Tag Archives: research


19 Jan


Chatterton 1856 by Henry Wallis 1830-1916

“Unfortunately we have no budget to pay fees or expenses.”

a-n the artists information company have just published their draft recommendations and guidance on the payments and fees that should be due from publicly funded galleries to artists. FYI I’ve worked on the Paying Artists campaign and I work for a-n sometimes. I also think artists based in the UK should have their own look at it, so I won’t offer too much commentary except to pull out:


Despite stiff resistance from an insignificant and usually bonkers minority of the public and a significant minority of people who work for public arts organisations, all of whom are baffled or bitter (or both) that an artist should get paid anything… the suggested fees for artists are far from outrageous and usually amount to no more than a few thousand or even a few hundred pounds. Bear in mind that it’s rare for most artists to have more than one show per year in a publicly funded gallery in the UK. Although many public galleries do pay properly, some still don’t even clear the very low bar for pay set by these guidelines. Some don’t bother trying. And if a gallery in receipt of public funds can’t even budget to pay the equivalent of one artist’s salary for a year across all their shows– the bare minimum this guidance suggests– then they need to take a good look at their finances in general, and so should their funders.

Indeed their funders are beginning to do so, because apparently they’re exasperated too. After all, mentioning no names, it’s not unknown for very large flagship Arts Council-funded organisations *cough English National Opera… cough… Firstsite* to mismanage their finances and general governance so severely that they lose millions and have to be removed from ACE’s national regular funding portfolio with a warning they’ll be cut off permanently if they don’t sort themselves out. Nobody, including the Arts Council, wants to hear five or six figure-funded places whining about being pushed into the red if they paid artists a bit more for their work.

Even in the absence of more funding, many gallery directors or senior curators (for example) could take a pay cut they’d hardly notice to make a significant difference to the incomes of numerous artists. Obviously this is rarely a popular suggestion, or indeed a suggestion at all, when the grown ups are attending their endless round of conferences, art fair collateral events and talking head panels that no artist or self-employed arts worker could afford to attend even if they were invited, which they aren’t.


“Activity that is part of the gallery’s day to day work should not be treated as an in kind benefit (e.g. marketing and publicity around exhibitions.)” In other words, you don’t get to act magnanimous by offering something that you’d do anyway. So many arts organisations and venues really need to take this on board, not just in the publicly funded sector but also across all of the arts. Genuinely valuable intangible benefits do exist, but doing the job you get paid a salary to do is not an onerous burden or a favour you’re doing for your contractors, customers or audience. “We offer desk space and marketing support” is very often one short step away from the heinous “We offer exposure”, because if you employ someone to do marketing or administration then the workload they incur in the course of their jobs includes dealing with artists and other freelancers working for the organisation. And anyway, if marketing and exposure and whatnot are really worth so much money, in a contest between exposure and just having the money we’d prefer the cash in a brown envelope, please.

Funnily enough, some in the arts rely upon more or less the same dodge of intangible benefits that are so intangible they don’t really exist; i.e. that thousands of artists will do for nothing what they should be getting paid for, thereby piddling away their own bargaining power and that of artists collectively.


24 Nov

(Image via the sadly long-defunct http://lookatmyfuckingredtrousers.blogspot.co.uk )

Findings have just been published from a national survey about the working lives of cultural and creative workers in the UK. It was carried out by Goldsmiths, University of London, University of Sheffield and LSE as part of their project Panic! What Happened to Social Mobility in the Arts?

The findings provide hard evidence for the common impression that the arts sector is a closed shop where most people are middle class and it also makes revealing discoveries about how gender and ethnicity can affect a career in the arts and how higher wage earners view the sector in comparison to lower wage earners.

They’re not kidding. People who earn over £50,000 PA tend to believe it was their hard work and talent that counted, while those earning under £5,000 (over a quarter of the respondents) believe that it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. 18% of those surveyed earned only £5-15K PA; the Living Wage Foundation’s figure of £8.25 an hour for 38 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, would be £16,302 PA for a bare minimum standard of living.

