Advice for Art Writers: Keep Your Standard of Living Extremely Low

Lucy Lippard in 1976

Lucy Lippard in 1976.

It’s a coincidence, but a rather piquant one, that yesterday, just a few hours after a blackboard work by Cy Twombly sold for $30 million in a Christie’s salesroom in London, Lucy Lippard took the stage in a Hilton in Midtown Manhattan and spoke about living modestly in the service of producing ideas. Nearly every line of Lippard’s acceptance speech for the College Art Association’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art was a gem; below are a few choice passages for your reading pleasure this morning.

Art Criticism: “A Term I’ve Always Kind of Disliked”

“…[M]y 50 years of art writing have often been motivated by a desire to escape the art world. I’m … pleased that the award is for art writing and not art criticism, a term I’ve always kind of disliked, since most of what I know about art I learned from artists, and artists from pretty diverse backgrounds, and ‘critic’ sounds awfully antagonistic. Art writing is an odd profession. I suspect many of us thought we were on our way somewhere else–journalism, poetry, or fiction in my case.”

“Save the Bitching and Whining for Society”

“I’ve never aspired to be a theorist. I like ideas, and watching them go out into the world where they confront all the contradictions of lived experience. … My… taste leans toward art that intervenes, that comes to grips with life. I’m interested in the contradictory, mysterious ways in which objects or actions enter social contexts, and what images and spaces mean and do to people. I’ve been told I’m not a real art critic because I write about what I like, and save the bitching and whining for society. It’s interesting that you get called a propagandist not when you’re pushing a single mainstream artist or group or style or theory, but when you advocate ideas that might challenge the status quo, when you insist on relating art not just to life but to sociopolitical issues.”

Working Collaboratively

“I’ve always been attracted to the margins—living in …New Mexico for 23 years has helped. The three escape attempts that have most affected my life and my art writing are conceptualism, conceptual art, feminism, and art activism. They have all involved working collaboratively or collectively and if I have to thank people, that’s who I would thank, all my endless collaborators.”

“That Gap Between Art and Life Where I Like to Hang Out”

“I followed artists in and out of the art world, looking for that gap between art and life where I like to hang out. The artists I most admire are trying—through medium, form, content, and context—to broaden the meaning of art and society. Freelancing has allowed me to work like an artist, not that the results are art, but by working like an artist I’ve been following my own interests, my own style, sometimes borrowing from artists by introducing odd formats, trying to frame my writings unconventionally to jolt expectations.”

“Keep Your Standard of Living Extremely Low”

“I’ll end with my usual advice to young art writers: keep your standard of living extremely low and you can write what you want.”

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