“In the art world, there’s no such thing as climbing the ladder. You have to start at the top.” Lisa Adams tells us, quoting the words of Dave Hickey in the new twelve-part documentary Fritz. The series by AFC friend Benjamin Gonyo and co-conspirator Michael Martinez is divided into five to seven-minute segments and tracks a 70-year-old artist named Fritz, who’s hoping to make it in the art world. It is also a document about overcoming adversity. Fritz has a few handicaps; he’s past his prime, he is hearing impaired, he has a bad back. He hasn’t had much luck, much like the protagonists in other films similarly tracking unknown artists—Waiting for Hockney’s Billy Pappas being the most notable example.
Hickey’s observation about climbing relative to Fritz and most other artists feels particularly timely, given the number of celebrity actors and musicians who are now laying claim to the artist title—James Franco and Jay-Z, to name just two recent examples. But for every statement about how difficult it is climb in the art world, there’s an example of someone who managed to rise to the top. And as Adams points out, that’s the hope young artists cling to. “The general misconception of the young artist is that they will be the exception,” she says, adding that as time goes on, those young artists realize they might not be the exception. “Then a different kind of hopefulness takes over and that would be, ‘If I can just stay the course.’” In other words, success is redefined simply as being able to continue to making art, with the new hope that it will be discovered in someone else’s lifetime.
Adams might be the best interview under the “How to Make It” sections, but there’s a lot of wisdom laid out by others as well. Carolina Miranda dispels the myth that if you don’t make it by the time you’re out of your twenties, you’re over the hill, and William Powhida reminds audiences that even most “successful” artists have to have day jobs to make ends meet. Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw tells us that economically, the decision to be an artist doesn’t pay off. “It’s stupid,” says Catron as the two explain that the chance of success is slim at best. It’s a rough life, and all for the gamble that history might remember you.
Nearly every interviewee asked about the role of luck in an artist’s career, claiming that it played an outsized role in their success. I’d wager, though, that had a gallerist been featured, the how-to-make-it segments might look a little different. These are the people who not only identity artistic talent, but business acumen as well. If success doesn’t always correlate to talent—and it doesn’t—it may more closely hew to an artist’s ability to manage their studio practice as a business. Do they network effectively? How quickly do they respond to emails? Can they meet deadlines? In my experience, this, more than the quality of the art itself, can determine how often, and where, we see an artists’ work.
So the fact that Fritz’s watercolors are formulaic and his newspaper drawings derivative shouldn’t have any affect on his ability to show. What will is his ability to manage his business. As the film documents, he probably won’t be getting any help from his family, but he did have the good fortune of having a set of filmmakers discover him. If the experts in this film are right, that may be all he needs.