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"Art Groupie"
...An Art Addict's View

no. 1, october 2001

Compulsive art "groupies" are not hard to recognize. At art openings, they mingle with the high profile members of the art community, however they can not purchase the art on display, nor do they want to. Artists, collectors, gallery owners, art "groupies" and normal patrons all attend the somewhat "hyped" event. As a result, the openings are too crowded to see anything, let alone a work of art. Art openings are an arena for artists, collectors and the like, to network. The art industry is a tough business and in order to succeed as an artist, dealer, whomever, you need to know the "right" people. The "right" people are those that can circulate your name within the selective circles of the art community. Unfortunately, in an attempt to meet the "right" people, the art is overlooked. This is quite intriguing, isn't it? On the other hand, art "groupies" are the finely selected individuals (typically, friends of the artists) who express no genuine interest in art, nor covet the life of an art patron. A space filled with art connoisseurs can attract up and comers from other industries, seeking the same notoriety as the artists themselves. Frankly, the "scene" that surrounds art today deters any interest I may have to enter the contemporary art community. Well, in all honesty, I am connected to the art "scene." I tend to befriend student artists. They represent the fresh, undiscovered class of artist; unfortunately, only some of them will become the art innovators of the future.

I am an art historian, in training, (in truth, I recently graduated college with a BA in Fine Arts.) I would like to say that I am somewhat fascinated by contemporary art. I go to the galleries in Chelsea at least four times a year. Granted, the overwhelming sense of pretension that pervades the New York art world, ("groupies" often indicate pretension,) bothers me. Nonetheless, I am an art historian, not an artist. I can avoid those social circles. In my experience, artists stereotype art historians as those who can't create art so they are forced to study it. Consequently, throughout the art history department, students, including myself, do not socialize with the studio art kids. Artists and similarly, art historians, create a tight knit community, whereby, only qualified members are allowed.

Artists go to galleries together, and exhibit a sense of collective unity. The mantra: Artists support fellow artists. Artists can be considered art "groupies," a different type, of course. Socially, they stick together, primarily because they share the same interests but also, because they see opportunity in accumulating as many friends as possible who are artists. If one member succeeds, the others will benefit from the amicable association. Art historians tend to behave socially in the same manner. So, art historians stay in the library while artists stay in the studio. Art historians and artists alike are addicted to the study of and creation of art, respectively. Art historians and artists co-exist on a purely ideological level.

Case in point, I was talking to my friend, who is an artist, and he told me that it is true, most artists dislike art historians. Why? I was offended. I understand the sense of solidarity that permeates the artist community; however, they shouldn't belittle us or discredit our function within the art "scene." We may not associate directly with artists, but we are personally invested in the study of art, a medium that he claims to love. We serve as intermediaries between the artist and academia. Furthermore, art historians translate the artists' cryptic messages to the community at large. He will appreciate the art historian when he is seeking representation from a gallery, owned by an art historian. I told myself to calm down and let him explain. Supposedly, I lack the gumption to use my knowledge of art and create it. Consequently, artists are those who are equipped with the literature of John Barth, for example, and artistic talent, which leads to the production of art. Ideally, the artist will tackle personal demons in an effort to adequately represent him or herself in the visual medium. Artists want to be provocative and innovative. An artist provides the art world with "the news" and the art historian documents it. A certain animosity may exist between the two parties.

Most of the time, I am content with art as an academic medium, not a physical one, the end. Nonetheless, I respect the artists' point of view, and although I am a mere art historian, I yearn to create something. Then, my friend, the artist, shocked me with a final comment. He called me an art "groupie."

Initially, I couldn't believe that he had the audacity to label me a "groupie." All of a sudden, images of pretentious gallery goers ran through my mind. I can't be compared to those people, right? Secondly, I can't be considered an art "groupie" by the mere fact that I associate with other art history students. I am not socially exclusive. Well, let's examine the facts. Number 1: I am an art history major, but I do not plan to continue studying in the field. Number 2: I have experimented with studio art classes, searching for an artistic outlet. Number 3: I am fascinated with the art scene and I am interested in the inner workings of the artists' life. Wait... let's backtrack. Everyone in the art community can be considered an art "groupie." The popular definition is too vague.
The first thought that crosses my mind when someone mentions the term "groupie," is one who I may find circulating the gallery floor on opening day. But, these individuals are addicted to the art community, wherein they search for opportunities. In most cases, they regard art as a means for some sort of advancement. For everybody else, in order to infiltrate the art community, you must surrender to it. You inadvertently befriend others who share your interests and intrigue in the art world. You dedicate a bulk of your time to art making, art research, art networking and in the end, there is no more time left....

by Melissa Smith
for Popportraits.com


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