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“Emerging,” A Hopeful Word With a Smile from Sisyphus

by Gary John Gresl

I have to cringe and/or chuckle when I see the word “emerging” being applied to younger artists who have apparently stepped from a womb into Wisconsin’s art culture, been given a pat on the behind from an art doctor, and who have placed their feet on the ever rising ladder of success. They have moved into the limelight and the world is waiting to embrace them. Milwaukee; Madison; Racine; Green Bay…hotbeds of Wisconsin contemporary art milieu, are about to seek them out and ensconce them in the pages of art history.

They have “emerged”! They have stepped into the limelight! They are the young Turks going forth to do battle! They are the future of our thriving art culture! Ah! Yes! They are talented…and gathering by the hundreds and thousands.

They are also the wait staff in your local restaurants, part time teachers and laborers, and too many are hopeful questing artists who move to other states. Like generations before, they are part timers who lust in their hearts for recognition while holding down day jobs that pay the bills. They are hopeful and expectant; they are naïve and energetic; they are dupes and they are dreamers; some will be artists but for a brief time…and a very few will arrive someday somewhere as fully functioning successful artists who somehow make their money thru their art production. Many will move out of state and seek broader audiences.

“Emerging’ has a connotation of hope! Thank goodness for hope! Being engaged in the process of emerging can go on a long time…maybe for a lifetime. In art making and the profession of being an artist, is there a glass ceiling to smash or even a ceiling that one can define? Perhaps there is only a “Vague Ceiling” against which many artists push and poke seeking some reward. Using the word can for a brief moment give us confidence, continue the illusion or delusion that we are destined for greater things.

Here are the definitions of the word, emerge, as found in the online Webster-Merriam Dictionary, 10/18/07

Main Entry: emerge
Etymology: Latin emergere, from e- + mergere to plunge
1 : to become manifest
2 : to rise from or as if from an enveloping fluid : come out into view
3 : to rise from an obscure or inferior position or condition
4 : to come into being through evolution

Please consider #3. “to rise from an obscure or inferior position or condition”.
As we know, one man’s obscurity is the next man’s dream. Obscure and inferior are clearly relative terms. And what about #4? Evolution! Do we stop evolving…ever?

Every newly minted artist “emerges’. Aren’t all those art school grads “emerging”? Aren’t the academically trained or self taught artists who manage to get into exhibits or gain the attention of an arts writer “emerging”? Aren’t we all following the definition #3 above? Aren’t we all rising from some more obscure or inferior state to another? Sadly, maybe not!

Some of us are backsliding, getting less exposure, finding fewer exhibits, losing our energies, being discouraged and disillusioned…losing faith that the Art Gods are watching us, and recognizing that despite our talents and drive we might be walking on a treadmill that has an illusory reward we never quite can reach. Some of us never emerge enough!

Perhaps the Greek King, Sisyphus, should be the patron symbol of artists. We continue to push the art rock up that hill only to see it roll back again and again.

We really only have the two choices of giving up or trying again. We must take a deep breath, get another grip on that rock, and begin to roll it back up that hill made of psychological, material and financial roadblocks. We need to have endurance as we continue to grow older, continually “emerging”.

Have you ever heard the part of the story when Sisyphus gives up? No! It is not part of the mythology. His punishment, dictated by the gods, required him to begin anew every time the rock rolled back down. He never stopped.

For the artist, what is the goal? Is pushing the art rock up the hill a punishment or a privilege…a burden or a joy? Is the process a good part of the reward?

So go ahead, those of you who “emerge”. Be ready to do as most others of us do.

Prepare to “reemerge”…over and over again.

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