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January 14, 2008


Michael Fallon

Thank you, MK, for your comments on my CAFA post about artists-falling-through-the-cracks, and Sonya Gechtoff. I think your take on the situation (esp. your comment about Gechtoff's life being an argument for health care reform) were spot-on. I agree with you that Gechtoff's career, in art-world terms, was a success--albeit a short-lived and (at best) second-tier one. Many artists would consider themselves fortunate to have achieved what she did between 1958 and 1962. At the same time however, looked at objectively and using any standards other than the art world's, Gechtoff is a failure in life--sick, stuck in diminished conditions, broke, alone, somewhat bitter.

Still, my original story about Gechtoff played a key role in my development as a critic/arts writer. I've worked extensively in the Twin Cities as an arts writer since 1997. In 2002, I wrote a few profiles about local artists who had fallen on hard times in their 60s, mostly owing to their hard adherence to the artist "lifestyle." I became interested in knowing if there were other aging artists, in other places, who had experienced the same--and I traveled for several years to places like L.A., Atlanta, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Colorado, and so on, to understand what was happening to the artists who came of age in the middle part of the last century. Meeting Gechtoff in 2004, and observing her conditions and recording her words, was a turning point for me. Because of her, I began to think of artists of her generation as "doomed," and I grew increasingly circumspect about the state of art in this country. In 2006, I managed a research project, at Carnegie Mellon University, into the plight of aging artists and learned a great deal about the statistical and anecdotal state of artists now.

As a result of all of these experiences and based on all of this information, I've we are experiencing now, in the transfer of artistic generations that is occurring at the dawn of this new millennium, a uniquely disgraceful era. I believe in the advent of artistic failure in America, and I am doing what I can to Chronicle it.

Thanks again for your interest. I hope you'll check back often.


Thanks for your comment, Michael. I do plan on continuing reading. I think you're right that there are some widespread problems, and not just in the visual arts field. A lot of what you're discussing sounds familiar from what I've known of the problems faced by older musicians (and once again, as your post notes, often disproportionately minority and female ones.) While I wouldn't pretend to offer myself as an expert on health care policy, I would note, since it's come up, that one argument made in favor of some reform ideas is that by making health care more readily available/secure, those who might want to pursue certain careers that don't readily offer insurance (whether as an artist or as a small business entrepreneur) would be able to do so without running some of the risks that one currently does and thereby encouraging innovation of various kinds. There are probably a number of other, larger or less large, policy areas that could make a difference in addressing some problems related to the uncertainty of a life the arts, although the likelihood of any of them occurring may not be so great. I would, however, separate these to at least some degree from what might be called the more intellectual existential issues of reputation, reception, critical/historical success, etc. Not that these entirely split (a sustained strong reception obviously has its rewards), but they're not exactly the same, either. One can affirm that everyone should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams while keeping their dignity while reserving the right to withhold our acclaim. On the other hand, as I alluded to above and have said in the past, I'm not a fan of the "not so good as Turgenev" mindset and prefer to keep in mind that art need not be great in order to be good.

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