25 Sep

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See some of Artbollocks Theatre, series 2 at the Outcasting: Fourth Wall Festival of artists’ moving image work in Cardiff this October. Various dates from October 6th at Porter’s Bar Cinema, then at ATRiuM, University of South Wales from October 13th. Other screening programmes continue throughout the month at different venues, including Chapter. Launch on October 1st, 4-7pm. Even leaving myself aside (which is both hard to do and extremely foolish because I’m AMAZING) there are some great artists, commissions and films in this one. Anyone who doesn’t like it or doesn’t find it appealing is dead to me. YOU HEAR? Dead.

New art bollockers brought to justice soon in Artbollocks Theatre 3: Super Cop.

Also, bloody hell, how did it get to be October already?


28 Jun



A 26 minute barrage of bollocks, compiled from series two of Artbollocks Theatre with a new disturbing laugh track and inappropriate library music. I know, just what you always wanted. The writing of many artists, gallerists and curators is a tragedy, so I’m repeating it as comedy.

You can also check out my new Artbollocks Theatre channel on Vimeo. There’s now a facility there for you to leave me a small tip with PayPal or your magic pretend money kurejittokādo if you like Artbollocks Theatre WHICH I KNOW YOU DO BABY. It’s like Kickstarter, but I’ve already done it so that’s better, surely? You could even regard tipping as if you’re in the USA, and you have to leave a tip or your “ass” will be shot by the waitress and you will probably die. Or something like that.

I’ll leave it up to you, though. If you want to die, obviously it’s your decision.


“I could go on, but I’m probably boring you.”


1 Oct



“This video work is an ontologically complex vehicle for the exploration of domestic space, oscillating between the predatory subtexts of the manufactured consumer sphere and its products, and an ironic postmodernist subversion of so-called “innocence” in nature.”

The Arts Council has just awarded a “seedcorn investment” £1.8 million grant to Rightster, the “global b2b video network for distribution, content-sourcing, audience engagement and monetisation”, via the National Lottery. That’s a large seed corn, approaching inexplicable James and the Giant Peach proportions. It’s in aid of a new YouTube-based multichannel network (MCN) for the arts. You never know, it may be brilliant. It may open up opportunities and wider audiences for lots of previously undersupported, excluded or underappreciated artists who deserve more recognition and reward. Stranger things have happened. Maybe they’ll genuinely bring in people other than the usual suspects and the same boring old brand name artists who really don’t need any more help. They need to do some proper research and outreach, look properly at what artists are really doing and really interested in right now instead of just going straight to the established galleries who don’t have a bloody clue about either of these things. They’re always 5-10 years behind the actual practice of most artists. Bypass institutional curators entirely, because they only know what and who they like, not what’s really happening at ground level. The AC’s previous effort, The Space, seems well-intentioned and appears to be doing something even though to me their website is such a usability horrorshow and so sparse in its content that I can’t tell what exactly they’re doing or what they’re hoping to achieve. I’m not even being sarcastic. Seriously, if anybody can explain it to me, feel free.

I really fear, though, that MCNACE* will simply favour an art world version of the lowest common denominator trash that racks up the views everywhere else on YouTube, facilitated by corporate interests like Rightster– unknown to most people, who still somehow manage to delude themselves that there’s any kind of indie, grassroots creativity or spontaneity to million hit+ channels. I’d love them to prove me wrong, but at the moment I really don’t see how it makes sense to tackle an inherently minority interest aesthetic realm like the arts with the same toolbox as uncomplicated, zero-subtext, zero-craft virals about people wearing GoPros as they leap off a cliff, or cats riding Roombas.

The biggest clue to the purpose and mentality behind these MCNs is in the very name: “channel”, like on your TV, programmed, commissioned, corralled and controlled in exactly the same way except that the investment in production and artists’ development is a fraction of what broadcasters have been accustomed to. It’s what they’ve been trying to do with varying degrees of failure since the internet became a genuinely mass medium. Does anybody remember “web portals”? And if so, do you know anyone who liked them? Start planning your new video art practice now, but only on subjects like kittens, pugs, various other pets in costumes or boxes or otherwise doing human-like stuff, screamingunhingedrunk commentaries while you play video games, what you bought when you went shopping, your dinner, reactions to or parodies of other YouTube videos, setting fire to things, cruel and psychopathic pranks, unfunny skits with you wearing a wig, drippy low-fi ukelele or piano covers of pop songs, etc.

