Years ago, I was chatting with an artist who told me that she had just wrapped up a show in a certain part of the country. I won't say specifically where because there's no need to perpetuate nasty stereotypes.
Anyway, this artist stated that during a social function in this particular place, she noticed that many, if not all, of the large number of people in attendance looked alike. She didn't mean they just looked similar. She meant they looked eerily alike ... almost as if they were all related. They had this wild kind of look in their eyes.
Hold that thought. I'll get back to this in a moment.
Nearly every time I attend an art function, particularly a big art fair, I tend to see the same things: slim art people, dressed in black, very reserved to the point of frigidity and humorless to the point of constipation. It never fails.
What's the deal? Really? It's like there's this unspoken, yet clearly communicated code in the art community that first, you must "fit it" and second, in order to "fit in," you must look a certain way, think a certain way and behave a certain way. In short, if you want to be a member of this exclusive art club, you must submit and conform.
Call me crazy, but isn't this ... like ... the direct opposite of creative expression?
Being like-minded is one thing, but this unspoken bent that many in the art world have toward being seen as "artsy" or "creative" or "sophisticated" can be ridiculous. In short, it often becomes obsessive and yes, incestuous.
It's sort of like what happens when people spend way too much time together. They start the feed off of one another and develop very unhealthy relationships. Social and psychological inbreeding.
One surefire sign of this is the determination that many in the art world have to keep contemporary art shrouded in mystery. It's all about maintaining power, prestige and social position. By looking and speaking a certain way, this group can pick up certain cues that reveal to one another that yes, "I'm in your tribe." "We're special and separate" from the masses.
Closed circles are dangerous. They breed pathology. They encourage inbreeding for the sake of maintaining the status quo. What makes this practice so unhealthy is the fact that the practitioners see absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, it's not even up for discussion in their book. It's how things should be. No "outsiders" (whatever that is) allowed.
You know, it's the whole, "VIP" thing. It's the wannabe rich, social climbing equivalent of "hick mentality."
The same can be said for those who are in incestuous relationships. Few of them really see anything wrong with it. If they did, they wouldn't engage in such behavior and perhaps they might see the disastrous consequences of their inbreeding.
So yes, inbreeding can be literal and figurative. And no, it's not confined to the art world. It's everywhere. It's in the military, education, business, government, certainly entertainment, you name it. All sectors of society have their exclusive and elitist elements. They usually form when people throw logic - and we won't even get into morality - out the window and submit to "playing the game" for the purpose of getting ahead.
What's really sad is that many if not most people "play the game" and conform as part of their climb to greatness. Little do they know, they were much closer to greatness before they conformed. This is especially true of creative people.
Look, there's absolutely nothing wrong with commonality and similarity. In fact, these things are often great. Human beings have FAR more in common than they have differences. We're all automatically members of the same club. We're human.
Back now to that artist at the social function.
She told me that after chatting with a few of the people there, she found out that yes, most of them were indeed related. They weren't just an extended family. They were well, you know ... super-related! She told me she freaked out and high-tailed it outta there.
This is the feeling that many outsiders get when they observe the "art world." It seems somewhat glamorous and maybe even fun, but something just isn't right ... The people they're observing in this exclusive world have this wild kind of look in their eyes.
It's what happens when you take conformity to the max. Conformity meets pathology and it just goes WAY too far.
The people look alike, talk the same, behave the same and many of them are clearly sleeping together. Hey, lots of people are sleeping together, but at some point, doesn't it all become a little TOO ...