Art Fag City At The L Magazine: I Got My MFA Now What?

by Paddy Johnson on September 28, 2011 · 5 comments The L Magazine

Image: Gregory Crewdson

This week at The L Magazine, I give a few tips to those just graduating art school.

I got a solo show two years out of grad school. Time to conquer the world!
Not so fast. There are only about 300 spaces for A-list art professionals—whether writers, curators, or artists—and that’s the only list with any job security. Once a large enough number of collectors have bought an artist’s work, they tend to protect their investment by buying more.

Everyone else who sees any kind of success gets the type of “up-and-comer” fame that has the half-life of a passing YouTube meme, so expect your career gains to be part of that turnover. Managing a life in the arts means coming to terms with the reality that what you do may be very popular one year, and completely out of vogue the next.

I’ve been in New York two years and have nothing to show for it.
Suck it up. Critics, artists, curators and dealers should all expect to spend no less than 10 years working independently before receiving any kind of recognition. Yes, that means most New York artists won’t land a solo show for a very long time. This is usually a good thing, as it gives an artist the time to mature. (A note to collectors: yes, believe it or not, this can occur outside the gallery system.)

There’s more where this comes from over at The L.


Adam Zucker September 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Paddy, your really spot on with this article! A must read for anyone who considers themselves an emerging artist. Found myself thinking “amen” to many of the statements you described in here.

Jennifer Chan September 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm

This is true, and this has been true. This will be true. For the lucky who do end up “stabley” in academia as post-MFA adjuncts I’ve also seen become too overwhelmed with work/grant-writing to do their own artwork too.  I plan on doing something else to pay the bills after a 3 year post-undergrad dickaround in a MFA program. I learn.

Mr Mr September 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm

How about, f*ck grad school? As in, if you’ve already earned a BFA and are dealing with looming loan payments why do you need to top it off with another 60-80 grand in debt? What the hell is the point? Get out there, meet people, get a flexible job that pays the bills and gives you time to make art, and MAKE YOUR WORK. The rate of MFA graduates that continue to make art is something like 10%. F*ck grad school.

Gott September 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm

If these recent art-school graduates (like myself) are only after fame and recognition, shouldn’t they have chosen another profession? Not only is art not particularly popular or relevant to most people on earth (for better or for worse), it might not inherently lend itself to the same kind of fame as other professionals can attain (musicians, politicians, authors, movie stars). It’s a bit more like being a scientist — makes you no money, you rely on grants, very few make a name for themselves nationally or internationally, and yet it can be rewarding. I know lots of kids who plan on making it ‘big’ before they’re 30 (especially in NY), but if that’s they’re only goal, I question their motives. There are too many brown-nosers in art already — do we need any more? 

Bdavidherbert October 1, 2011 at 7:45 pm

You should read the Jonathan Lethem article in the latest Harpers. Your article made me think of this.

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