Also, from the same link and presented in the same no biggie, FYI, just-thought-you-should-know spirit as the press release:

“Rightster applied for the MCN grant commission in May 2014. In July 2014 they bought Base79**, a company in which Arts Council Chair, Sir Peter Bazalgette, had a shareholding (declared in the Arts Council’s register of interests in November 2013).  Rightster’s purchase of Base79 is a cash+shares transaction, the shares dependent on Base79’s future performance, so Sir Peter Bazalgette has a potential interest in Rightster. He has not been party to the decision to award the grant to Rightster.”

* Somebody from Rightster should contact me privately to discuss licensing this name for use on all the channel’s branding. <Tony Soprano voice> I’d like a taste of that £1.8 million, just like Baz… you know… POTENTIALLY.

** Base79 is an existing MCN, which seems fairly ghastly.


30 Sep


Lewis Hyde, The Gift:

“… a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision… works of art exist simultaneously in two ‘economies,’ a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.”

“We rightly speak of ‘talent’ as a ‘gift,’ for although a talent can be perfected through an effort of will, no effort in the world can cause its initial appearance. Mozart, composing on the harpsichord at the age of four, had a gift.”

[Note: Hyde categorises the creation and care of culture or of other people as traditionally feminine or feminised “gift” professions, and points out that even women in “hard”, traditionally masculine professions like law or banking may still not be paid as much as their male counterparts for doing the same clearly defined and non-gifting labour. Depressingly, this is still true decades after the book was first published.]

“But if we could factor out the exploitation, something else would still remain: there are labors that do not pay because they, or the ends to which they are directed, require built-in constraints on profiteering, exploitation and – more subtly – the application of comparative value with which the market is by nature at ease… ‘Female’ tasks – social work and soul work – cannot be undertaken on a pure cost-benefit basis because their products are not commodities, not things we easily price or willingly alienate. Furthermore, those who assume these labors automatically inhibit their ability to ‘sell themselves’ at the moment they answer their calling. Gift labor requires the kind of emotional or spiritual commitment that precludes its own marketing. Businessmen rightly point out that a man who cannot threaten to quit his job has no leverage when demanding a higher salary. But some tasks cannot be undertaken in such an adversarial spirit. Few jobs are pure gift labors, of course – although a nurse is committed to healing, she is also an actor in the marketplace – but any portion of gift labor in a job will tend to pull it out of the market and make it less lucrative – and a ‘female’ – profession.”

“There are three primary ways in which the modern artists have resolved the problem of their livelihood: they have taken second jobs, they have found patrons to support them, or they have managed to place the work itself on the market and pay the rent with fees and royalties… The second job frees his art from the burden of financial responsibility so that when he is creating the work he may turn from questions of market value and labor in the protected gift-sphere. He earns a wage in the marketplace and gives it to his art.

The case of patronage (or nowadays, grants) is a little more subtle. The artist who takes a second job becomes, in a sense, his own patron: he decides his own work is worthy of support, just as the patron does, but then he himself must go out and raise the cash. The artist who manages to attract a patron may seem less involved with the market… but if we fail to see the market here, it is because we are only looking at the artist. When an artist takes a second job, a single person moves in both economies, but with patronage there is a division of labor – it is the patron who has entered and converted its wealth into gifts. Once made, the point hardly needs elaboration. Harriet Shaw Weaver, that kindly Quaker lady who supported James Joyce, did not get her money from God; nor did the Guggenheims, nor does the National Endowment for the Arts. Someone, somewhere sold his labor in the marketplace, or grew rich in finance, or exploited the abundance of nature, and the patron turns that wealth into a gift to feed the gifted.”

“If an artist lives in a culture which is not only dominated by exchange trade but which has no institutions for the conversion of market wealth to gift wealth, if he lives in a culture that cannot, therefore, settle the debt it owes to those who have dedicated their lives to the realization of a gift, then he is likely to be poor in fact as well as in spirit… In a land that feels no reciprocity towards nature, in an age when the rich imagine themselves to be self-made, we should not be surprised to find the interior poverty of the gifted state replicated in the actual poverty of the gifted.”


24 Sep



E.H. Gombrich, best known for The Story of Art, previously wrote a history book for young people called A Little History of the World:

“Craftsmen such as tailors, shoemakers, drapers, bakers, locksmiths, painters, joiners, stonemasons and master builders all belonged to groups or associations known as guilds. A guild such as that of the tailors was almost as hard to enter and had rules that were almost as strict as those of the knights. Not just anyone could become a master tailor. First you had to serve your time as an apprentice. Then you became a journeyman and went on your travels in order to get to know other towns and other ways of working. Young men like these often went on foot, and often spent years wandering through  many countries before they returned home, or found a city that had a place for a master tailor. Small towns didn’t need many tailors, and the guilds made sure there were no more masters of any trade than there was work for them to do. A journeyman had to demonstrate his skill by completing a masterpiece (perhaps a fine coat) and only then would he be ceremoniously declared a Master and admitted to the guild…

A member of the guild was bound to support his fellow members and not steal their trade, nor must he cheat his own customers with poor goods. He was expected to treat his apprentices and journeymen well and do his best to uphold the good name of his trade and his town.”

