“Who is Art?” he snickers, pointing at my chest. He is a sixth-grade classmate, and we’ve just arrived at a week-long sleepaway camp in Palomar. “Take a nametag,” one of the counselors instructed us, “and instead of writing your name, write something interesting about yourself!” I had followed instructions, and my nametag reads “I Love Art.”

Our audience is a girl from another school. She ignored the counselor and carefully drew her name on her nametag in the big, perfect bubble letters only sixth grade girls with prematurely big, perfect boobs got to use. They laugh and walk away.

I would never be comfortable with San Diego’s youth culture, where giving a shit about anything was seen as a sign of weakness. Instead, I took refuge in very immature feelings of intellectual superiority, figuring that I would find my place in college and beyond.

I was wrong about that, though. Or at least it would never be that simple. I got the education, sure. I wrote about women artists. I discovered women artists who write, like Frances Stark and Vanessa Place and Sarah Seager. But grad school disowned me in its own way. “You were only accepted because of your writing,” the Program Director told me, meaning I didn’t come in with the right experience or connections. Not long after that, the program’s leadership changed hands, and my degree morphed from a Master’s in Public Art Studies to another name and acronym I can never seem to remember.

After school, I worked at an independent art museum for three impactful years. The museum was free to visit, with no hidden, twenty-dollar parking fees like the Getty’s. There, I worked with a Director who saw accessible language as an extension of that free admission. We took everything from wall text to press releases to publications to tweets as places to communicate clearly. Our enemy was art speak—that non-transparent, theory-addled rhetoric dubbed International Art English by Alix Rule and David Levine.

Not much has changed since 1979, when Martha Rosler boldly laid out the “owners of high culture” and “those who are intimidated by it” along income and education levels.[1] Museums, galleries, and alternative spaces still maintain that “certain churchly”, chilling effect on large swaths of society.[2] A limited audience for art, Rosler said, means more and more pressure on artists and artworks to play it ideologically safe.

Right now, I don’t make my living in art. It’s like my place is and always will be in-between. I’ve come to realize that, if my maybe impossible mission is to widen the audience for art with writing, then the in-between is a powerful place to work from.

I never responded to that sixthgrade classmate. If I had stayed at the museum, a certain type of success and a title could have been my rebuttal, 20 years too late. But that’s not what I want. Instead, I want to write for him. I hope that he reads unpublished. And I hope he likes it. I hope that I can finally answer his question with one of my own:

“Isn’t Art you?”

Adrienne White is a writer and sometimes curator who loves Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. She was previously Curatorial Assistant at the Santa Monica Museum of Art (now reborn as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) and is a graduate of the Master’s in Art and Curatorial Practices in the Public Sphere program at the University of Southern California.

[1] Martha Rosler, “Lookers, Buyers, Dealers, and Makers: Thoughts on Audience” in Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975-2001, (Cambridge: The MIT Press): 16.

[2] Ibid., 14.