Art Works Blog

From the Archives: Ingrid Sischy in ARTSREVIEW, 1987

Washington, DC

ARTSREVIEW: Portrait of the Artist, 1987. Cover: Detail from Sandra II by Alex Katz, 1986

Today we’re celebrating National Women’s History month with a look at notable woman Ingrid Sischy, editor of Art Forum for most of the 1980s. In 1987, the NEA asked Sischy to contribute to an ARTSREVIEW issue titled, The Portrait of the Artist. Here are selected excerpts from her essay, which focused on creating an environment conducive to artmaking.

The problem with the question of who and what supports an artist, although it’s a question that we all ask every day, is that there is not one simple answer, not even 10 or 100 answers. But, what one can address in a practical way is the conditions around art. One can find example after example where there’s nothing good or optimistic about artists’ conditions. They’re totally isolated. They are completely unsupported. And great art happens anyway. So, to me it’s very complex when one starts to talk about the conditions of art. While a supportive situation is extremely important, and I would never underestimate how important it is, I also would not want to suggest that art doesn’t happen without it, or that artists are ever going to accept a position where if the big helping hand isn’t there, they would not want to continue to do what they’re going to do.

The question is how support can constructively affect the conditions for art. Again that has many complex answers. There are situations where the whole world is looking at someone’s art; this can bring about pressure and desire to give people what they liked the last round when they noticed you. But that is not really support. That kind of situation taken to its extreme can have as negative an impact on an artist as isolation.

The important thing is the environment’s consciousness about artists’ needs. One does not want to overestimate the importance of foundations and other granting institutions; they are very, very important in a practical way, yet they do not directly affect “quality.” I hate to use that word. What they do is affect the conditions around art making, even the possibility of having the chance to do the work. To me, to discuss conditions around art is also to address the reception process for art….

So what would affect those conditions for an artist? In ideal situations, each support system (such as collectors, dealers, and museums) is functioning very healthily. If there is an overwhelming imbalance where certain aspects aren’t functioning strongly, the environmental health conducive to a work of art’s chance to be received fairly goes out of balance. So the best conditions are a strong gallery system, a strong museum system, a strong collecting system, and a very, very strong critical system where criticism really has meaning. It’s important to have a system where the museum really matters to the artist and really matters to an audience, where something is allowed to live in a museum as opposed to feeling like it’s in a mausoleum. It’s also necessary to have high sensitivity to environmental, geographic, and economic conditions, which are sometimes working against a person, particularly where withholding support would create circumstances in which creativity might not have enough belief in itself to develop. So the best possible situation---for the highest kind of art, for a Golden Age of art---is where everything is functioning really strongly.

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