On getting older

Another day older and deeper in debt.  No really, tell me there is more.

Today is my birthday.  I was born 58 years ago back in 1957, 13 days after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 into a low elliptical orbit around the earth. The space race of my youth, seemed to be the perfect metaphor for what kindled my generation’s notion of success.sputnik_nyt

It’s a curious thing getting older.  When you are a child, all you want to do is get older so that you can do those things you can’t do when you are younger.  Those younger years are filled with milestones that you dream and yearn for….driver’s license, first kisses and so many other things people experience on the way to adulthood.

Some people dread getting older but getting older is freeing in so many ways.

In my twenties my brain felt like it was on fire.  I couldn’t make art quick enough to keep up with the things I wanted to create.  And then there was the “Career”.  As I graduated from grad school from the University of New Mexico most young artist I know were sucked into the myth that if you didn’t “make it” by the time you were 30, you were a has been.  I worked feverously as if that were the truth.  Time was surely running out and the “Cult of youth”was an impending tsunami ready to wash you away to obscurity.  I mean young people right out of grad school were now being chosen to be in the Whitney Museum of Art’s biennial and at the time that seemed where art careers were born and those who missed the boat…well missed the boat.   During this time I wrote letters, sent out slides and portfolios and spent large amount of time and treasure promoting myself.  It seems like such a waste now.  Not sure of any of it mattered, at least in the way I thought it might.  Now with websites and mass media and the sheer glut of young artist bursting on the scene, it’s no easier for a young artist, mid career and older artist to get noticed.

Marcel Duchamp. Boîte-en-valise (de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Sþlavy). 1935-41. Leather valise containing miniature replicas, photographs, and color reproductions of works by Duchamp, and one “original” (Large Glass, collotype on celluloid), (69 items) overall 16 x 15 x 4″ (40.6 x 38.1 x 10.2 cm). IX/XX from Deluxe Edition. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. James Thrall Soby Fund. © Succession Marcel Duchamp ARS New York/ADAGP Paris 1998. Photo: John Wronn, ©1999 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

One of my last ditch efforts to get some traction and break into the big time came in the form of “Exhibition in a Box“.  Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s “Boîte-en-valise”.  “Exhibition in a Box” was a small gallery the size of a toy chest.  It was filled with a series of bronzes and sent out to unsuspecting art museums. If the piece got in the door of the museum, I put it on my resume as having a show at that museum.  In very fine print on my resume I also stated that the show was not put together by the museum and that it indeed was a farce.  The box came in a look alike crate….which made it an unusual art crate to begin with.  The package came with a catalog with an essay written by Charles Dee Mitchell who had written a review of my work for Art in America and a “Exhibition in a Box” T-shirt that listed all of the “Exhibitions” venues.Exhibition-in-a-box1-450x600

First place I sent it to, took a dim view of what I was trying to do and noted such in a letter to me, dismissing my idea as being exploitive.  In my response I pointed out that other artist had done similar things to get noticed. I pointed to Linda Benglis’s advertisement in the 1974 issue of Art Forum where she took out an ad where she appeared nude sporting a large sex toy.  It was a very in your face way of saying…..if I had a penis you all would have noticed me by now.  Thankfully Benglis was a talented artist who had the chops that matched her sass.

My using that as an example fell flat and the museum director’s response was yeah but she was making a political statement about women’s not being represented in galleries the way men were.  Fair enough, but by the time I produced my “Exhibition in a Box” Linda Benglis was a world renowned artist who was represented by major art galleries and in the collections of major museums and private collections. The sands of time have shifted, the playing field is certainly leveler but women and people of color are still under represented in galleries today.  But I was very disgruntled at the time and I complained a lot about why I couldn’t get any traction.  Looking back I think I was very ill at ease with myself. My 30’s were brutal…..all that angst and the fear of failure.

I guess my point in telling this story is that now at the age of 58 all of that doesn’t seem to be as important to me.  Instead of worrying about my place in the future and what that might or might not be, I find myself more focused on today and tomorrow.  With all my planning and scheming my life has gone virtually unchanged for the past 27 years and I have discovered long ago that I truly love teaching middle school art at St. John’s Episcopal School and hope to teach there until I’m 70.

In the end, teaching has brought me more joy than the “Success” I once so worked so hard for.

Photo by Rodney Rogers from Kirk Hopper Fine Arts show: CHANGE, 2015

Getting older has given me the wisdom to redefine what success means to me now.  I just had my 25th one person show in 35 years of making art at Kirk Hopper Fine Arts here in Dallas.  I’ve known quite a few very talented artist who hung it up long ago, because the struggle was too difficult and they never were able to redefine what success meant to them.

I think it’s hard to redefine success for oneself because culturally “Success” is all about money, big houses, fancy cars and all the other materialistic things hoisted upon us as signs of success.  Some might even see my redefining success as delusional and if thats the case, so be it.  Making strange things and hoping people will buy it and hang it in their homes can be seen as delusional as well, so I guess I’ve been that for some time.

Me, I’ve just gotten older and continue to work and evolve and I’m as comfortable in my own skin as I ever have been.  I can say, I am a successful artist just because I continue to make art and exhibit my work after 35 years after I broke out onto the scene.

Age has given me that perspective and liberty. So turning 58 and getting older is good.  I am thankful for the years thats past and look forward to the years to come.

2 thoughts on “On getting older

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