When I attended the gala event for Kerry James Marshall's "One True Thing: Meditations on Black Aesthetics," exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art during Chicago Artists' Month of 2004 I was struck by the cultural complexity of the attendees.
In other words, I had NEVER seen so many people of color at the MCA at one time in years, if ever! I also went to the Romare Bearden exhibition in 1991 at the old MCA location on Ontario Street. I saw Betye and Alison Saar there. All the artists, collectors and art lovers I knew made it their business to go, too! Some more than once!
At Marshall's gala I remember whispering to Madeline Raab, a former commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, something like "See! If they bring shows that reflect us, we will come". I thought I saw every black middle class man and woman in Chicago in the huge rooms, thrilled to support an artist who made us see ourselves, who made us part of the fabric of the cultural community of Chicago and the world.
Artists have to think about who will come see their work. That's a no-brainer. And galleries have to think about who will come see, and collect, an artist. And the bill collectors have to hope that someone will buy artist's work so that the bills get paid! All this makes sense. It's the "art before the cart" that I consider problematic!
I hope that my audience is universal. Even when I paint individuals who survived American slavery I am not only addressing the condition of black Chicagoans, black Americans or blacks from the African diaspora, but anyone who has been limited and controlled, been abused, been marginalized in the many ways people of African descent in this country and the world have been and continue to be.
Should artists think about their audience and what the audience wants AT ALL?
I have heard some artists (who are not abstract artists) say, "Abstracts are selling so I am going to make abstracts." I have heard artists say "Corporations buy non-objective art work for their collections, so that's what I will produce."
(This clearly is not a universal truth.)
Is there a right or wrong answer? I doubt it. But there are numerous questions concerning this issue that we can consider so, at least, we are conscious of why we do what we do:
1. Is it deceptive for "fine artists" (not illustrators or designers) to make art for the audience?
2. Are artists who make art for the audience anti-art in any way?
3. Should collectors avoid artists who switch styles for the sake of sales?
4. Should the artist do what it takes to sustain her practice?
As for me, I think first about what moves me. I trust the audience recognizes my authenticity and will respond to the images I produce. Oh, and I have the luxury of working at a university that pays me every two weeks.
What do you think?