In the occasional column Advice for Arting, local arts expert Sage Spencer answers your questions about the Pittsburgh art world. Have a question for Sage? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Sage Spencer,
Recently I was interacting with one of our esteemed local art writers for a print publication. During our email exchange, this writer used phrases like “Please provide those e-mails ASAP, or this exhibit WILL NOT get coverage,” “Do you understand me?” and “Do we not understand that newspapers have deadlines?!”
While this writer was asking for reasonable information, and within a tight timeline, I asked the writer if they realized how condescending their emails had been. They responded that that was their intention.
In situations like this, where we need coverage of a show or an event in town, how do you deal with this kind of complete asshole?
The Angry Typist
Dear Angry Typist,
Thank you so much for this particularly difficult scenario.
I can understand your conundrum. In most situations, I would advise that you ignore this person and cut off all contact.
But here in Pittsburgh, like in many other small or mid-sized cities, we lack real art criticism and have very scant arts coverage in our print publications. “No one even reads those,” some might argue, “so don’t bother interacting with them.” I would say, however, that those publications are seen by a broad audience, and that kind of reach and audience diversity are important for Pittsburgh’s creative community. So we shouldn’t cut off all contact with this “complete asshole.”
I would suggest forwarding their emails (and any other examples you may have) to a superior, to ask if this type of behavior is condoned by their business. I might also include appropriate examples of professional interactions you have had with other arts writers in and out of town. Sometimes a workplace, particularly one in crisis, can become so toxic that they may lose sense of what is acceptable in the rest of the world.
Dear Sage Spencer,
I have been out of college for several years and am thinking of going back to school to get my MFA. This will be a big change for me, but I think it could help my career in the long run. I’m having trouble finding many programs that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Even fewer provide fellowships. Do you think this is worth taking out loans for? Will I be granted more opportunities with this degree?
Dear Stunned Student,
In this modern age of broken higher education systems and rising tuition rates, the MFA has become the bottom of the pyramid scheme that is the art world. Artists without the benefit of familial wealth or full-ride scholarships often find themselves so overwhelmed by their debt that they sacrifice an art practice for a paycheck.
“But what if I want to teach at the college level?” The MFA used to be an important stepping stone for people interested in this career path. However, with full time teaching positions becoming ever rarer, many artists and writers with MFAs (or even PhDs) are turning to work in the service industry to support their adjunct teaching careers. It’s a vicious cycle.
“But how will I advance my career?” Grad school can be an important time to reflect on your priorities and interests, a chance to take huge leaps in your own practice and make decisions about how to exist in the universe. Many would even argue that it’s a necessary step in order to be taken seriously in the art world—and a survey of major biennial shows and arts publications would mostly confirm this theory.
As an alternative, I would strongly suggest that you look into longer-term residencies that provide similar benefits. Many residencies offer a studio space, equipment, and opportunities to build networks with peers, mentors ,and visiting arts professionals. These kinds of experiences may give you the benefits of a master’s degree without the burden of debt.