The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America is, as the title suggests, a look at how art is failing in this country—told from a number of different vantage points and examining various aspects of the phenomenon. Part journalism, part concentrated research, part memoir—it’s a series of blog-postings and articles that tell the tale of my own failure as an artist and what this failure has meant to me and to my life’s course. It is also a record of my odyssey to understand the struggles of myriad failing and failed artists across the communities of this country, as well as the failure of the entire structure that supports artists and arts viewing.
Though this topic is potentially depressing, I am collecting and presenting the information for only the most hopeful of reasons: That we somehow, someday may collectively rise up and fulfill our national creative promise.
-Michael Fallon, site author/editor
About the Author
Michael Fallon is an artist, arts writer, and arts administrator based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Michael began his career studying art in Berkeley in the late 1980s with such luminary Bay Area high-modernist figures as David Simpson, Joan Brown, Chris Brown, and Boyd Allen and in the early 1990s in Los Angeles with post-modernist figures like Eileen Cowin, Don Lagerberg, and Buzz Spector.
Life, the Peace Corps, and sundry worldly experiences distracted him from fully completing his L.A. art grad studies, but he eventually completed an MFA in, of all places, Alabama, studying, oddly enough, traditional book arts. He worked as a book artist for a good decade—completing one-of-a-kind projects with such legendary figures as Kurt Vonnegut, John Barth, Nikki Giovanni, and Robert Bly. Ultimately, however, the mish-mash of modernist, post-modernist, and traditionalist training he received in the arts ultimately did not serve him well in the art marketplace.
Michael’s willy-nilly art training did teach him to appreciate multiple vantage-points and approaches to art-making and led him to accept a range of values in the arts—skills and interests that, almost inevitably, brought him to practices of art criticism and writing, and, most recently, arts administration. Since 1998, Michael has written from Minnesota more than 160 reviews, feature articles, essays, and profiles for publications as City Pages, Art Papers, the Orange County Weekly, Review (out of Kansas City), Modernism, the Pittsburgh City Paper, Fiberarts, Public Art Review, Art in America, and Hope.
In 2000, Michael joined the American chapter of the International Art Critic’s Association, and in 2002 he founded a local arts writers association, the Visual Art Critics Union of Minnesota (VACUM), with whom he was instrumental in setting up several programs fostering local arts criticism—including a lecture series at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and a partnership publication of arts criticism with the local book review journal Rain Taxi. In 2003, Michael was asked by the editors of mnartists.org, a project of the Walker Art Center and McKnight Foundation, to write a regular column on art and a range of other subjects.
This last gig, which Michael continues today nearly four years later, was a perfect chance for him to practice a variety of different approaches to art criticism and to explore the range of issues that had begun to concern him. In particular, in 2001 Michael had written two stories for City Pages on two local mainstay (and talented) artists who had fallen on difficult times, and who fit the stereotype of the “starving artist.” The stories, while a fascinating chance to examine the life of working artists in a middle American town, caused the writer to begin to wonder if perhaps this were not just an isolated phenomenon. By 2003, Michael began traveling whenever possible to other locales—Kansas City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New York, rural Colorado, and so on—to find aging hard-luck artists and to tell their stories (some of this work was supported by a travel grant from Jerome Foundation) in order to shed light on their struggle.
This goal–to shed light on the struggle of aging artists–led Michael in 2005 to enroll in the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Here, among other activities, he established and led a four-month group research project called “Essential Services for Aging Artists” (ESAA), which made use of focus-group discussions of artists in New York, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh, a survey of more than 1,300 artists currently working nation-wide, a study of existing information about the state of artists and research into what services currently exist for artists, and a group analysis of the data we collected. The project’s goals were to gain a clearer understanding of the problems and needs that visual artists face as they age, to research services that currently exist to address these needs, to pinpoint needs still unaddressed, and to make recommendations for addressing these needs. The final report on aging artists, completed in May 2006, is comprised of chapters on findings about the overall current “state of the artist” and on the needs of artists in eight essential service categories: housing, estate planning, business skills, archiving, legal services, retirement, insurance, and health care.
Today, Michael is back in Minnesota. He continues to be concerned about the needs of artists and in finding ways to address to those needs. At the same time, Michael continues to be passionate about seeking the truth about why artists, and the arts in general, continue to struggle in this country. Indeed, his most recent writing has grown increasingly strident in seeking answers to hard questions about our national ambivalence toward the arts. His knowledge about the real struggles faced by artists in middle America has led him to pursue a long-range project—a series of articles and a blog dubbed in the aggregate with the charged title, “The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America.”