Stuart Horodner on “The Art Life”

We know (and like) Stuart Horodner because he’s been a member of our Visual Arts grant selection team more than once; has attended several of our Artist Retreats; and has worked with a number of our grantee artists over the years. We’d like to believe that his newly released book, The Art Life: On Creativity and Career, was inspired, at least in part, by his watching how Creative Capital works with artists, providing funding and professional development to help them establish and sustain their art practices over the long term. But like him, we’ve realized that money and services won’t help artists who aren’t seriously committed to their practices, who don’t have that indefinable “spark” that makes them artists, that makes them the real thing. That spark is what Stuart is trying to zero in on. We asked him how he came to write this book.


For several years now, I have had the sense that the focus on “professional practices” as taught in art schools and university art departments is only one side of the story. I must admit to having taught classes on this topic and lectured across North America, addressing how artists should approach galleries, what art magazines are good for, the best ways to visit an art fair, and other strategic matters. As an ex-dealer, gallery owner and art fair organizer, I have a lot invested in clarifying misconceptions and trying to keep artists from being disappointed for the wrong reasons, as well as providing insights about positive turns in their careers. The fact is that thousands of talented individuals get out of art programs every year, hungry for success and often saddled with debt. It’s not surprising that they have the marketplace on their minds and want to know any “words of wisdom” that will get them ahead.

Less often discussed is why people want to be artists at all, and how they sustain themselves in the process. With this in mind, I conceived of The Art Life: On Creativity and Career as a kind of “self-help critical reader,” something that students and various creative people could read straight through or open up for a few nuggets of lived experience by emerging and well-known practitioners—painters, filmmakers, designers, musicians, writers and dealers.

Many of the book’s contributors have been included in exhibitions and programs at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in recent years; texts or images by Daniel Bozhkov, Brad Cloepfil, Fahamu Pecou, Nancy Princenthal, Paul Ramírez Jonas, Amanda Ross-Ho, Mira Schor, Harry Shearer, Susan Silton, Joe Sola, Nato Thompson and others reveal a combination of passion, doubt, sense of humor, ambition and acceptance. Creative Capital has funded several of the contributing artists—including Paul Shambroom (2001 Visual Arts), Harrell Fletcher (2002 Emerging Fields), Jennie C. Jones (2008 Visual Arts) and Lisa Sigal (2012 Visual Arts)—and I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with them on projects here as well. Their thoughts on process and community are particularly good. All the people included in the publication exemplify the “I had no choice” aspect of being creative individuals, cultivating their precise points of view and being committed to staying in the game.

In writing the introduction and chapter headings for the book and compiling its content, I became even more convinced that the sign being held by a man in the famous series of photos by Gillian Wearing says it best: Everything is connected in life. The point is to know it and to understand it.

I believe that we are all working out a private insistency, explaining ourselves to ourselves and to others, and that this effort is worthwhile and transformative.

As critic Peter Schjeldahl says, “Art is very silly and it is very free. The freedom is there to be used. It takes somebody with a lot of ambition and stamina to use it.” My book is meant to help in that effort.

Stuart Horodner is Artistic Director of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. He has held positions as visual arts curator at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Portland, OR (2001–2004); director of the Bucknell University Art Gallery, Lewisburg, PA (1998–2001); and was co-owner of the Horodner Romley Gallery, New York, NY (1992–1996). He founded and co-directed the Affair at the Jupiter Hotel, an annual art fair in Portland (2004–2007). Horodner has contributed to journals and magazines, including Art Issues, Art Lies, Art on Paper, Bomb, Dazed & Confused, Sculpture and Surface. He has served in an advisory capacity to organizations including Artadia: The Fund for Art and Dialogue, Creative Capital, Hallie Ford Family Foundation and The MacDowell Colony. He received his BFA from The Cooper Union, New York, NY, and his MFA from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.

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