Ask The Art Life #5

Art Life Oct 01, 2010 1 Comment

Ulysses Elias asks a question that touches on one of the most vexing questions in the art world:

“How can it be that Khaled Sabsabi was included in an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2009 that explicitly presented works by established artists yet was chosen to be the recipient, in 2010, of an award (Helen Lempriere Tavelling Scholarship) that is only available to emerging artists? It is (just) possible that an artist may be ’emerging’ in 2009 and ‘established’ in 2010 but by no stretch of the imagination may an artist who is ‘established’ in 2009 be ’emerging’ in 2010.”

Well Ulysses, you’ve certainly opened up the proverbial can of worms with this one. You ask “how can it be?” when really the question is “how can it not be?” because it’s all down to definition and, as you’re probably already aware, there is no single definition of what either “established” or “emerging” means in the art world.

Some emerging artists, recently.

One would imagine that being represented by a commercial gallery, or that you were in a major museum exhibition, or that you were pushing 40 or 50 or even 60 years old, would mean that you could no longer be considered an emerging artist, and therefore established, but you would be imagining wrong. And that’s because even if an artist might be in an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art that claims the artist’s in a show are “established” that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are.

Over at Artspace at the “Lemp” the definition is about career standing – to be eligible an artist needs to be within “the first eight years of professional practice as a visual artist” which according to the terms of the scholarship means “professional practice is generally considered to start with the public presentation of the artist’s work in a professional arts context [for example a solo or group show at a commercial, public or contemporary art space, not including artist-run initiatives or student art spaces.” On that basis Khaled Sabsabi pretty much had to be in Making it New: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art or similar to be eligible no matter how paradoxical the definitions of “established” and “emerging” appear to be.

It helps to read the rules of these things before getting het up about mere definitions, but we take your point – what is emerging anyway? Does it really matter that one organisation or competition or arts body defines it one way, while another defines it differently? Do we really need to worry about it? The answer to these questions is no, and besides, emerging artists are like butterflies emerging from their cocoons – so lovely, so full of promise. But you’re probably against butterflies as well. Sheesh.

Got a question you’d like answered? Send ’em to: the art life at hot mail dot com.

Andrew Frost

One Comments

  1. Beck

    Where a clear explanation such as the HL’s is absent, one definition of an emerging artist is: someone the selection panel has never heard of. This may explain why an artist’s status may be mutable, since it’s dependent on context.

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