If you treat artists like entertainers…



A while ago, a photographer who had made quite splash with his first book was about to publish his second one. As I followed some of the discussions about what to expect from that second book I couldn’t help but notice the similarities with the kinds of discussions usually to be held when a rock band or some pop star releases a second album after a very successful first one. I thought that maybe that wasn’t a very good way to deal with photography.

Somewhat related, today Ed Winkleman discusses the evolution (or non-evolution) of artists, mentioning some debate of the current Andreas Gursky show (also see Tim’s contribution). The main problem I have with discussions like this is that they basically treats artists as if they were entertainers. If you’re an entertainer, you want to change your act regularly because otherwise your audience will get bored.

But why would we want to treat artists in the same way? I think treating art like entertainment deprives both artists and ourselves of a lot of what art actually has to offer. It is true, once we have seen an artist’s first big splash with something, something new will not quite have the same impact. But who is to say that an artist then has to find something new? And why is sticking with what an artist is doing and exploring it in more detail bad? If we are bored with it, is it then not our problem, because we treat it like entertainment?

And I guess I shouldn’t comment on Saltz’s use of 9/11 as some sort of yardstick. In all my travels to Europe since 9/11 I have consistently failed to detect the “undercurrent of fear” he is talking about.