Tag Archives: artist careers

FUNDEE

25 Apr

SOME NOTES AND CONCLUSIONS

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I’m seriously tardy because the event in question was several months ago, but SEVERAL MONTHS AGO I was invited to the artist-run Generator Projects in Dundee to talk about a-n’s Paying Artists campaign, which I have worked on over the past year or so. Generator paid me, by the way. Not very much, but proportionately more than some places have paid me when they could afford to do better. QED. In keeping with my observations about this subject over the course of many years finally, at long last, being on the agenda of artists and the organisations that work with them, the room was completely full and it didn’t take long for almost everybody to have something (often many things) to say on the subject. The conversation also bore out the same things that I and other people advocating for fair pay– or in some cases, any pay at all– have heard repeatedly when it comes to artists describing their experiences of publicly funded or otherwise not short of money institutions forming relationships with them. Generator itself is an example of how much artist-led, mostly volunteer, low-to-no-budget groups do and how important they are to the arts ecosystem in Britain, and with no prompting from me whatsoever conclusion one was:

Exactly… look how much artist-led, low-to-no-budget groups do without funding, FFS. There’s no excuse for larger and better funded galleries, museums or commissioners with full-time employees not to do at least as well in providing opportunities and support for large numbers of artists. Most of them don’t. Alongside this we should also remember, though, that just because most artists don’t do it for the money it doesn’t mean they should do it without any money. There’s a huge value in grassroots peer support (and in fact I’m putting together an experiment along those lines now) but the discussion in Dundee and a-n’s other national consultations have revealed a fairly firm consensus that small, self-organised and artist-led groups should not be held to the same standards as a formal organisation, nor should they be expected to compete with these organisations for funding and other resources. They also shouldn’t be pressured to take up the slack left by locally and nationally funded organisations not facing up to their responsibilities.

On the contrary, a number of people voiced another widely held view among artists: the large flagship institutions that grew up around the UK over the past fifteen years or so– often as Millennium projects, or as part of a regeneration agenda– could and should be acting as umbrellas for smaller organisations (and non-organisations). Self-organised groups of artists, and grassroots projects trying to revive dead buildings or moribund high streets don’t have PR people, administrators or technicians sitting around flicking themselves off in brand new custom-built offices, but the capital and regional flagship galleries do. I know from firsthand experience that people who work for small and barely funded non-building-based arts organisations all work their arses off, just as I also know from firsthand experience that some of their overpaid counterparts in the largest and most prestigious organisations wouldn’t know what hard work was if it hit them in the face. This is particularly galling when some of them offer “free publicity” or something similar as if it’s a fair substitute for not being paid. Why can’t they offer this PR and admin support unconditionally, say one day a week, since everyone knows it’s spare capacity anyway? And why don’t the likes of the Arts Council or Creative Scotland make it a condition of their funding that they do? This is, after all, the ostensible logic behind these big, purpose built arts hubs being built and supported in the first place: that they act as beacons for art going and art making in their vicinity. Again, they mostly don’t. This is especially cogent now, because to get Grants for the Arts funding, individual artists, Community Interest Companies and unincorporated arts groups are all now having to compete (unpaid, of course) not only with libraries and museums but also with huge commissioners or public galleries, all of whom have full-time staff.

At this point we started getting utopian and discussing the notion of artists just fucking it all off and simply seeking their validation and their connections with people outside of all these institutions. Cooperatives, mutuals, free love communes, etc. Actually we didn’t talk about free love communes, but I think we probably would have done if we’d been there longer.

Then we went back to misery a bit when we talked about unions and the remarkable fact that after many years of existence the Scottish Artists Union currently rejoices in having about a thousand members. I was a member when I lived in Scotland, and good for SAU, but that’s a shockingly low number of artists for a nation of 5 million people or so. Obviously they’re not all artists, but it’s still not a great number of members and therefore one major benefit of unionisation– collective bargaining– is hardly a factor. I likewise wish the newly formed artists’ union in England all the best in their endeavours, but it doesn’t bode well that they seem to be having so much trouble with recruitment. I can’t help thinking that old school unions have probably had their day anyway, because we need much more nimble, responsive and unignorable means of organising resistance and change if we really want it. Less Jeremy Corbyn, more Anonymous or Occupy.

