Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Mid-Career Crisis

Here is a familiar predicament for artists of a certain age.

For many years the artist X has been internationally successful making a particular work, Y, almost unvarying, perhaps quite narrowly defined. Everyone is tired of Y, including X. We’ve seen it once too often, it’s boring, the artist has no ideas etc. Yet when X initiates a change, making Z, nobody likes it. There is talk of selling out, of working for a market, of failure of nerve. Everyone is glad when Z is quietly dropped and X goes back to making Y.

Now X can be discovered by a new generation, hailed as a pioneer, an inspiration, an artist of integrity. Although X is universally applauded, receives great critical acclaim, a place in the history books, actually no one is interested in the work, no one talks about it or thinks about it, no one goes to see the retrospective shows.

Although this may apply to a style or reportoire of practices rather than a life-time project, the publicly allowable range of digression may be very small. And this attitude occurs strongly (among artists as much as collectors, dealers and arts consumers) in a field where freedom and innovation are assumed to be definitive.

The crazy (perhaps cruel) notion that an artist should do one thing may be more widespread than it seems.