With a world in crisis and an art market spinning out of control, ace art-world consultants Chen & Lampert deliver hard truths in response to questions sent by Art in America readers from far and wide.
As an art historian and freelance contributor of reviews and long-form articles to art publications, I’ve been watching with trepidation as the already limited media landscape contracts. Many of my PhD colleagues are firmly ensconced within academia or pursuing curatorial work, while I have been following my own path as a writer and erstwhile kundalini yoga instructor. Breath is important in yogic practice, and I sense myself suffocating from the lack of publishing platforms. I want to stretch my thoughts, but I feel cramped by the dearth of public space for critically erudite voices. Faced with ever-diminishing opportunities for enlightened art writing, I’m left wondering: Is it time to push aside my pen and concentrate on a full-time Ayurvedic practice instead?
You know, we sort of wonder the same thing. Why struggle to write about art for a living when you can have tight abs and paying disciples who also give holiday presents? You’ll earn way more lying on the floor than you ever would sitting at a laptop conjuring a synonym for fetid (try noisome). And yet, the impulse—nay, the desire—to write isn’t something one simply shakes off. Sure, you can hold a difficult pose using all your upper trapezius, but your biggest muscle is still your noggin. It’s time to decide if you want to be a brainy Branden W. Joseph or a brawny Joseph Pilates.
Yoga repairs the body and unblocks chakras, whereas art criticism feeds the mind and puckers the anus. No one has ever achieved nirvana by assessing the aesthetic qualities of Liam Gillick’s speculative sculptures, but they have realigned their spine by doing a Cat-Cow. Your yoga lessons improve the physical and mental well-being of your students in ways that resonate throughout all facets of their daily lives. Can the same be said of your footnoted rebuttal of Graham Harman’s specific strain of post-Kantian object-oriented ontology vis-à-vis contemporary art? This is a rhetorical question to which the rhetorical answer is a firm no.
Having a viable career as a critic has never been easy, but given your natural limberness and loquacity, there is no reason to quit writing. Why not deliver your aesthetic insights straight to readers via Substack? You’ll have all the yoga-mat space you need to maintain your writer-warrior pose, and best of all, you won’t have to bend over backward for hair-splitting editors who rewrite your carefully crafted words. A few friends may actually feel guilty enough to pay for it. Wouldn’t that be wild?
Last week I bumped into a former art school professor who I completely worship, and we quickly caught up on things. I gushed to him about my progress in the studio and how I’ve pushed my paintings into a new creative zone. Right before parting he asked if I’d dog-sit his pooch while he’s in Italy for the opening of his museum show. It was totally flattering to be asked, but his dog is an ugly, flatulent menace. He takes the mutt everywhere, and everyone pretends it’s the cutest, most lovable thing in the world. Even though I’m not supposed to have pets in my apartment, it feels like I can’t decline because this is a good opportunity to connect. Am I right?
It sounds like you two aren’t in close touch and he hasn’t seen your paintings in a while. The honor he dumped on you has less to do with your artistry than with your potential as a walking MFA pooper scooper. Taking this dog-sitting gig would make you the mangy mongrel on a short leash. What happens if you do a good job? Will he give you a bone? Lick yourself, tell him you are a cat person, and go hide in a corner.