Sunday, 16 February 2014

Lets Give Credit to the Submerging Artist

An example of Kathleen Knowling's hooked wit.

Let's give credit where credit is due.  Not credit as is in card (although I am sure they'd appreciate that too) but credit as in acknowledgment.  I have gone on the record in a number of places as bemoaning the growing number of awards and competitions aimed at rewarding emerging talent.  Believe me, I am all for encouraging anybody at the start of a creative career.  It is going to be a hard slog ahead and we need the next generation but, face it, they still have stars in their eyes and if they are serious they also have the fire in their gut to make it through the first couple of years.  It is the dry expanse between start up and that lifetime achievement award that concerns me.

Kathleen Knowling is the artist who first drew this to my attention.  Kathleen is a painter and a subversive rug hooker, who –I believe–is currently 84 years young.  To say that she is a personality and a half is an understatement.  She is my kind of woman.  Knowling pointed to the generation of artists behind her and commented on what a hard time they were having surviving financially.
No stranger to the digital age, Kathleen regularly sends an image of a painting to all her contacts.

I thought about it.  Aren't they as committed to improving their craft as younger artists?  Of course, they are.  It struck me that if they picked up new techniques to experiment with they also were emerging artists even if they had a few grey hairs.  Cathia Finkel at The Plantation is a case in point, although I have never noticed any grey.  Anyhow, the Plantation gets my kudos for recognizing that "emerging" is NOT an age specific category.

Tree of Life by Louise Pentz.
Back to Gloria's research, during the summer months I had the pleasure of having lunch with Louise Pentz, a ceramic artist who was visiting from Nova Scotia.  I had gotten to know Louise when I was writing about her work with African grandmothers for Ceramic Arts & Perception.  So, the topic of age was not a new one for us.  Anyhow, when I mentioned my concern with mid career artists being overlooked she laughed and said, "Oh you mean the submerging artist".  Bingo.  This is one of those instances where words pull it all into focus.

When I was in Chicago for the SOFA annual event, I took every opportunity I could find –didn't matter if it was in the Ladies Room–to talk with collectors.  And I noticed that collectors were very keen to try and figure out who the next "Picasso" would be.  In other words, you buy talent when it is young because that's when it is cheap.  Everyone wants a bargain.

The corporate world of art sponsorship had its own version of this.  The RBC stands out for its generous backing of emerging talent competitions.  I would imagine that is because it gives them a bigger bang for their buck.  Not to mention the optics of backing today's youth.  It is a win-win.

I am happy to say that I think this trend is being altered.  The start can be seen with Canada Council and its reworked its grant categories. 


  1. This is a very good direction to this discussion. Submerging is an apt description we don't want to believe in.

  2. The next question is what to do about it. I am hoping that VANL is taking a productive line of action. The fact that out of 5 awards in the EVA, 1 is emerging, 1 is mid-career, and 1 is large year is encouraging. I fought for the Critical Eye Award too. When I first identified myself to the NLAC as an arts writer and they said oh novelist or poetry, my heart sank. But then I was probably just the first one who spoke up.