Artists: Explorers and Miners

There are two types of artists: miners and explorers.  Miners discover a conceptual lode and work it throughout their careers with adjustments to their work to give an appearance of creative development - Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Norman Rockwell, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, John Currin.  Explorers are always seeking new territory like Lewis and Clark or The Spanish explorers of the sixteenth century (minus the genocide).  Picasso was an explorer for many years prior to his late phase when he was mining  an idiosyncratic private language.  Most of the artists whose names and work we know are miners.  It seems to require the relentless telling of the same story to break through.  One might think that there are far more miners than explorers but this is not true.  It is that explorers remain obscure because their names are rarely associated with a personal style.  Most miners endured an intense explorer phase, usually in art school and accompanied by anxiety, fear and poverty - there was nothing to lose by bold experimentation.  Why not try a bit of everything - see what sticks to the wall.  Once recognition strikes (often along with some money), the artist puts down a claim on their idea and they begin to mine it to both their exhaustion and ours.  There may be an x curve at work here with the depth of the anxiety of ignominy in inverse proportion to the desire to remain an explorer once “discovered”  Picasso was discovered as a little boy and didn’t have an explosive emotional event  as a young man when someone first paid some money and attention to his work thus freeing him psychically to explore throughout most of his career.  Edward Baum, one of my Harvard architecture professors said to me “One can measure the quality of a creative mind by how long the person can remain in a state of uncertainty.”  How long can one continue exploring without having an answer, a solution, either to a specific problem or to the challenge of an entire career.  Does one have the guts for the anxiety of exploration.  Exploring is more admirable than mining.  The art establishment and our galaxy of art galleries make little money from explorers.  These entities, for the most part, encourage one to become a miner ASAP.  Galleries and explorers are almost always adversaries with some brave and notable exceptions.  For a gallery, art is a commodity and if the brand represents something different every season it is hard to market.  There’s room for one or two Picasso scale explorers in a generation and everyone else who wishes to make a living in art is advised to get in line - start to mine.