“But the worst thing was this: the city’s hundred weavers were now out of work and would starve, because one machine was doing all their work for them. And naturally, rather than see his family starve a person will do anything. Even work for a pittance… One of them might say: ‘I want so much, if I am to live comfortably as I did before.’ The next would say: ‘I just need enough for a loaf of bread and a kilo of potatoes a day.’ And the third, seeing his last chance of survival about to disappear, would say: ‘I’ll see if I can manage on half a loaf.’ Four others then said: ‘So will we!’ ‘Right!’ said the factory owner, ‘I’ll take you five. How many hours can you work in a day?’ ‘Ten hours,’ said the first. ‘Twelve,’ said the second, seeing the job slip from his grasp. ‘I can do sixteen,’ cried the third, for his life depended on it… And this was how business was done. The remaining ninety-five weavers were left to starve, or find another factory prepared to take them on.”

The following is from What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, 1998.

“Under the Statute of Apprenticeship passed in 1563 it was made unlawful ‘to exercise any craft, mystery or occupation’ then practised in England without having served an apprenticeship of seven years or more, and the law was not fully repealed until 1875.

In essence, apprenticeship was a pre-industrial means to ensure that people in skilled occupations learned their business thoroughly and that the established members of the field weren’t overwhelmed by competition from cheap upstarts who hadn’t worked their way up through the system.”

An overwhelming amount of competition being created by cheap (i.e. prepared to work for less than established pros, or for nothing at all) upstarts, many of whom don’t know what they’re doing and care not one bit for their colleagues? Seems to be precisely the situation in which we now find ourselves.

This system also appeals somewhat because it might kill the cycle of hype and buzz about who’s the next big thing, kill all the prizes targeting under 25s or people who have just graduated (thereby excluding most artists who are mature in any sense of the word), kill the scramble for immediate and unearned recognition and prestige, and at the very least mute the cut-throat competition of art school, all of which can be exceedingly damaging for young artists. Many of them come a cropper because of it, because they can’t possibly live up to the hype that’s been built up around them or the romantic fantasy of what they imagine an artist should be. If they were left alone to mature in peace with the help of a sensible mentor, their ability to sustain themselves and the quality of their work would both increase dramatically.

To counteract this utopianism slightly (and depress you terribly), Pool’s book also notes that as time went on this legislation had a distinct tendency to trap people in obsolete occupations where they’d never make a living because society no longer wanted or needed people like them any more. Perhaps we should bear this in mind, too. It’s entirely possible that the artist as we have known him or her in recent centuries is simply done for, and we’ll go the same way as silk weavers and coach makers.

Isn’t “exercising a mystery” a great description of being an artist, though?


22 Sep


I’m currently writing the successor to my book Career Suicide, from which this blog also emerged. The new one will be called Gentlemen and Players. It’s about the various weird situations in which 21st century artists and other creative people are finding themselves due to economic factors and rapidly changing means of production, distribution and consumption. Also making fun of stupid people and the stupid things they do, obviously. And yes, I know the title is sexist and reactionary. I’m writing about the systemic gender and class imbalances in the arts and media, too.

As part of the research process for the book (and of seeing which parts I can cannibalise for the book) I’ve just started reviewing everything that I’ve published here over the past few years. Two documents I put together a while ago but haven’t been widely published are the first things to emerge from this ongoing excavation. Two subjects I’ve often returned to here on this blog are 1) Dodgy pretend galleries that are mainly designed to part wannabe artists from their money and 2) The widespread advertisement of “artist residencies” that are nothing more than curated studio rental or pretentious holidays. Follow the links to see the permanent pages on these subjects.

I still welcome tip offs and informants, but I think I’ve now said just about all there is to say about this sector of the art industry. New people keep blundering in and falling prey to these spivs, but I hope that these two pages will allow me if future to just point at them instead of me having to repeat myself every time another poor wretch succumbs. Honestly, I’m glad to help people out but at the same time being the confidential confessor for so many people is exhausting because their stories are invariably awful and depressing. Once the new book is done I’m hoping to draw a line under the stuff I’ve done until now, and take the blog in a new direction.




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