick whose great historical painting, which took him nearly a year to complete, was deemed at its unveiling, despite its technical mastery, an embarrassment to the reigning powers of the time. Though it was customary then for great historical paintings to be bought French government, “The Raft of the Medusa” remained unsold and stored in a basement of the Louvre for more than forty years until its rediscovery. This ultimately forced Gericault to work and exhibit in England, where he spent his final years, angry and alone and supporting himself by painting genre pictures of horses. The state of frustration engendered by his own creative choices is evident in his writing: “I search vainly for support; nothing is solid, everything escapes me, everything deceives me. Our hopes and our desires are truly only vain chimeras, and our successes, only phantoms… If there is to be one certain thing that we can be sure of on this world, it is our pain. Suffering is real; pleasures are only imaginary.”