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“ARTIFICIAL, ESPERANTO ART” AND ITS DISCONTENTS

22 Apr
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Costumes by Vahad Poladian. Photo by Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times

Some gems from Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond by John Maizels. Regular readers of this blog will know that I like a bit of O/outsider attitude.

“What country doesn’t have its small sector of cultural art, its brigade of career intellectuals? It’s obligatory. From one capital to another they perfectly ape one another, practising an artificial, esperanto art, which is indefatigably recopied everywhere. But can we really call this art? Does it have anything to do with art?” Jean Dubuffet in L’Art brut préferé aux arts culturels, 1946.

This was in 1946 and it’s still just as true seventy years later. Very, very depressing. This tale of masterful gallery fucking-uppery is much more comforting:

“Scottie Wilson (1888-1972)… had been a junk dealer, making a living by salvaging what he could from the bits and pieces that fell into his hands. To this end he collected the old nibs from gold fountain pens. One day he found in his possession a particuarly fine pen, large and free-flowing, so good to handle that he was somehow led to use it playfully to draw outlines and forms…

Signed simply ‘Scottie’, the drawings became a source of livelihood for Wilson, who held his own exhibitions in music halls and pier booths around Britain. He was even taken up by a London gallery, Gimpel Fils, who were forced to rescind their agreement when he set up his own stall outside the gallery, selling his work for a fraction of the price of those exhibited within.”

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SAVE £40 ON FRIEZE TICKETS

20 Apr

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… every single year, guaranteed… BY NOT GOING.

I’m severely late on this one, because Frieze Art Fair [sic] was last October and at the time I was far too fucking busy touring Japan and having an amazing, inspiring time in the midst of the most staggering beauty to even think about paying £40 to be milked by a loathsome trade fair for oligarchs, blood money gold diggers and other moneyed Eurotrash, even if I’d been in London at the time. However, this is an excellent– and dare I say even Career Suicidesque– response rant by Morgan Quaintance to Frieze’s jaw-droppingly unironic and egregious discussion panel entitled Off Centre: Can Artists Still Afford to Live in London? During a ticketed fair where a person earning minimum wage would have to work for nearly six hours to afford the admission price, and putting your coat or bag in the cloakroom costs a fiver. Not to mention that most people who work in the arts already know the answer, which can be found in the thousands of artists and other creative people, and key workers like teachers, who have been forced to leave the capital to stand any chance of making ends meet.

This talk is also evidence of what I mentioned in a recent post with regard to artist livelihoods being a taboo and unfashionable subject when I started talking about it seven or eight years ago. People who ran art galleries or arts organisations were often absolutely baffled and speechless at any suggestion they talk about how money flows through the system– and particularly how it doesn’t often flow to artists in any significant quantities– but now even the likes of Frieze see benefits (undoubtedly self-serving ones, as Quaintance also points out) in talking about the subject, or at least being seen to talk about it.

It’s well documented that I despise Frieze magazine and their trade (not art) fair, both of which are festering sores on the face of genuine art and an affront to everything I hold dear, and I know I’m very well accompanied in that, but it’s nice to have a co-pilot who says things like this:

[The talk] tipped the uneasy balance between finance and art to a position that felt entirely more exploitative, offensive and grotesque. Put simply, the instrumentalisation and commodification of hardship took things a step too far.”

And:

“Is there something base about using the human fallout that comes from the pursuit of capital to excuse and make the pursuit of capital more attractive?”

McDuck

He also torpedoes the infuriating, traitorous and intellectually lazy response of many apologists for the toxic sea of Panama-flavoured money in which some directors of public galleries, commercial gallerists and artists float their rotten boats, the “all money is dirty” brigade who generally only say so because they never earned or received a penny in their lives that didn’t come from dodgy sources and at the cost of somebody else’s suffering, oppression or exploitation.

