I was recently doing a google search for something unrelated and found this historic gem: an article from 20 years ago, in a local newspaper, titled “the best recent MFA graduates to watch in Dallas Fort Worth”, or something to that effect. It was one of those lists that introduce up-and-coming area artists to a general audience, validating their artistic legitimacy and drawing the attention of art connoisseurs to their work.
This list peeked my curiosity for sure since I recognized only one name on it, out of all ten. She is a sculptor who is currently creating public art with architectural elements. The way I know her, she is sociable and well known locally, but has an international experience as well. I love her work, whimsical and – being public art – aesthetically accessible to a wider audience. Beautiful! Though not really groundbreaking or revolutionary.
What struck me, however, was what I didn’t know. None of the names of the other artists was familiar to me. So I dedicated a couple of hours to researching the other artists on the list.
According to what I found, five of the ten were still active in the arts. Besides my acquaintance, who was still a working artist, one of them had moved to Marfa, TX, and set up a creative b&b there. One worked as an art installer. Another was a manager at a local art gallery. And still another, a metalsmith, had transformed his skill into a sought-after fabrication business.
The other five had sunk into obscurity. I was not able to find any information about them or if I did, those people didn’t seem connected to their previous artist personas or the info didn’t give out a connection.
You might think that this post laments the short-lived art lives. After all, these were artists that were the most celebrated, the most promising at their debut. Even though most artists who complete their MFAs – a serious financial and time investment in their careers that proclaimed their choice – end up not practicing art after that, these are not simple MFAs but people who were the best of the crop. If even they stopped making art, with only one percent – arguably – still creating, this didn’t speak very well of the degree in general. Or the profession. Or the vocation.
But I don’t mean this in the least. Guilting people into creating is not only counterproductive. It’s also unnecessary. It should be fine to make room for others. The creative life is short. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. And perhaps the best artists can be an absolute force of nature for just a short time. Tina Modotti, one of the greatest figures of modernist photography who started as a muse to Edward Weston to then become a photographer herself (what an awesome and courageous step to take over the camera) and make a lasting impact on the genre, she was a photographer for 10 years only. Others came into the field afterwards. If we are to force someone to continue producing art, just to give value to their previous works (for collecting purposes) that’s the saddest spectacle ever. Artists need breaks. They need graceful exits. The opportunity to change careers and ideas. They don’t need shaming.
But even with this, I still mourn the disappearance of the work I had not seen, that wasn’t to be. See, the online article didn’t really provide images of the artwork they were making at the time even.