Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to define Succe$$?

Attending Platform 2’s “Failure Support Group” on Feb. 29 got me thinking about how wonderfully confused we all get in America when money doesn’t define success – even if we’d prefer money didn’t define success.

The evening started with people talking about their failures to the group assembled at Cambridge’s Democracy Center. Matt Nash talked about an art project (designed to fail?) in which he and a collaborator in another city tried to share the same emotions. One of the evening’s organizers, Jane D. Marshing, talked about her disappointment with the discussion at Platform 2’s forum of the theme of the “commons” last summer. A man talked about snow globes he manufactured that depicted the Biblical plagues of Egypt (wow!), but which failed to sell.

This lead to a free-form group discussion of failure, that was actually quite supportive. The general theme was that things that seemed like failures were in fact – at least partly – successful because the artist was doing work, or getting shows, or reaching at least one person, and so on.

The question was how do we define success. There are ways we quantify success: how many shows you get, how many people attend your events, how many people laugh at your jokes, how many hits your website gets, etc. But in our society the criterion that trumps all others is money. Success equals making money.

But relatively few artists make much money from their art – or at least enough to live on. Some by choice; some by fate. Either way there’s a skepticism of money in the art world.

But if money isn’t the criterion of success, how do we keep score? We turn to squishy metrics like taste or opinion – our own, our friends’, curators’, critics’, and so on. It’s that squishiness that makes it all so complex and interesting – but it’s also what can make it so nerve-wracking.

The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America.

Pictured at top: Catherine D'Ignazio (left) and Andi Sutton. Pictured bottom: The crowd.


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