Vermont Arts Council

Why Watch Artists

Visual artists are at a disadvantage in our culture these days because their contribution to our social discourse is often free of those things that demand our collective attention. The art may be flashy and eye-catching, but the person behind the art often isn’t and that makes it difficult to cultivate fame and participate in a celebrity culture. Social media — Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and so on — requires a constant stream of images and stories. For an artist who may make a few dozen paintings a year, it is hard to keep up. But that is only part of it. Our culture tends to get to know people through scandal and faux-pas. Aggressive self-promotion often demands a willingness to cross ethical boundaries or act in an outrageous fashion. Most artists are quiet, everyday people whose voice is in their art. Rarely do they shout or make a mess of themselves on a red carpet. They don’t have haters and they don’t care if you know what they ate for breakfast or not. People like to think that the life of an artist is grandiose. It rarely is. Most days it is hard work in a room, alone, listing to VPR, fighting back the tsunami of self-doubt, and trying like mad to get something done or pay the bills.

Works by Hannah Morris, Stephanie Kossmann, and Elizabeth Nelson (top to bottom) appear in “Artists to Watch.”

Pay Attention

Most people appreciate the generic, “How are you?” It shows you care about them and are interested in their life and concerned for their general well-being. If you want to show how much you care for an artist, ask them, “What are you making these days?” or, “Where are you showing?” One of the hardest parts of being an artist is asking others to pay attention to your work. A way to care about artists is to keep up with their work, to watch them.

A great way to support artists, even when you are already buying their work, is to follow what they are doing. If you see a work of art that moves you, learn the artist’s name, bookmark their website, attend their openings. These small acts can mean the world to an artist who, more than fame or celebrity, wants to know that their artwork has made an impact on someone else. The rewards of these acts are not one-sided. The more you watch an artist, the deeper the experience of their artwork becomes. Small stories weave into grand narratives. Short statements become novels. And a new way of seeing the world starts to reveal itself. The cleverness, the insight, the humor and ache, the magical alchemy that goes into artmaking becomes more apparent. Familiarity, the intimacy of ideas, embrace and offer comfort.

This belief informs why we publish the Vermont Art Guide and we are always on the lookout for new ways of talking about Vermont artists. In Fall 2017, we assembled a group of art professionals from across the state and asked them to tell us who they were watching. The outcome of this effort appears in Vermont Art Guide #6 and the forthcoming Vermont Art Guide #7, due out in May. It also appears in two exhibitions at the Vermont Arts Council, the first of which will be on view during March and April 2018. In the magazine, the guest curators and editorial staff share the reasons why they are watching the artists. The exhibition provides an opportunity to see their work in person. The endeavor is a tasting. Our hope is that you will discover artists that you wish to seek out and follow.

It’s Not Everyone

The 25 artists we included in “Artists to Watch” is by no means a complete list of Vermont artists worthy of our attention. In this sense, we invite you to think of it as an amuse-bouche of what the state has to offer. More importantly, we invite you to create your own list, to seek out and follow artists that speak to you, to watch them, to shout about them, to celebrate and love them.

Ric Kasini Kadour is the editor and publisher of Vermont Art Guide.

— top left image from Pamela Smith’s “Three Girls with Three Pots”

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