I am hearing from artists concerned about the current focus on social and political art, often by artists of color. Since their own work doesn’t fit the trend, they feel that it isn’t fair.
There is a strange assumption here, as well as some historical amnesia. The art world isn’t fair now, and never was. It reflects and responds to contemporary issues, especially during volatile times. For example, art about the pandemic is now making its way into galleries and museums.
If you think the art world used to be fair, remember that women artists were ignored or marginalized for decades, seen as less important than their male colleagues. Similarly, many excellent artists of color received no attention until recent political events made their work suddenly relevant.
A similar shift happened in the 1970s in academia. As a result of the women’s rights movement, white males with Ph.D.s from Ivy League universities suddenly began to lose jobs to equally well-qualified women. These men were outraged and claimed that it wasn’t “fair.” Their shock was real, since it was the first time they had experienced what it felt like to be marginalized.
When you start to feel such resentments, dig deeper into the lives of artists who are currently receiving so much attention. They have always been there. While Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michele Obama catapulted her to fame in 2018, she had been making remarkable portraits of Black Americans for two decades. She paid her dues, showing her work at the Baltimore City Hall and alternative art spaces, waiting tables to support herself until she was 38. Sherald is now represented by Hauser & Wirth.
So, if you are feeling invisible now, don’t give up. Let these wonderful artists encourage you and give you hope.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D
Career & Life Coach for Artists
“Left Brain Skills for Right Brained People”
As an artist coach, I bring a unique combination of business knowledge, art world experience, and professional coaching skill to my practice.