Tomorrow, Sunday, will be our first day on the road. It is a sweltering 98 degrees here in upstate New York and we imagine things will only get hotter from here as we make our way South. Nevertheless, we can’t wait to get started…!
Let us introduce ourselves. The three of us graduated in May from Bard College, which is in the lovely non-town of Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, about two hours north of NYC. Elena and I (Elvia) were both Studio Art majors at Bard and had our thesis shows in the spring. Elena’s thesis work was in the nether-region between sculpture and painting, but she also happens to be a skilled printmaker. My thesis was a large sculptural installation…turns out I have a knack for building walls and then tearing them down. Alisa was an Art History major who wrote her senior thesis about sound art in Chile, where she spent a semester abroad in 2009. She plays bass guitar and baritone tuba, belongs to several bands, and you’ll never see her without her field recorder.
The three of us have been wanting to get on the road for a while. Alisa and I have been throwing around the idea of a serious road trip for years. Last year, Alisa took a class about outsider art with our professor Susan Aberth, and the idea of seeing some of the places in the books she was reading for the class became totally stuck in our heads. (The authors of the book Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments, pretty much the folk art bible, have been some of our primary resources and contacts while planning this trip. It’s amazing and wonderful to experience how responsive so many people are to enthusiasm.) Elena and I had been talking about what to do after graduation for a long time also. We were both frustrated by the options presented to us, which seemed to be either moving to New York City or to…New York City. Then, this past spring, the guys from Drive-By Press came to give a talk and do a demo at Bard, and five minutes into their visit Elena and I had arrived at the same conclusion: a post-grad adventure was not only possible but necessary. It was as if we had just needed to know that someone else had done it. That there were ways of existing outside of the art infrastructures we knew about, and that alternate modes of production were a viable option.
Any art student on the east coast, or maybe in America, could probably understand why the Drive-By Press guys were such a breath of fresh air for us. To contrast: about two months before their visit, Andrea Scott from the New Yorker came to speak to the art students at Bard. After her talk, a student in our class raised her hand and asked if there was anywhere for a young, ambitious artist move after college but to New York, to which Ms. Scott laughed and said, “No. Just, no. I mean, you could go to Berlin…I’ve never been…but it’s not New York. Nothing is.” A professor of ours protested from the back of the room: “Actually, Austin’s got a really great scene!” Someone else mumbled that Savannah, Georgia was pretty cool. Ms. Scott then said something along the lines of, “If you take yourselves seriously, there is only one real art market, and it’s in New York.” Another student asked about selling work as a young person—was selling your work at a cafe a bad idea? To this, Ms. Scott’s response was much the same, insisting that the only way to present serious art work was in a gallery space, and preferably one in Chelsea. In other words, there was no other way for us to enter the art market than through one very small portal, which could only be found somewhere on the island of Manhattan, and the key to which she was holding. All other markets were irrelevant, and more importantly, if they existed they were simply small offshoots dependent on The Art World.
After this lecture, most of us felt pretty disheartened. We figured that not many of us were going to be able to find this portal. Were we going to be able to keep producing? What if we hated New York?
The idea of outsider art is a gateway for us to think about lots of things. It brings up notions of authenticity, of the nature/culture divide, and of identity, that are in fact central to Western art history and to the way that the art world functions. These academic questions are important to us—but more than anything, we want to see what’s out there! We are truly fascinated by all of the sites we plan to visit (a list can be seen at http://insidersout.wordpress.com), which range from full-on folk art environments to artists working in their backyards. We want to know more about why people create and how they do it with little means. And, on the other hand, we want to learn about how we too can be actors in the world, how we can share our own knowledge and desire to make work, and how art can be a community-builder in lots of different situations. For that reason, we’ll be conducting workshops in several places across the way, sharing our skills and opening avenues for productive dialogue about our ideas.
We’ve spent the whole day packing and are starting to get touchy because we want to get going. We’ll be posting regularly over the next month (alternating, so you get to hear from each of us), and we would love to hear your thoughts. Let the adventure begin!Show on map