The annual College Art Association conference was last week in New York at the Hilton in midtown. I attended along with a few close friends of mine, all of whom are talented artists and art professors, teaching in the Cincinnati area. The conference always takes place in February, over Valentines day, and is always in the midst of a terrible cold spell. This year was especially cold, and made it slightly more difficult to strap on my “going to see art” armor and tenacity to network and “put myself out there” in the hopes of meeting my future employer soul mate. The conference has so many sessions it is nearly impossible for me to determine which session is the correct choice at any given time, and then there is the problem of how to choose between seeing the brilliant artists and researchers and going to see cutting edge art in the greatest city in the world.
Other than attending because of genuine excitement in the latest research in the field of art (that my friend reminded me about), there are only a few reasons to attend: 1. You have an interview for a full time position teaching at a university that was scheduled ahead of time, 2. You hope to be called in for a last minute interview at the conference for something you already applied for, or 3. You are a faculty member at a university and have been sent to the conference to interview candidates in this stressful, cut throat atmosphere of exhaustion and chaos. Somehow I was in none of these categories. When you are in category 4 - no reason to be there - you have to hope for chance encounters and feel a similar buzz to being the new kid in 7th grade. Trying to make friends with kids who you automatically assume don’t want to talk to you.
At the very least, I knew that my membership and conference fee secured me this official tote bag full of advertisements and garbage. $300 or so is not bad for a cotton blend semi-reusable bag with thin crumpled straps.
But all seriousness aside, it was wonderful to be present for Lucy Lippard to accept her award for the College Art Association’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art. She amazes me with her brilliance and humor. At the kickoff for the tense, exhausting, four day art-off, Lippard is honest and delightful, suggesting some simple advice to us all: “keep your standard of living extremely low and you can write what you want.” When I sat down to write a reflection on the conference, I was thinking about the word conference and decided to look up the definition. Here is what I found:
con·fer·ence ˈkänf(ə)rəns / noun
1. a formal meeting for discussion.”he gathered all the men around the table for a conference” synonyms:discussion, consultation, debate, talk, conversation, dialogue, chat,tête-à-tête, parley;
2. an association of sports teams that play each other.
Since at the CAA conference there are really no organized opportunities to have a discussion with peers, I can recognize more parallels with the definition that refers to sports teams playing against each other. The conference is tough, the days are long, and it does remind me of a tournament. It may be better if, in the future, we all wear different colored jerseys, taking the guess work out of what team we all play for. At least it would be easier to identify the winners and losers and that might make the experience more satisfying for everyone.