Tag Archives: money

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.

AWARD YOURSELF

9 Mar
Henrik Ibsen

“Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth.” (Henrik Ibsen Hot Chocolate). Henrik Ibsen painted by Henrik Olrik, 1879.

From the book Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney, Paul Johnson on the shitty, unfair and callously underappreciated lives of the world’s most undeniably creative people, who bring pleasure, beauty and inspiration to thousands or millions of people… plus Henrik Ibsen’s splendid but bonkers riposte.

“What strikes me, surveying the history of creativity, is how little fertile and productive people often received in the way of honours, money, or anything else. Has there ever been a more accomplished painter than Vermeer – a painter closer to perfection in creating beautiful pictures? How Vermeer must have cared about what he was doing! And how hard and intensely he must have worked to do it! Yet when he died, his widow had to petition the local guild for charity – she and her children came to abject poverty. That has been the fate of many widows of fine artists… It seems to me horrifying that Johann Sebastian Bach, a hardworking man all his life, at the top of his profession as organist and composer, and a careful and abstemious man too, should have died in poverty, as did the sister of Mozart, another prodigiously industrious and successful maker of music. Both these men were creators on a colossal scale, and consistently produced works of the highest quality. But they could not achieve security for their families.”

(For the reverse of this, i.e. how “successful” artists secretly had the independent wealth to do it all along and couldn’t really fail, see also Trustafarians of the Belle Époque)

Johnson disapproves of Ibsen’s bolshy, can-do response to not getting the plaudits he knew he deserved, but I think this is brilliant:

“One of the most curious sights in Oslo in the 1890s was Henrik Ibsen, walking to a public dinner, wearing his decorations. So keen was he on medals that he actually employed a professional honours broker* to get them from every government in Europe. He wore them on his dress clothes, reaching to his waist and even below it, and he often pinned a selection to his everyday suits. Thus weighted down and clanking, he strode nightly to his favourite café, for schnapps… But his habit was unbecoming unless (and this seems unlikely) his intent was humorous.”

Unbecoming? Sod that. Walking around with a bunch of honours and medals as normal day wear is my new sartorial goal. Award yourself the prize.

*Note: These types of brokers still exist and probably explain some of the odd and random people awarded various medals, titles and honorary degrees for doing nobody-is-entirely-sure-what.

MULTIPLE SLASHES ARE SOUGHT AFTER

2 Feb

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I can’t believe they’re talking about this shit with a straight face” of the week goes to a recent article on Artsy (aforementioned) on ‘The Secrets of Art Pricing‘. If they’re meant to be secret, should you really be telling us? Never mind.

Submarkets for individual artists, and markets within different periods for those artists, require their own brand of unique pricing lore. Case in point is the oeuvre of Lucio Fontana, who began puncturing the surface of paper or canvas in the late 1940s, developing the idea over the next two decades. “At different times, different colors are more or less popular,” wrote Melanie Gerlis, Art Market Editor at The Art Newspaper, in her 2014 book Art as an Investment?, referring to Fontana. According to Fontana specialist Luigi Mazzoleni, founding director of Mazzoleni London, “regarding the slashes,” the most popular colors on the market are white and red. Various other factors also come into play. He added, “The quality of the cut is very important as this gives a different rhythm and effect to the canvas. The quantity of cut is also important. A single cut is very minimalist and therefore very sought after, but multiple slashes are also sought after on the international market.”

“Unique pricing lore”? Are you a wizard? As for Mr Mazzoleni, a single kick up the arse is very minimalist, but I think with the way he’s talking he is really seeking multiple kicks up the arse with a pointed shoe. Anyway, just in case you were in any doubt, the content, beauty, emotion, craft and artistry of your art are not important at all. It’s all about being red or white, and the slashes.

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“GLORIFIED SHOPPING MALLS”

27 Jan

Some magnificent verbal kamikaze quotes from Australian gallerist Evan Hughes, on the occasion of closing down the business founded by his father and then run by himself.

