Artist As Culture Producer

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Sharon Louden’s New Book Explores the Impact of Artists Who Promote the Work of Other Artists by Cara Ober

After an extensive book tour for her first publication, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists, visual artist and author Sharon Louden was surprised to discover how widely misunderstood artists are–by the general public, arts enthusiasts, arts professionals, and even fellow artists, both young and old.

“The old perception remains that artists toil in obscurity, struggling in their studios to heroically reveal the fruit of their labor after much suffering,” Louden writes in the preface of her new and second book, The Artist as Culture Producer. “Over time, I became convinced that this out-of-date characterization–coupled with the stubborn, tired cliché of the starving artist lacking in both personal hygiene and socially acceptable behavior–continues to undermine the true value of the visual arts in our community.”

Louden’s rebellion against artist stereotypes led her to the deep and diverse content of her second book: 40 essays by working artists who also act as culture producers. When asked to clarify the term, Louden explains, “The defining characteristics of someone who produces culture today are that they are generous, they create opportunities not only for themselves but for others, and build bridges to the public to contribute to the well-being of others.”

Art history is teeming with crazy, self-centered, dysfunctional, and egotistical artists. It’s easy to assume that you have to act like an asshole-child in order to be a successful artist today or to prove your art credibility.

Louden, a NY-based artist whose works have been collected by the Whitney and a number of other major museums, and the 40 artists included in her newest book, prove exactly the opposite to be true. Her book argues that the golden rule–doing unto others as you would have done unto you–leads to exponentially more art world success, one built upon authentic relationships and a desire to build community.

Hrag Vartanian, Editor at Hyperallergic who wrote a foreward to Culture Producers, with Louden on stage at The Strand Books in NY for the release of Culture Producers on March 2.

“The 40 artists that comprise this collection of essays share their exceptional stories, affirming that visual artists of the 21st century are not limited to what many consider traditional art making, but instead oftentimes choose to extend outward in a wide variety of collaborative ways,” says Louden in the preface. “These essays also reinforce the reality that there is nothing romantic about the artist’s life. We are just normal, hardworking individuals who are devoted to making the most of our creativity during our short time on this planet.”

Rather than portraying Culture Producers as sainted martyrs or cheerleader types, Louden’s book actually posits that the most talented achieve their greatest achievements when working collaboratively or embedded in a community of artists. By combining a diverse range of artists, in every way possible, who have an active and successful visual arts career, and encouraging them to talk about why they also choose to promote the work of other artists, Louden’s new book shows that the values of community are not mutually exclusive from ambition.

Featuring artists such as Shinique Smith, William Powhida, Andrea Zittel, Michael Scoggins, and Zoë Charlton, whose artwork is depicted on the cover, Culture Producers proves there is no one path to success, that artists are constantly reevaluating their careers and setting new goals for themselves. When embedded in a strong community of artists, and employing practices of sharing, giving, and collaborating, Louden constructs a vision of professional success full of significant milestones built through meaningful friendships, projects, and collaborations.

According to Louden’s website, an extensive schedule of programming is planned to support the book’s publication in early 2017. “Building upon the success of the previous 62-stop book tour that supported Louden’s first publication, panel discussions, symposia, and town-hall forums are being planned across the country and abroad,” says the site. “Through these events, participants will learn about, lend voices to, and be inspired by the vast range of influence that visual artists exert on society.”

With Culture Producer contributors Cara Ober and William Powhida at Baltimore’s Motor House, a panel discussion on Thursday, March 9 will expand the public understanding of the role of the visual artist and the role of culture producers today. Looking forward to her trip to Baltimore, as part of BmoreArt’s Re-Model Professional Development Speaker Series, Louden said, “I see artists in Baltimore fearlessly creating art from nothing and through those experiences, they connect people together to create community.”

Contributor Shinique Smith reads from Culture Producers at The Strand on March 2.


Full Disclosure: Author and BmoreArt Editor Cara Ober is one of the Forty Culture Producers included in Louden’s new book.

BmoreArt Will Host Sharon Louden and William Powhida, Launching A New Professional Development Speaker Series for Artists at The Motor House on Thursday, March 9. Tickets to the event were free but are now all reserved. Louden will do a book signing and we will host a reception after the talk. Event information can be found here.

Thank you to event sponsors The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, Hotel Indigo, and Union Craft Brewing!

The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life is a collection of essays by 40 visual artists. Edited by artist and educator Sharon Louden, the book describes how artists extend their practices outside of their studios. All of these contributors have impactful, artistic activities as change agents in their communities. Their first-hand stories show the general public how contemporary artists of the 21st century add to creative economies through their out-of-the-box thinking while also generously contributing to the well-being of others. Although there is a misconception that artists are invisible and hidden, the truth is that they furnish measurable and innovative outcomes at the front lines of education, the non-profit sector, and corporate environments.

Top Image: Culture Producers at The Strand NY on March 2

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