07/03/2013 12:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Crap: A Philosophy of Sh*t


On high authority I've been informed that my work is shit. Mostly I've been desensitized to such proclamations -- I can thank the Art School Critique framework for that -- but its ill-timed delivery, six days before graduation, left me shaken and stirred. It's been suggested that I am con artist, a half-truth teller and, my personal favorite, "all sparkle and no substance". This proclamation effectively triggered the what-the-hell-am-I-doing-review, a rite of passage for all emerging/graduated (con) artists. Half-truth be told, I acknowledge that most of what artists produce is crap, albeit shit of the highest order, but in the oft-mentioned 'real world', the goal is getting someone, anyone, to buy (into) it.

Shit is the first thing we make. Fetuses begin this function in the womb, offering yet another reason why you should call your mother, and even corpses have been known to defecate hours after death. So it's totally necessary and totally disgusting. It's the root of an ever evolving list of profanities -- bullshit, shit storm, shit faced, shit from shenola, shiterade, shitdamnmuthafucka -- second only to that other dirty word naming another familiar compulsion. But I digress.

Circa 1984, I made a key discovery by gazing at someone else's poop. Third graders usually only know a few things for sure -- their address, mom's phone number, how to tie their shoes --- and these absolutes are typically associated with direct experience. But third graders also 'know' things that are, like, totally imaginary -- The causal relationship between stepping on sidewalk cracks and the breaking of maternal backs, the granting of birthday wishes as contingent upon extinguishing all candles in a single breath, black people have brown poop and white people have peach poop -- a brief selection from my own precocious list of 'knowns'. To be proven wrong about that last one by my bestfriendforever, Rebecca Brown*, merited a revision of my list. Slumber-party-as-paradigm-shift, our collective bathroom breaks revealed that white people are in fact black people, duh. Oh, and no one poops peach, at least not if your system is working correctly.

So, what can brown do for you? If you're a contemporary artist ultimately you hope that your shit will be considered valuable enough to fund your lifestyle. A lifestyle that you've likely been introduced to via an Art World that also happens to manage the political, social and economic landscape of the profession. If you live in New York or any other international city, this lifestyle includes/requires two-four evenings of nighttime entertainment per week, visits to your friends/colleagues in other international cities once per quarter and a style-forward performance of food (organic please), clothing (with an ironic twist) and shelter (conscientiously gentrifying). To the casual observer this may appear a set of frivolous concerns, but to the creative this is often an essential part of building professional relationships.

At the very least, these serve as a natural bridge, but they also assert a consumerist model. Kickstarter, in partnership with Amazon, is now a retailer for artistic support, a click to purchase approach that can neglect the more imaginative possibilities of patronage. I suppose this simply speaks to the evolving complexities of contemporary life: We used to pay for dates, now we pay to date, and many artists, bless our hearts, are essentially shopping for a career. It appears that being a professional Artist has shifted from a romantic position of privilege to a bottom line luxury product, bought and sold using various currencies (bit-coin, anyone?). Non-existent stipends, the cost absorption of overnight shipping fees, and the reimbursement that somehow takes six months to process (if ever), are all supplicated in exchange for the thrill of being shown, written about, featured, photographed and cosigned. In actuality though, the artist's mantle is one of compulsion, a necessity of living that demands an exit. Hence, my philosophy of shit.

When shit hits the fan, duck. Egg on your face is nothing compared to...
Sometimes the best thing you can do is keep your head down. Confidence paired with humility is a valuable asset. On the surface, paradoxes only look like opposites.

Some people don't curb their dog. And there's not much grass in New York City.
It's about being aware of your surroundings while starving feelings of paranoia, because continually looking at the ground for poo could get you hit by a bus.

If you're up Shit Creek without a paddle, you may just have to swim.
In classic Shawshank style, sometimes the best escape is through the sewer. No one expects you to brave the ick factor and the smell will help to throw the dogs off your trail.

Shit is a product of digestion. Make sure you have a healthy diet.
We all know what a healthy meal can do -- revitalize, relieve pain, and give you the best...
So, if you're wondering what ails you, take a look at your own shit -- it's a telltale sign -- and adjust your diet accordingly.

If you're shitting bricks, use them to build something.
Fear is usually about the 'imagined unknown', which also happens to be a material used in creative practice. Be afraid, be very afraid, but don't paralyze yourself; keep moving, building, growing.

Shit happens. Often.
Instead of an Art World™ built on credibility, ahem, credit that offers a percentage cash back on purchases, perhaps artists should consider an investment model. By diversifying your portfolio, the white cube is but one option in an array of wealth building possibilities.

I'm in a precarious working class position where hard work and perseverance are advertised as your most valuable assets. It's a notion complicated by a growing understanding that most of these accepted tenets are actually liabilities in disguise. Utter belief in a meritocracy is best used to create good employees -- and so, like a good bullshit creative, I am utterly ill-suited. But, what do I 'know' exactly? I'm just another emerging artist trying to get my shit together.

*Name has not been changed. Sorry, Rebecca.