California State University, Northridge

Gatekeepers of the Creative Domains

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in Creativity - Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention:
The Systems Model of Creativity includes the creative domain, which is nested in culture, the field, which includes all the gatekeepers of the domain (e.g., art critics, art teachers, curators of museums, etc.), and the individual person, who using the symbols of the given domain, has a new idea or sees a new pattern. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that we only recognize this person's creativity when this novelty is selected by the gatekeepers for inclusion into the relevant domain.

So who are the gatekeepers that Csikszentmihalyi writes about? The following was taken from the Spring 1998 issue of Northridge magazine (p. 23) and is used with permission of its editor, John Kroll:

The Gatekeepers

Aunt Tillie, with her easel, palette, and flowered smock, may consider herself an artist, but does anyone else think she is? The initial people to make that decision - the gatekeepers - are often gallery owners, who choose whether to grant someone an exhibit. What do they look for; what are the characteristics of a serious artist as opposed to a dabbler?

William Turner - William Turner Gallery, Venice
"I look for artists who have found their voice, who speak in a language that appears somewhat different. When artists find their voice, they find a language that gives expression to it.
"Art history is presented as a linear progression, one style succeeding the previous one, but that's a fiction because artists are working in many styles at any one time. Letting go of that fiction allows [artists] to look at different sources of vocabulary that they can draw on. The variety of sources has never been richer than now, but it's also never been more confusing. I think this time will lead to greater clarity. Right now there's great activity in the midst of what looks like confusion."

Bob Gino - Orlando Gallery, Sherman Oaks
"Reviewing artists' portfolios helps me determine the artist's direction. I look to see how innovative and unique they are. You can see if they're dedicated to art by today's standards, if the artist is being totally honest, directed, channeled. Talking to the artist and looking at their body of work (in terms of shapes, forms, colors), you get a sense of their personality.
"I try to advance the customers' taste, and their taste definitely needs advancing. Most people don't allow themselves to be touched by art. They are intimidated. I want people to understand their reactions to art, not just shut it off."
Gail Harvey - Gail Harvey Gallery, Santa Monica
"I don't care if the painting is trendy or salable. The most important thing is that it's well painted. I like oil and surfaces with depth - art that draws people across the room. The color is incidental, and the imagery is not that important. I like paintings that are so well done that you can look at them again and again and keep seeing something new."
Steve Stein - Steve Stein Gallery, Sherman Oaks
"I look for techniques, style, imagination, and creativity - a knowledge of composition and drawing. I usually find artists myself by traveling throughout the country, to exhibits or by word of mouth. This more frequent than artists coming into my gallery.
"I don't want people who are derivative; I look for a unique style. I've been approached several times about exhibiting the work of an 11-year-old girl who is said to draw like Picasso. Not denying that the girl has some talent, I'm not interested because not only is she like Picasso, her colors are from Matisse."
Pat Faure - Pat Faure Gallery, Santa Monica
"First I look for connections to art that I already show. Then I look for differences - the really profound differences between, for instance, one minimalist and the other minimalists you're familiar with.
"When artists aren't ready, it's self-evident.
"Graduate students in art should spend a lot of time looking at galleries to see where they fit in."