Art Haters

Would you rather be an artist in New York or the Twin Cities?

Artist in his studio
Photo by Eliesa Johnson

Sometimes it’s worth remembering why it’s preferable to be an artist in the Twin Cities than in New York.

Prior to the most recent Art Basel in Miami, the online magazine Slate saw fit to reprint New York fashion writer Simon Doonan’s 2012 “takedown” of the modern art world, entitled “Why the Art World Is So Loathsome: Eight Theories.” Doonan’s gripe (highly condensed for readers short on time) is that the modern art world is far too influenced by fashions and trends, no longer demands craft and skill, is too preoccupied with bodily fluids, is slave to the culture of cool, and has become a cultural playground for the super wealthy.

I might agree with Doonan if all I ever did was hang out at Sotheby’s auctions and attend gallery openings in SoHo. Fortunately, I live in the Twin Cities, so that’s not an option. Here, the “art world” consists of a few world-class museums, a couple of artist co-ops, dozens of galleries, and—best of all—hundreds of individual studios where artists of all kinds work (and sometimes live), waiting for anyone with a passing interest to visit. Then there’s the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, that hotbed of avarice where legions of aspiring Damien Hirsts will sell you their finest work for less than $1,000.

In New York, apparently, the art world is full of poseurs and sycophants who pollute the local scene with their pretentiousness and cynicism, turning art into a “loathsome” cultural commodity. The Twin Cities has its pretenders, but for the most part the artists here are a diverse community of creative types who forge away at their craft, usually in anonymity, getting by on a modest day job and, if they’re lucky, a little Legacy money or a grant from the Jerome or McKnight Foundation.

The irony is that New York used to be a lot more like the Twin Cities—a place where artists could live cheaply, work steadily, and make a name for themselves by generating a significant body of work over time. Real-estate prices have driven most of the artistic underclass out of New York, however, and many of them have taken up residency in places like—surprise!—the Twin Cities.

And they are welcome here—as long as they don’t bring the rest of the New York art world with them.