Me? Invited to be in an art exhibit in Paris? Ooh-la-la! Actually, anyone can be in it just by sending five paintings and a check for $800 to Paris' Centre Internationale d'Art Contemporain. Oh well, it sounded great for a moment.
What about being listed in a registry, such as Artists/USA, published by the Foundation for the Advancement of Artists in Philadelphia, which went out of business shortly after publishing this book. Or The World's Who's Who of Women. Then people will have heard of me. Well, maybe not. One has to pay $30 or $40 to buy the books in order to be listed, and few libraries stock these vanity publications.
So why would any self-respecting artist pay good money to these places? Sheer and utter desperation.
The trouble is, there are too many artists and not enough galleries and museums to show their work. As a result, artists have had to change their orientation. They seek not only to make a living by selling their work, but also to convince others (and possibly themselves) that they are not simply Sunday painters. No one would have thought to ask young Jackson Pollack for his re'sume', but now no serious young artist would consider leaving home without one. And these re'sume's are kept up to date and packed with experience and achievements.
Like the re'sume's of other professionals, the importance of these activities and achievements tends to become inflated. Unimportant juried shows and unread registries often seem to exist mostly to offer artists something to pad their re'sume's with. And they increase in significance as the artists hope that someone will believe their careers have progressed and that they have been noticed.
"Being an artist today is a lot harder than it was in the past," painter Chuck Close says. "There is a sense of raised expectations today, due to art schools and other institutions with which artists are associated. You see Frank Stella have a one-man show when he's 21, or Julian Schnabel having a retrospective when he's 30. If you've been hanging in there and haven't achieved any measurable success, you begin to ask yourself, 'What do I have to point to that shows I'm a professional, too?' "
Ultimately, the largest change in the art world over the past 20 years may be the idea that artists can consider themselves failures if they don't achieve some real measure of financial success. In 1945, an Art News survey found that Raphael Soyer was the only American fine artist alive at the time who was able to make enough money from his work not to need another job -- $5,000 a year. Since then, many others have entered the ranks of full-time artists, but most do not. They have to hold various jobs (the lucky ones teach) and dream through their re'sume's.
A lengthy re'sume' is truly the last refuge of the less-than-successful artist, often filled with pages of semifictional accomplishments. They may contain sections for one's group or one-person exhibitions that, on closer inspection, turn out to be a few pictures that a bank placed in its windows; or gallery shows in which the artist rented out the exhibition space.
"I've seen some re'sume's which almost anyone could see through," painter Carroll Cloar says. "Anyone who knows something about the art world could see that these things don't mean anything. Anybody could have gotten into that show."
In the past, these lengthy re'sume's were only used by artists when they sought teaching positions. However, the number of openings for art instructors has dwindled considerably in the past five years, and the re'sume's now serve more ego-boosting purposes. "An enormous re'sume' can help someone deny the reality of their situation," Chuck Close says. "I mean, 'why am I an artist?' I guess it's because I have a re'sume' that says I'm an artist."
Certainly, art galleries and museums don't care about an artist's re'sume', and the only groups that might be interested are government and private philanthropists. They occasionally are called up, either by politicians or board members, to justify a fellowship, and a re'sume' filled with seeming recognition of an artist's stature gives factual evidence for a funding decision.
A sizable industry has grown up during this time to feed re'sume' building, including who's who-type registries and numerous art events in which artists may buy space to show off their work. Because there are more art events than registries and success manuals -- the number of invitational arts and crafts shows has grown to approximately 22,000, which take place at some point of the year all over the country -- they tend to loom larger in most artists' thinking than anything else.
"The art world is very competitive, and you have to somehow, somewhere exhibit your work," one sculptor says. "You spend a lot of money on exhibiting, and not just on the entry fee. If you are a craftsman, you're limited by how you can send fragile objects. It can get very expensive real fast."
The expense can become even greater when the artist must pay for the insurance on works being sent back and forth. Most show sponsors refuse to handle insurance charges and will disclaim any damage to the works.
Artists Equity Association, a national organization of visual artists, has established ethical guidelines for its members relating to juried shows, one of which is that there should be no entry fee. The number of artists who refuse to participate in an exhibition because of a fee is probably quite small, however -- artists need exposure more than ethics to help their careers.
Most shows, even the more prestigious ones, are rather ephemeral and that is their biggest problem. Unless they result in the production of a catalogue in which one's name is mentioned, they quickly turn into non-events. They exist simply as words on a piece of paper, nervously cherished by professional artists who look out to a society that sees them in vast oversupply. An artist's re'sume' can begin to seem less like a string of accomplishments than a sign of defeat.