Illustration by Yoo Young Chun
In September, fellow “Prattler” reporter Natalie Helsel and I asked members of the Pratt community what it means to be visible as artists.
“There’s no guarantee that any of your work, regardless of what it is, is ever going to get off the ground,” an anonymous Industrial Design student responded. They described their strategy as “Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best,” emphasizing the lack of control they feel in finding visibility within the larger art world. At Pratt, they said they feel seen by their professors and peers. “But,” they continued, “Pratt is a closed community that’s not a fair comparison to the rest of the world.”
Another student described visibility as getting your work out, while another called it exposure. These artists describe the want to make their art visible like a wild animal needing to be set free. But who, or what, decides to let these animals out? And how does the meaning of visibility and exposure change from community to art world?
Pratt is a testing ground where these animals can run. We’re all here, working late nights, covering our desks with paint and droplets of coffee, to be part of a community that has left the cage door ajar. We’re here because we’ve been seen and accepted into the institutional arena, which puts new obstacles in front of us.
First year student Evelyn was excited by the opportunities Pratt could provide her. She spoke of the joy she found in seeing people support her. To her, visibility is this support. Riley, a junior film student, stating, “exposure isn’t the top thing, but quality and respect for the level of detail and attention.” For Riley, visibility is respect from peers, professionals and himself. Respect elevates work and lets these metaphorical animals walk a little further.
Deb Johnson, an Industrial Design professor, thinks of visibility online. She often feels overwhelmed with Instagram and the amount of work on the app. Johnson resolves to see Instagram as “a world that people are creating that you want to participate in, [that’s] not about owning the whole show.” This competition is exemplified by institutional tradition and elite galleries perpetuating the idea that there’s only space for so few artists.
Visibility is ever changing, and will mean different things as we grow as artists. For me, being seen as an artist is enough for right now. I’m grateful to have the will and privilege to create, and I feel incredibly excited by the “responsibility” that comes with it. What does visibility mean for you?