There is a certain level of excitement, whimsy but also paralyzing fear that overcomes young artists as they venture beyond the walls of their respective institutions and face the colossal giant that is todays art world. A specific safety exists while in college, a shelter of ideas and academic practice that can help one stay afloat in an ocean of endless possibilities. But how do we survive after this is removed? Can this education alone sustain the artists long enough to truly accomplish all that they aspire for?
Artist Kara walker offers insight into what it means to have success as a young artist and how to contribute to the art world in its current state. In an Art 21 feature entitled “Exclusive,” Walker shares how she dealt with unusually early success and how it has changed the way she makes and views art today.
Shortly after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, Walker’s groundbreaking show entitled Gone: An Historical Romance of Civil War as it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of a Young Negress and Her Heart premiered at The Drawing Center in New York. Her famous panoramic friezes of cut-paper silhouettes, usually black figures against a white wall, which address the history of American slavery and racism through violent and unsettling imagery captured the attention of artists and critics alike. Following the success of her exhibition in New York, Walker became the second youngest recipient of the coveted John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s. “genius” grant. Such successes catapulted her into a full-fledged career as a visual artist well as a position as an MFA professor at Columbia University in 2001.
“When I came to the City,” she says, “I felt like my newly forming ego and sense of self was just torn to shreds.” (art21.org). Artists now have a whole new set of challenges to face, many of which can seem daunting and unsurmountable. “It’s a different art world than the one that I stepped into” says the artists in her Art 21 feature “There’s more distractions, in a way, from the process of making one’s own work. But she offers this word of advice to the young, aspiring creative of today: “There’s no diploma in the world that declares you as an artist-it’s not like becoming a doctor. You can declare yourself an artist and then figure out how to be an artist.”
There are many questions that may go unanswered, many attempts and failures and many moments of self-doubt. But we have visionaries such as Kara Walker and many others to look to and garnish wisdom from. It takes years to figure out exactly what our art practice looks like and how to engage the world. Whether there comes great success or minimal recognition, what one creates matters and it is as meaningful as the artist believes it to be.