International Sculpture Center
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October 2005 Vol. 24 No.8
A publication of the International Sculpture Center

Complete text in print version available at fine newsstands and through subscription.

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From the Director

In an extremely intelligent essay in the June 3, 2005 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Laurie Fendrich hit the nail on the head, describing a correlation between two seemingly unlinked events: when the center of the art world shifted to New York, the education of artists began to take place more and more in colleges and universities. Her concern is that as we grow more technically adept as a society, the needs and practice of art-making will simply mirror that technological sensibility. Artists, read sculptors here, need more than just computer skills—they need to address big issues and answer big questions. They need to understand how and in what position they function in our society. The purpose of art and the use of art are constantly changing, and artists of each new generation need to clarify and hone their thinking about how the values of art translate into everyday life.

So what should the education of the artist be? What can we expect artists to learn, to know, and to contribute to society? Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan’s recent Pulitzer prize-winning biography of the American painter Willem de Kooning offers not only a portrayal of the artist’s creative development, but also a well-described picture of the life and times of the art world as it changed over the course of six decades. We watch as artists transform from isolated Bohemian characters into socialites and business people, and we see the rise of an art market that depends on this admixture to survive—a model that many still follow today.

What is the sculptor’s route and model? How do individuals break into the world of sculpture? What is the meaning of sculpture, and who defines its purpose and function today? How do you get your first commission, your first sale, or your first show? In a word, how do you get discovered, and, once discovered, how do you continue to evolve and create a body of work that engages you and simultaneously impacts the world around you? Where are your peers, are they local or far afield in other cities or countries? How do you find them and communicate with them? The days of supportive artists’ salons at the Cedar bar and Max’s Kansas City are long over: potential commissions and projects could be hundreds of miles away from the studio and initiated by a Google search from a Web site page.

It is difficult to educate a person in a subject when the field itself is misunderstood or simply ignored by the culture. On the one hand, there is the lack of public support for the arts (or a lack of support on the scale appropriate to a country whose GDP is in the trillions). For example, disposable personal income in 2004 totaled $17.3 billion. NEA funds only support organizations, while individual artists slog it out on their own, forced to develop survival skills that allow them to work and mature. There is some support from the private sector, the corporate sector, and a multitude of foundations. We acknowledge the great effort on the part of philanthropists, but the support effort should be a shared responsibility. Where are the partnerships that join government, companies, and individuals in an effort to encourage emerging artists and to sustain established artists? We have plenty of critics, gallerists, and collectors all eager to identify the next “It” artist or trend. What we need are mentors who can engage and inspire new talent—no matter what stylistic persuasion—who are there to convince you that it is worth fighting to lead what can be an extraordinary and fulfilling life.

Michael Klein
ISC Executive Director

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