THE BLOG
01/19/2013 08:57 am ET Updated Mar 21, 2013

Artist As Applicant

The artist as applicant is an artist who is applying for an award that offers money, a studio residency, or an honor. The artist as applicant may be nominated or may respond to an open grant application call. Sometimes there are restrictions (age, locale, gender, education). The artist as applicant often but not always, has another source of income -- a day job, a part-time job, or the actual sale of their art. Some artist as applicants rely entirely on grants for their income.

What follows are potential scenarios in the life of the artist as applicant.

Typically, the process begins with an e-mail reminder that an artist as applicant receives announcing an approaching grant deadline. The artist as applicant goes to the website and looks through the criteria to make sure she qualifies.

When the artist as applicant decides to apply, she fills out a form which often is online and requires her to write any or all of the following and sometimes even more: Her name, address, an artist statement, a cultural statement, a work statement, a proposal statement, a project summary. The artist as applicant attends a workshop to help her tailor her resume and proposal. The workshop costs money and is hosted by one of the granting agencies to which the artist as applicant applies. The artist as applicant pays that fee because she expects that it will be worth it if she gets the grant.

Two things result. The artist as applicant either gets accepted or rejected.

If she gets accepted, she may feel excited and overwhelmed by the responsibility that comes with having to carry out her project. She gets a tremendous amount of support from people in an office who are specifically paid to help her with the business side of an artist's project. (Some of the people in this office are artists as applicants themselves who are doing their job while they apply for their own grants.)

If she gets rejected, the artist as applicant may fall into a debilitating depression. The artist as applicant stops work altogether and becomes deeply discouraged. The artist as applicant may feel shame, hostility, and alienation from the art community.

OR

If she is rejected:

The artist as applicant decides to make her work despite AND to spite the people she now considers traitors, fools and assholes (It is usually either announced or made known who the panelists were that chose the winners.)

OR

If she gets rejected:

The artist as applicant goes into a frenzy of productivity, at first out of a desire to prove herself to the assholes who rejected her, and then simply out of the excitement she feels at making the work. This may even lead to artistic breakthroughs which may make her feel reluctantly and bitterly thankful for the "push" which led to her productivity.

The artist as applicant may stay in this highly productive state for some time and then suddenly have a reminder of the failed application. An e-mail announcing the grant winners pulls her out of her excited state, and back into the recollection of her failure.

WHEN

The artist as applicant finds out who the winners are, several seem to her completely ridiculous
choices; some seem to be reasonable choices; several are artists whose work she respects, and several are friends.

She suddenly feels a sense of happiness for the friends who won the award, but she simultaneously feels intensely jealousy, naturally because they were her competitors. She resents having to compete with friends with whom she wants to be supportive.

OR

The artist as applicant decides to avoid it all together. She deletes the e-mail reminder about the grant deadline. Fuck it, she says. She is taking herself out of the running and is simply going to make her work..

The artist as applicant works happily in her studio for several years. She works a day job to pay for her work, believing that if she, and only she, pays for her own work she will not have to make any concessions. She works in isolation, not showing anyone her work which she cares about deeply.

WHEN

She is suddenly jolted from her joyful art practice and reminded AGAIN by a friend who tells her
that a grant deadline is near. She feels greater pressure than before to reapply. So she stops making the work she loves and she filling out forms and rewriting her artist statement, project summary, work statement, and cultural statement and updating her resume and references AGAIN.

She becomes resentful. Would Picasso have written a succinct project statement about Guernica?

"I propose to create one of the greatest paintings of the Twentieth Century that completely upends the world's understanding of all representational painting and the wholehearted repudiation of humanity."

The artist as applicant thinks of more examples from art history and feels she is receiving a wake-up call. Marcel Duchamp, of the most influential artists of the modern era made his boldest statement precisely because he was rejected!

Had he sought the approval of a panel and been a less rebellious artist he certainly would not have felt the need to submit a Urinal to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit in 1917. An act which changed the course of art history.

The artist as applicant wonders where are the artists doing that heroic, anti-authoritarian work?

Certainly they are few and far between in Western Europe and America... they are filling out
applications, she thinks. She hopes that they get rejections which fire them up.

The irony does not escape the artist that many of the grants stress the fact that they are looking
for "challenging" "radical" and "revolutionary" work. Precisely the kind of work that will either be
sterilized or not funded at all if the organization has any ties to government, which nearly all nonprofit grant-making agencies do.

