Last night I dreamt that I was married to a giraffe. It was a happy marriage, quite stable and nourishing, or so I thought. One evening giraffe said (s)he had to go to an important meeting; (s)he could not tell me anything about it because it was highly classified.
This was more than puzzling, because (s)he did not deal in intelligence-gathering nor did (s)he hold any government position.
When (s)he had not returned several hours later, a friend and I located the meeting and went to see what was happening. The highly classified door was opened by a highly classified young woman in a bikini serving highly classified cocktails, among other enticements.
I am not Sigmunda. But the message of the dream seemed pretty clear to me.
As I look at the art world - the real art world, not the Hollywood/Bollywood world of entertainment and ego-driven auctions, of Rolls Royce prices and Maserati-driven competition - as I look at most of the artists struggling to give voice to their passions, to make a dent in the world, as Steve Jobs put it - I get the same sense of betrayal that I found in the dream.
These artists of the real world pay a huge price to establish their names. They pay fees ranging from $30 to $75 and higher just to enter a competition. If accepted they pay packing and shipping both ways, plus insurance which reimburses nothing if a piece is dented or otherwise damaged. They are offered the ephemeral return of a percentage if a piece sells: do you have any idea how often a piece sells at one of these juried shows? (I call it the percentage pipe dream.) If they are fortunate enough to find their work in a catalog of the show, they have to purchase the catalog. The costs do not include the cost of education, materials, hardware and software if they are digital, time and effort. Each show has its own demands, a stultifying list of requirements that takes hours of repetitive paperwork to satisfy.
Let us say that these artists are moderately successful, in terms of adding lines to their resumes. Yet in most cases they stay on the merry-go-round of the same system. Even if they are fortunate enough, as I have been, to be part of a commercial gallery's "stable" (for such we are called), they know that gallery sales are anemic and that many galleries are closing shop.
I am divulging highly classified information, because any artist who questions the system risks being ostrasized. But underneath that huge pyramid, with the glittering Koons peak, lie the worn bodies of thousands of truly gifted artists toiling for little.
It is a lonely existence. It demands an iron-clad belief in what you are doing and a steel-like acceptance that the returns may be miniscule. Artists sound their barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world (thank you, Walt Whitman) and hope that someone, somewhere, is listening.
I am reminded of a comment by St. Augustine: "I came to Carthage in the center of a skillet where outrageous love affairs hissed all around me." (1)
So why do we stay together, giraffe and I? Here is what I wrote 4 years ago: "I create to keep myself sane in a jabberwocky world. I create because I can't not create. I create to touch the hearts of others. I create to put the graffiti of my soul on the walls of living. I create to build bridges from yesterday to tomorrow. I create for the sheer joy of creating. And I create as a form of love." (2)
So although giraffe is sometimes fickle, and I am sometimes discouraged, we are bound together, pea and pod, dumpty and humpty, tweedle dum and who knows who, until the sparrow of infinity lulls us all to sleep.
c. Corinne Whitaker 2017
(1) "The Invention of Sex", Stephen Greenblatt, The New Yorker, 6.19.17, p. 24