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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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  • Johnny Be Good

    I’ve combined art writing with the biography: It seems as though the artist cannot step away from his / hers art no more than they can step away from their life. Yes, it is often difficult to recognize the color scheme, at times, because it could be a fabrication, or the deepest part of the artist consciousness. For that reason I rely on the draftsmanship of the art, like a good narrator, it pleases the eye. There is no other way to observe this craft other than releasing oneself from the confines of a high standard of living because it gets in the way of what is real.

  • Guest

    Especially when young, try several residual income start ups and see that will young writers and artists. Writing, fine art, music, those fields will always have writers, artists and musicians who are willing to sacrifice so much and, they will in many instances have to sacrifice a great deal. However, if other sources of income can be setup swiftly, residual income streams, it will really help. It should be common knowledge and suggested to artists but it is a new phenomena now with Internet and online opportunities. The mystery/horror writer, @JAKonrath has suggested as much in recent times and it is good, excellent advice. The low end lifestyle, yes, definitively if there is no wealthy relative or other such income to draw on as is rarely the case.

  • The hugely successful horror/mystery writer, @A. J. Konrath suggests residual income streams and that is excellent advice. It is well worth the time and energy to research and start enterprises, independent if necessary or in alignment with others that will bring you residual income. Low end lifestyle, definitively. Most people do not have trust funds and family with funds to help them through the rough times and let’s be honest, so much of what our basic needs are have to with money and the ability to cover those needs. Be free. Travel the world but take care, your writing, your art, your music is needed in our world.

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