Artists: Are you legit?



Above: A Gwen Joy painting

Local artist, cigarette girl and gadabout Gwen Joy, whose whimsical work has developed a loyal following among Detroit-area collectors, (including our features editor), got a surprise last week while out and about: She got her credentials questioned.

When introduced as an artist to a group of recent art school grads, one diploma-holder asked, “Yeah, but are you legit? Do you have a degree in art?” Joy was floored.

“I’ve been working as an artist in Detroit for years, and I’ve never had anybody ask me that,” Joy said later that night, while doing her cigarette-girl shtick at the Lager House.

Joy did study art, earning a grant that couldn’t be used at a private art school, so she attended Wayne State University. Not aspiring to teach, she studied English, history, art and urban studies, among other subjects, attaining a bachelor’s in American Studies, but she admits, “I don’t have an art degree.”

Jousting with this accredited “artist,” Joy attempted to explain that she was a “real” artist.

“I told him I had a website. I told him I took some art classes. Finally, I gave him a business card. He liked my card — that settled things.”

But what does it say about the Detroit art scene that four fresh-faced graduates of art school run into Joy, a fixture on Detroit’s art scene, and immediately quiz her about a degree? Is that the sort of art scene we can expect our studious, college-educated artists to produce? Never mind that they’ve probably spent much time at their precious art school venerating such unschooled painters as merchant marine, sailor and stockbroker Paul Gauguin or high school dropout Jean-Michel Basquiat.

A word of advice to art school grads of everywhere: We appreciate that you wanted to study art. Congratulations on your diploma. But now, as you leave the academy and enter our world, the onus is on you to demonstrate through your work that you are legit.

Gwen Joy will have work on display as part of An Interpretation of Winter, at Izzy’s Raw Art Gallery, 2572 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-740-2227. Opening recention starts at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31.

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