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Noa’s Advice: How To Stand Out

Published 05 Oct 2023


min read

Performance artist, writer and @art.goss co-founder @noa.marthe is here to advise you on navigating the inner workings of the art world. Ask her about your art-institutional dramas and artlove affairs; labour conditions and career paths; ask her if you have good taste in art and which shows to boycott. We mean it: send us your questions to info@thecouch.hethem.nl or DM Noa directly on Insta. She’ll decide when/if/why to spill the tea, she’s your coach on the Couch. There’s no such thing as a stupid [art] question - Noa knows it all.


Piggybacking on “How to Make a Living as an Artist”, a concerned but art-loving parent slid into my DMs: 

“Dear Noa” she wrote, “my child just started at the Rietveld Academie and though I am very proud of them I can’t help but think; doesn’t everyone go to art school these days? How… how on earth will they stand out in the crowd?”

Oh.. Dear art-loving parent! My sincere apologies for my being incomplete in my guidance. You’re absolutely right: to make a living as an artist, the question of standing out must be considered.

And o boy… do we flock in wildly large numbers! The Netherlands counts 96000 people “officially” working as artists; a total of 21 art academies —  that’s like almost two per province whoa! — and +/- 22000 art students.

You might think that’s a lot, but of the 1.3 million students in NL it’s a mere 1.6%. By which I mean to say: not to worry! Your child will still totally radiate exclusive weird-kiddo artschool vibes.

Because indeed, we all know that art’s valorisation happens through exclusivity. It is the business of rareness; singularity and novelty. It’s the business of everything that is uncommon… If artistic production (within the artworld) is tied to individual mystique and brilliance — then how the hell are we supposed to stand out if the Netherlands alone produces such a vulgarly deflating abundance of artists?

Unsurprisingly, driven by this question — and naturally supported by a wonderfully high density of narcissistic personality traits — there is no professional field more obsessed with trends than the artworld. Paradoxically leading to a rapid hollowing out of emancipatory (read: novel; outstanding; engaging) discourses. I too can’t help but feel fatigued by yet another earth-heap or moss-art project, in which moaning savaged bodies are juxtaposed by smooth-edged and vibrantly toxic 3d printed tribal shapes, reeking of industrial futures imploding onto primal pasts... Sighhh… fatigued not just by its lack of novelty —mainstreaming discourses holds emancipatory power—  but rather for its failure to actually and seriously commit to questions that require radical and systemic change. (Similarly to the way “trauma” and “care” were buzzingly hip for, like, less than a year, yet already feel like yesterday’s news). In our desperate attempts to stand out, to be trending, a lot of dangerously hollow sameness is produced.

But back to art school, where the art of trend is thought. My wonderful —and might I add: outstanding!— students, for instance, spend increasingly large amounts of money on their graduation projects (this worries me!), in their endeavor to stand out during the 21 yearly grad shows this country has to offer. Indeed, they feel it’s their ‘one chance’ to be seen; to be discovered. Now where some of them get the €€€ from mom & dad, others just can’t make the cut. Consequently — and encouraged by the institution— big chunks of their time that should go to the development of their practices are spent on coordinating crowdfunding campaigns, managing the outsourcing of labour to third parties and something I call “visual saucing”: A type of visual name-dropping; of sensational discourse-pouring, resulting in a baroque proliferation of trend esthetics on literally as many display-surfaces as you can imagine. Flags; screens; wallpapers; vinyl-stickered plates; posters; car-parts (always the car-parts!!); simulated metaverse replicas finding their corporeal reappearance in myriad 3d-printed counterparts…☣️☠️♻️✨. By the end of their studies, they’ve already and entirely been co-opted by this neoliberal logic: working themselves into debt, enslaving their energy and resources to the continuation of managerial “excellence guaranties” the institution so proudly promotes on its webpage. (Also, can we talk ‘bout the production of waste through gradshows pls?)

Oh my.. look at me getting all worked up.. Perhaps it is time to move away from standing out as a goal. What exactly does it mean anyway, to stand out? Standing out to whom? And for what; Insta-fame? A 22mil following on TikTok? (ok that is v cool)

My prediction? Standing out is sooo passé. And to be honest, most of us just really won’t anyway! Most of us will remain part of the large and mediocre soup that is the creative industries. And that is okay. After all, if we demystify artistic production and see it as… WORK, just like in any other professional field there will be people contributing with and without standing out. There will be people —many in fact— who don’t desire to stand out, but do desire to contribute to cultural work.

Come to think of it, perhaps the most outstanding thing one could do is to commit to a refusal to stand out. Yeah.. Instead —mark my words!— solidarity and collaboration will be trending soon! ‘Collective practice’, as an anti-exceptionalist stance, will be next season's hotness! And before we know it, “solidarity” and “community” will provide new ways to hide behind mediocrity; ways to mechanise care; like a mycelium network ingeniously commoning the distribution of complicity to all corners of the art world. Cultural resources are no longer falsely scarcified in order to create arbitrary value; instead a rich and diverse culture ferments into healthy competition, boiling with commoned creativity — finally! An end to the myth of meritocracy! To artists falsely competing and being sucked into a cutthroat scramble for resources! We’ll realise not all and everything exists solely by virtue of visibility and recognise a lot of important work is done in the dark, collectively; like moles rupturing the soil and accentuating vast blankets of green …moss! with gorgeously meaningful earth-heaps…

So here, my dear art-loving parent, is a bit of advice:


1. Be or become a successful woman artist (rarest of things!)
2. Stop vibing and start articulating.
3. Read books. Absolute success guaranteed! (no one really does.)
4. Show up to class. Always. And go to everything.
5. Do follow trends! After all, people [curators] love what they know.

1. Don’t assume people will just flock to your work. It ain’t humble, it's arrogant. (Sell yourself darlin!)
2. Stop the green/pink/white/art/car!!!wash. tyty
3. Don’t start a collective art practice. (Or please do but beware: there ain’t no infrastructure or fund on this planet that supports multi-headed art beasts)
4. Don’t wear the artist costume. You’ll disappear in the vast sea of toxic-moss-rombaut-balenciaga-vibed-kinks ☣️☠️
5. Don’t hold gallery representation up as the pinnacle of achievement (or.. Maybe do)


Yours, Noa.


Okok my apologies; I realise none of this actually calms the nerves of a parent in distress; let me end by sharing with you an observation I find hopeful. Very hopeful, in fact. Since forever, art-schools have more often than not been known as trauma producing factories. But my recent graduates  — though they might look back at their particularly crises-induced studies with resentment— have grown into incredibly resilient people who understand the importance of building solidarity networks: of working and organising with and for each other. Your kiddo might not stand out but they’ll get to find their people and learn all the big-ass life lessons <3 <3 <3 and if that ain’t worth payin’ for art school, well, I don’t know what is.

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