Bushwick artists be warned: bohemia ended without you. In Christian Viveros-Faune’s latest piece “How Uptown Money Kills Downtown Art,” a chronicle of the art world’s middle-class dealers and artists, he asks Yale School of Art Dean Robert Storr about whether “the art world’s laboring classes” have any future outside the market. He responds dismissively:
“Allan Kaprow announced the end of bohemia in his 1964 essay, ‘The Artist as a Man of the World.’ Essentially, what Kaprow said is that what contemporary artists really want is to become is proper middle-class citizens. Of course, there are moments in every generation when a facsimile of bohemia arrives. There was the Lower East Side in the 1980s, Williamsburg in the ’90s, Bushwick now—but those aren’t examples of bohemia proper so much as periods of adolescence lived through by successive artistic cohorts.”
So much for the Bushwick avant-garde!
Bohemia, with its notions of aloof artists dallying in salons isn’t quite the Bushwick scene; but did Kaprow really announce the death of Bohemia and the desire for contemporary artists to be “middle-class”? From reading “The Artist as a Man of the World”, that conclusion’s not so clear. That text should be read in full, and we’ve brought you an excerpt so that you’ll see what we mean. He begins by describing what artists are like in the 1960s; they’re middle-class, but only sorta:
There is a chance that modern “visionaries” are even more of a cliche than their counterpart, “conformists”, and that neither truly exists. We look around, and what do we see?
They do not live very differently from anyone else. Like anyone else, they are concerned with keeping the rooms warm in winter, with the children’s education, with the rising cost of life insurance. But they are apt to keep quietly to themselves no matter where they live—in the suburbs or the city—rather than enter into the neighborhood coffee break or meetings of the P.T.A. This is not unfriendliness so much as it is a lack of commitment to the standard forms of camaraderie, a detachment born partly of lingering vestiges of romantic alienation and partly of the habit of reflectiveness. Their actual social life is usually elsewhere, with clients, fellow artists, and agents, an increasingly expedient social life for the sake of career rather than just for pleasure. And in this they resemble the personnel in other specialized disciplines and industries in America.
They differ from their middle-class neighbors, not in beliefs, but in consciousness of what is implied by their unexpected position. It shows up in their relations to the art world, in their connection as artists to society, in their sense of themselves and the role they are playing.
All this has become accepted as a given; artists end up taking on day jobs, and their roles have become increasingly professionalized, just like their industrious brethren. But we still see signs of bohemia, at the very least in online communities who don’t necessarily need or seek approval from society at large. Those pockets of creativity still exist; now they’re just sitting next to—and within—the “art world’s laboring classes”.