Top Sydney gallerist launches blistering attack on the art world

PRODUCT FOR DICKHEADS

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“… It was almost as if we were given permission to declare that the art world had been taken over by dickheads. Too much of the commercial art trade has become about the selling of product and the accumulation of capital, much to the confusion and disillusionment of young artists. “

REALISTIC PORTRAITURE

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A commission for Malcolm Turnbull, Australian prime minister: “In the 1990s, when Malcolm was still a merchant banker, the Turnbull family commissioned one of my father’s artists, Lewis Miller, to paint a portrait of Malcolm. Unhappy with the work, Turnbull confronted my father at a function and exclaimed: “That artist of yours is no good; he’s made me look like a big, fat, greedy cunt”, to which my father replied, “He is a realist painter, you know”. “

WWAVD?

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“I suddenly asked myself: “Would Vollard be doing art fairs and Artsy?” Maybe he would; we didn’t want to.” He’s referring to the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who supported many artists when they needed it most. As for Artsy… mmm… yeah…

GLORIFIED SHOPPING MALLS

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“…It was just depressing to realise that the art trade is now centred on glorified shopping malls run by quasi-property developers (art fairs) and tacky mail-order firms (internet enterprises).”

HAPPENING EVERYWHERE

25 Jan

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About five years ago when I and a few colleagues started talking about the (mostly really shitty) economics and realpolitik of being an artist who isn’t one of yer Damien Hirsts, Tracey Emins or Turner Prize winner– and aren’t we all glad not to be?– everybody else’s reaction was what the who now? You want to talk about money? Why? Don’t artists just do it for the sake of art? Then hundreds of artists, arts professionals and art lovers turned up to the public discussions we organised on the subject. Now everybody’s talking about it everywhere, all the time, from Facebook groups like Stop Working For Free to art blogs like Hyperallergic. Books are written about it, although none of them are as good as mine. There are campaigns like W.A.G.E. in New York and the UK’s Paying Artists. The more the better because it’s still not enough. Nobody talks about it much in the mainstream newspapers and art magazines, obviously, or at the director and senior curator or top 100 artist level because they all have comfy upper middle class (often much higher than upper middle class) salaries to protect so they want it kept down low. Either that or they simply haven’t noticed how hard it is now for artists to get paid or even to get a foot in the door to begin with.

Last week I became aware of another two voices adding to what must soon be a critical mass of resistance to the fucked up status quo for people who work in the arts.

Iceland’s SÍM (Association of Icelandic Artists) has launched We Pay Visual Artists. Obviously their site is mostly in Icelandic, but their interesting and well-argued videos are all subtitled. a-n’s Jack Hutchinson did a report on it in English.

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The actors’ union Equity also have a campaign called Professionally Made Professionally Paid, which if nothing else is an excellent slogan. They have three useful documents available to download, containing pragmatic advice for the payers and the hopefully getting paid, alongside more general context that is useful for any creative worker in any medium.

I particularly enjoyed their unapologetic and detailed calling out of You Me Bum Bum Train, who get a rocket up the arse arse because despite broadsheet cultural critics who seem to love the theatrical result of performers working their poor thespian bum bums off for no pay… (quote):

“You Me Bum Bum Train engage exclusively volunteers to do what should be paid professional work in the main. They refuse to engage with the Union in any meaningful way and have a business model dependent on the use of volunteer labour (which is largely highly skilled, being sought from the ranks of paid professionals). Only via established theatres with whom we have an industrial relationship have we managed to have any contact with the company.”

This is a very succinct condensation of the persistent and diffuse problems faced by many artists– and I mean artists in the widest sense of the word including actors, performance artists, writers, visual artists, and so on. Paid individuals, profit making companies or publicly funded projects expecting to get professional quality work for nothing, and very often getting away with it. Years of training and/or honing your craft not only taken for granted but also just taken as if they have a right to it. Paid work abolished in favour of unpaid work that only a comfortably off person can commit to. Also this theatre company’s name is really bloody stupid and has always irked me, but that’s mostly unrelated.

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