I’m working on writing a report-slash-compendium of wisdom for artists based on the research and interviews we’ve been doing at one of my other ventures: Market Project. This has meant going through all the files and posts on that site, and in the process I’ve rediscovered some excellent posts there by an absolutely brilliant writer called Alistair Gentry. Therefore, like all lazy bloggers at the end of the year, I’ll be recycling some of these posts here over the Christmas and New Year period. I know everyone’s going to be on the internet as normal because everyone just is, always. They’ll just be a bit drunker than normal. I hope you enjoy these automated posts of old shit from another site, dear drunk and hating your family already readers.
It was slightly surreal to read one of Guy Delisle‘s other books about being a temporary resident among famished, fearful citizens in an oppressive Communist country (Pyongyang) while I was a temporary resident sitting among beautiful, healthy Scandinavians in an extravagantly equipped, wonderfully comfortable and relaxed public library in über liberal and progressive Norway. It was in some ways even more surreal to read more recently his similar graphic memoir about working as an animation director in the Chinese city of Shenzhen and to realise that he’d had almost identical experiences and reactions to the place as myself. I don’t mean I identified with it. I mean he had exactly the same experiences as I did. Delisle was there in the late 1990s and I was there ten years later in 2007-2008, but surprisingly little seems to have changed. Probably a lot more buildings went up, and the metro system wasn’t there, and the population was smaller, but I could still even recognise some of the places from his drawings. I was there as an artist in residence at a gallery in Shenzhen, one of the few state-funded ones in the whole of China.
Delisle mentions the occasional blessed escapes to nearby Hong Kong where it feels like a massive weight has lifted from yourself and from everybody else; the fine Communist art of doing the absolute minimum amount of work (or less if you can get away with it), what’s called in Russian tufta; the pathological Chinese aversion to the sun, “as if it’s radioactive” to use Delisle’s perceptive phrase; the worrying amount of time you spend, with hindsight, laying on your bed in your underwear doing nothing, just for some respite from the dirt and the difficulty and from people randomly shouting HELLOO at you on the street when it’s clearly a kind of racist dig rather than a genuine greeting. I experienced all this too. When I finished this book I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him with relief that it was OK, somebody understands, I felt exactly the same. Continue reading
The artists’ database Axis is twenty-one years old. One of their chosen top twenty-one Axis things from the past twenty-one years is a brief extract that was published there last year from my book Career Suicide, (you should buy it here) about the hypocrisy and general twattishness of comfortably salaried people at fully funded arts organisations or supposedly “commercial” galleries always expecting artists to work for no pay, with no resources and to no particular benefit for the artist… and worse still, taking it for granted that they will. Worst of all, many artists take it for granted as well and go along with this kind of nonsense. As I put it in the Axis headline: somebody always pays for “free” (and usually that somebody is you). Telltale Career Suicide logo at the bottom left, click there!
Axis (promptly) pays the people who write these things, incidentally, making them one of the few good ones. I haven’t read all twenty of the others yet, but those I have read so far are interesting and informative so I think they’re worth you checking them out.
Hey, I got through this whole thing without making my traditional joke about WWII, setting up puppet states in Italy and Manchuria, having meetings with Mussolini, etc… oh, wait.
This is the 100th post on my Career Suicide blog. Although I’d like more comments and public interaction, I understand that the divide-and-rule climate of paranoia in contemporary art (and the fact that many important art world figures are extremely nasty, vindictive pieces of work) makes people afraid of even being seen as a fellow traveller of the few who speak out, let alone of speaking up for themselves and putting their name to a criticism. Instead of dealing with the problems, the entrenched elites of the art world make people who talk about the problems into the problems. I’ve heard he’s difficult.
A friend asked me a while ago if it really had been career suicide to publish the book, and then to go further in some ways in the writing of this blog. Other people have asked me the same thing. My answer is always an immediate no. If anything, I’ve had new opportunities, made new friendships and gained unexpected (and in some cases art world influential) supporters.
And obviously I see the site logs, I get the emails, people buy the book, people accost me at events when they find out who I am and they thank me for saying what was on their mind. So I have the powerful comfort of knowing there are thousands of people out there– artists included– who are the silent fellow travellers, the ones who agree with me that contemporary art can be exciting, well-made, intelligent, vital, disturbing, enlightening, beautiful and all manner of other good things that connect with the experiences and the interior lives of a broad spectrum of people… but only when it’s free from the deathly grip of curator egos, vested interests, academic mummery, artists’ vanity, bullshit, and the orthodox art world’s general deference and sycophancy to the rich and immoral, who not only expect this sycophancy but actually require it from their pet artists. I’m not alone, I’m not wrong, and neither are most of the people who follow me… if only some of the snobs who are dug in at the pinnacles would deign to listen.
I was also asked recently what I thought the solution was to these gatekeepers getting in our way, these people who think they can still decide everything about who is an approved and adopted artist, and what kinds of work these artists get to show. I said fuck the gatekeepers, and the gates. Go around the back and climb the walls. Better still, bulldoze straight through those walls and make sure they can never be repaired. Let other people pour through the breach behind you.
We’re tired of celebrity artists whose artistic expression and product– because that’s what they’re making, product– has no more depth, value or meaning than their counterparts’ appearances on a reality TV show. We’ve had enough of the same tired little roster of Frieze-endorsed charlatans running through their limited repertoire of modernist gestures that owe everything to the narrow canon of what a few dozen people have decided Fine Art was from the 1930s to the 1970s, and having very little contact with real contemporary life or thought. We’re sick of artists being the least important, worst paid and most abused workers in the art world. For as long as we’ve been truly human, artists have been with us and they’ve been seeing the things that other people don’t, expressing their insights in ways that other people can’t. Art wasn’t invented to go on a Saudi princeling’s wall, to whitewash the brand of car manufacturers or petrochemical companies, or to be collected like knick knacks at the whim of idle trophy wives who are mainly laundering their oligarch husband’s blood money anyway. Art is not frivolous or a consumer commodity; it’s one of the parts of human nature that at its best truly takes us beyond the animal and makes us both human and humane, and helps us to understand all our sisters and brothers in the human race.
Death to the white cube. Long live the new art.
Screw WordPress and the algorithms it rode in on, this is the post that I think is really the best one I’ve written on this blog. FOR WANT OF A NAIL: IN PRAISE OF ARTSWAY.
“I know there are some people who think that everything and everyone, including art and artists, should be subjected to the full and unmitigated brunt of market forces. It’s also a commonly encountered argument that art should always be subjected to some kind of public popularity competition, community approval or public benefit yardstick. These people are just plain wrong, and with every purchase of just plain wrong I’ll add this free pack of you’re a fucking idiot.”
Since I wrote FOR WANT OF A NAIL… the gallery (which formerly represented and supported me and my work) has closed for good. A few of the other axed galleries or grass roots arts organisations have managed to struggle on (Castlefield in Manchester is one), but most of them have also subsequently closed, and none are operating with business as usual. A few of them undeniably deserved to go tits up; many of them are small but vital losses to the arts infrastructure of Britain, creating gaps in provision that won’t be filled again for years if not decades. Like most of the libraries or A&E departments that are being shut down, once they’re gone they’re really gone, not least because many people in local and national government want them to stay gone. Every time a community is deprived of their social, cultural, medical and educational services it helps to roll back the inconvenient advances in social justice, health, education, happiness, freedom of expression and individual empowerment that the post war generation– in every part of the political spectrum– knew from bitter, bloody, hard-won experience was every person’s right in a civilised, just society. Because a society without those things can only begin a slow slide back towards dog-eat-dog barbarism, or even worse a relatively quick tumble into being North Korea.