“… the relentless spread of alienating neoliberal practices throughout the capital are what makes this all difficult to stomach. But the fact that it is easy for others to swallow makes me think that there are, at present, two consciousnesses operating in the British art world: one that is happy to ignore the art world’s possible complicity with the wretched socio-cultural, economic and political state of things and another that finds it distressing, disturbing and debilitating to do so.”

Distressed, disturbed and debilitated here, in case you were still in any doubt.

Frieze Art Fair: the monetization of your misery?

ArtWorldDickheadsE_Hughes

ZOMBIE PROFESSIONALISM

11 Mar

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An interesting article by Daniel S. Palmer about what ArtNews calls the “hyper-professionalization” of some artists. I’d go further and call it something like “jobification”; the reduction of a vocation to a mechanical and wholly uncreative grind. As Palmer points out, it’s not even the best way for an artist to make money or for anyone to make money from an artist’s work, because it’s so shortsighted:

“The entire system seems designed, predominantly, to disappoint. What has arisen from these failures is a marked distinction between product- and project-based artists. Product-based artists have been led to think of an artwork as a product serving a demand, rather than a single step in a longer, sustained development, as is the case with project-based artists. Consider the most visible trend in recent years of Zombie Formalism, a kind of reductive, easily produced abstract painting, sold quickly to collectors queued up on waiting lists and hungry for innocuous, decorative works in a signature style, so much so that the name of the artist himself becomes the brand.

However, product-based art isn’t specific to abstraction or figuration (as an even more recent market shift may be demonstrating) but is the result of dealers and collectors encouraging artists to create more of the same kind of popular work. All too often, museum curators cave to these pressures, too, validating the trend by staging exhibitions of market-darling artists collected by their trustees with a lack of scruples that gives the worst insider traders a run for their money. The path of commercial success may be increasingly easy, but it narrows what could otherwise be probing, expansive, and serendipitous careers. This results-oriented focus can be contrasted to the idea that an artist should be allowed to follow a sustained project of creating art in a passionate and independent way, regardless of market feedback. That might mean changing styles over the years and being less commercially viable at points, but this long-term project will have a notable through-line of a consistent set of questions and issues. The project and its many manifestations are best identified retrospectively, but wandering and doubt are a generative part of it. With some notable exceptions (like Warhol and Courbet, who churned out work like machines), the most fascinating and important artists in history exemplify this approach by remaining true to what drove them to create, rather than caving to external responses. We should all be worried if these artists start disappearing.”

Read the rest here.

ABSTRACT PROPAGANDA

1 Mar

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I was recently reminded by this post at Open Culture that Abstract Expressionist painting and exponents of it such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock got a big (though covert) push from the CIA, who secretly organised a number of influential exhibitions including MoMA’s New American Painting. It was all an attempt to depict America internationally as a country with a sophisticated culture borne of a fully functioning democracy.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha… oh… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Wait, wait… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Sorry about that. Most Americans hated Abstract Expressionism, and they still do. Not to mention the fact that US foreign and domestic policies in the 1960s moved on to brainwashing, drugging, sabotaging and sometimes just straight up murdering (or having murdered) anyone who stood in the way of their global agenda. But it’s interesting to think about this CIA plot to splatterwash the USA’s international reputation as a project halfway between the naked colonialism of international World Fairs or the Giardini in Venice and the modern era of so-called “soft power” that makes governments like the UK’s or Japan’s trumpet their national cultural industries even while they perversely take an ideological wrecking ball to the very institutions, employment and educational systems that make art and being an artist viable. What, you thought it was because they recognised the value of art and artists?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha, etc.

It’s all about the soft power.

You may also like to speculate as to other examples of otherwise inexplicably successful artists or artistic movements that seem with hindsight more likely to be psy ops or vehicles for international spookery.

NeoRealism

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