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Young-artist shows often only hint at emerging talent

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Selecting artists for a national new-talent or emerging-artists exhibition is a monumental undertaking. It also carries tremendous responsibilities - especially if the selection is made by an important museum curator and is displayed in a major museum.

The impact such an exhibition can have on younger artists looking for direction is considerable. Critics and curators who do not travel a great deal will draw conclusions about the direction American art is taking from such a show. And it is bound to have some influence on dealers and collectors as well.

With so much riding on the result, it behooves those responsible for these selections to go to as many parts of the country as possible, and to see as much art as possible. But it's just as important that their attitudes toward art be broad and open, and that they do not hold narrowly doctrinaire notions about what constitutes art.

This is crucial, since the art of the talented young often seems aberrational , overly idiosyncratic, or just plain reactionary to older art professionals (who, ironically, tend to be wild and woolly modernists in their approach) - and so can easily be misunderstood and misjudged by them. Clever youngsters with an eye on easy success can adopt fashionable styles, or concoct subtle or outrageous forms that reflect current ideals of ''originality'' or relevancy. And extraordinarily talented and creative younger artists working within less sensational or ''original'' forms can easily be dismissed as unimaginative or culturally irrelevant.

And that isn't all. It's easy to resent or to fear brilliance and true originality in the very young, and (perhaps unconsciously) to lend support only to those whose work does not threaten one's most cherished beliefs and ideals.

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