How Artists Must Dress

From the Paper Monument pamphlet, I Like Your Work.


Artists must first of all distinguish themselves from members of the adjacent professional classes typically present at art world events: dealers, critics, curators, and caterers. They must second of all take care not to look like artists. This double negation founds the generative logic of artists’ fashion.

The relationship between an artist’s work and attire should not take the form of a direct visual analogy. A stripe painter may not wear stripes.

The relationship between an artist’s work and attire should function in the manner of a dialectic, in which the discrepancy between the personal appearance of the artist and the appearance of her work is resolved into a higher conceptual unity. An artist’s attire should open her work to a wider range of interpretive possibilities.

The artist’s sartorial choices are subject to the same hermeneutic operations as are his work. When dressing, an artist should imagine a five-paragraph review of his clothes—the attitudes and intentions they reveal, their topicality, their relationship to history, the extent to which they challenge or endorse, subvert or affirm dominant forms of fashion—written by a critic he detests.

Communicating an attitude of complete indifference to one’s personal appearance is only achievable through a process of self-reflexive critique bordering on the obsessive. Artists who are in reality oblivious to how they dress never achieve this effect.

Whereas a dealer must signal, in wardrobe, a sympathy to the tastes and tendencies of the collector class, an artist is under no obligation to endorse these. Rather, the task of the artist with regard to fashion is to interrogate the relationship between cost and value as it pertains to clothing, and, by analogy, to artworks.

An artist compensates for a limited wardrobe budget by making creative and entertaining clothing choices, much in the way that a dog compensates for a lack of speech through vigorous barking.

Artists are not only permitted but are in fact required to be underdressed at formal institutional functions. But egregious slovenliness without regard to context is a childish ploy, easily seen through.

An artist may dress like a member of the proletariat, but shouldn’t imagine he’s fooling anyone.

The affluent artist may make a gesture of class solidarity by dressing poorly. She is advised to keep in mind that, at an art opening, the best way to spot an heiress is to look for a destitute schizophrenic. Middle-class or working-class artists, the destitute, and the schizophrenic can use this principle to their social advantage.

The extension of fashion into the violation of norms of personal hygiene and basic grooming constitutes the final arena for radicalism in artists’ fashion. Brave, fragrant souls! You will be admired from a distance.

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