The other irony is that many of the artists who were themselves rejected now have their own grant making foundations whose panels decide the fate of other artists.

BUT

The artist as applicant puts it out of her mind as she contemplates the potential money that will come her way if she just fills out a few more sections of the application she is halfway through and uploads her work samples. She realizes that another application offers a bit more money. She is aware of the time it will take at her day job, or selling some of her art to earn the same amount of money which is what she needs to make her newest ambitious project.

AND THEN

The artist as applicant gets a very significant award. A letter in her inbox begins with, "We are
delighted to..." rather than "We regret to ..." She feels so proud she calls her parents. They feel proud, or maybe relieved because they know that she has devoted herself to something that makes little sense to them. An award makes sense. The money that comes with it makes sense.

But then she starts to feel a growing of confusion, that she is suddenly happy and appreciated and contented by this thing that she profoundly mistrusts. This thing that has caused her so much agony in the past, that has thwarted her projects, taken her away from work she loved and forced her to write something she believed in deeply, only to have it be thrown back in her face. The same people she still basically believes are assholes, traitors and idiots have now finally come around to appreciate her work.

She also realizes that there will be many other artists who are deeply jealous of her-- the same way she has felt jealous of them. Her joy is full of guilt. She looks at who else won the award and she suddenly feels less confident that she was given the award on her own merits. She is aware that several of the panelists are people that she personally knows. She wonders if that is coincidental. Because she recalls that years earlier when she did not know any of those people, she did not win awards.

She slowly finds out who got rejected and is aware of some astonishingly talented artists whose projects she respects and admires. She sympathizes with the way they must feel, having been in that exact position herself. Now faced with taking the money and the award, she feels the responsibility of making work "worthy" of the accolades. She is aware that she will be photographed and her image will now be connected to the corporation that awarded her the prize. She is aware that a logo will precede her name and the image of her work. She is aware that all that she does now reflects an institution, and its "values" whether or not they are her own.

The artist as applicant tries to imagine a solution to this "problem." So she thinks: What if artists
stopped applying. There would be no more artist as applicants. An artist as artist is a much more enjoyable situation.

THEN

The artist as applicant begins to get awards. They just keep coming. The artist as applicant suddenly has more money than she ever expected. The artist as applicant also has interest from galleries who never bothered to look at work she sent them years earlier. These same galleries now invite her to participate in shows and want her attendance at all of their fancy dinners. The artist as applicant is flown all over the world and asked to speak about her work.

She takes the money and realizes that this isn't where she comes from. Her roots are not here. The world of money and art fair excesses do not feel right to her. Yet she cannot refuse it.

Her work is celebrated but she resents the fact that the work that is now beloved, is work that she made privately in her studio.She is asked to sit on panels judging the work of other artists. She feels guilty when she has to reject other artists.

OR

She takes the money...

NOW

The artist as applicant sits politely in audiences and goes to openings where she sees many of the people who are both winners and loser of applications. Nearly everyone at these events has been on both sides. Now that the artist as applicant has herself been on a panel she has the sense that some people may feel the exact same mix of emotions toward her that she feels toward them.

Thinking about the cumulative number of hours she has spent over the years writing and re-writing, and tailoring her proposal to one or another grant application, she wishes she had instead spent her time on a project rather than the one that only exists on paper. Rejection after rejection for the same project often spans numerous applications and takes years. But then one application is approved and other awards follow.

The artist decides to make the application process itself into a work of art, whether or not it is accepted or rejected her applications will be publicly exhibited as part of the "artist as applicant" project. At least something can come from all of this work!

BUT

The artist as applicant feels that maybe she should have avoided the entire situation. The artist
as applicant thinks back to her happy time working in isolation. In that state of mind -- she was
concentrating on making the work she wanted to make. She did not focus specifically on the art world, or even more specifically on the "application."

The artist as applicant imagines that one day artists will decide to be artists as artists -- not artists as applicants. The artist as artist imagines a time when all grant-making organizations disappear -- their existence being a minor hiccup in the history of art. Artists will all join their resources together, much like Occupy Wall Street and decide to Occupy Art and simply be artists as artists without any expectations that they will need to be selected by a jury in order to carry out their vision.

Here's my stop.

The above text was transcribed from the pages of the artist's sketchbook which was included in her retrospective exhibition in 2034.

OR

The artist as applicant plays through all of these scenarios thinking about that one project she wished she had completed many years ago. She thinks nothing of the many museums which permanently display her work. She only thinks of that one missing project that she endlessly wrote proposals for, but never finished.

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