76% of people working in the arts grew up with at least one parent who worked in a middle class managerial or professional occupation. 88% of arts workers did so for free at some point in their careers. 23% of men and 32% of women took part in unpaid internships. All of these findings strongly emphasise the role of the hotel and bank of mummy and daddy in launching the careers of most “hard working”, “talented” arts professionals, and the later necessity for many cultural workers to be partnered with somebody who earns a reasonable wage, because the cultural workers themselves rarely do.

In other shit news, men still earn on average 32% more than women for doing comparable jobs in the cultural industries.

More detail here, here and here.

PS I assume it’s just really bad writing on behalf of Hannah Ellis-Petersen (eponysterical QED for that typical middle class name) in The Guardian when she says that “44% of those from BAME backgrounds felt ethnicity was either “essential” or “very important” to getting ahead in the arts”. I doubt the survey authors are really suggesting that black and minority ethnic people are only given opportunities because they’re ethnic minorities, i.e. 44% of BAME people think their ethnicity was the most important aspect of their success.


27 Jul

LikeSome new research on artists working outside the gallery system has just been published by Axis [1]: Validation Beyond the Gallery. As an artist who has little interest in making objects that can be sold, collected or otherwise institutionalised, as a relative outsider (and Outsider) even among the outlying group of artists who feel the same [2], and as somebody doing ongoing work related to artists’ livelihoods and pay, there’s some interesting stuff in there. The only caveat I’d add is that the study is by their own description qualitative [3], i.e. an interpretation of narrative from only 25 participants, so personally I’d be very cautious about forming policy or drawing universal conclusions from such an incredibly small sample of participants.

Having said that, the TLDR version will perhaps be unsurprising to anyone with any experience in the matters under discussion, although evidently it still needs to be said:

  • Publicly funded organisations– and funders themselves doubly so– still won’t and don’t, for the most part, commit to artists directly because they’re geared towards fixed-term, limited and highly instrumentalised, institutionally-driven projects.
  • The (fairly large) sector is critically ignored, and often treated as the poor cousin of “proper” gallery-based art.
  • Meanwhile many artists are neither suitable for nor interested in the “Art World” that consists of the art market and the symbiotic private/major institution gallery system that is widely– obsessively, even– covered by academia, the mainstream media and the specialised art magazines to the exclusion and detriment of all the other “art worlds” that exist.
  • Experiencing any degree of success or recognition in this sector is pretty much a crapshoot because the infrastructure is so haphazard, which in turn fragments the community of artists working within it. This study very tellingly reveals that even people who work in the sector struggle to name their peers, and find it hard to define success beyond just being able to keep doing it.

Link for an introduction to the research and the wider project of which it is a part. It’s worth reading, for artists and commissioners or policy people alike, with some thought-provoking quotes from the artists and producers who were interviewed.

NB Reading it in the embedded publication viewer is like trying to knit socks onto a flea, and the way to access it at a comfortably readable size or download it is not immediately obvious: to do so, click the “i” at top right or just cut out the middle man and click here.


[1] For people outside the UK, this refers to the artists’ database and networking platform, not the WWII coalition of powers opposed to the Allies. Man, I never tire of this gag.

[2] It’s a bit less blatantly obnoxious and the artists are a bit less cut-throat about it, if only because it’s hardly worth cutting anybody’s throat over the meagre sums usually available for commissions and performances, but performance and community artists have a definite inner circle as well. You tend to see the same people– some of them, at best, one trick ponies– and the same narrow types of work on the same circuits time and time again because it’s still who you know that counts for more than what you know. That’s artbiz.

[3] Some artists might like to make sure they know the difference between qualitative research, quantitive research, and “research” that is only research is the most literal, basic sense of “systematically finding facts”; this applies especially to the most recent generation of people mangled through an art pedagogy regime which is currently obsessed with brainwashing artists into believing their art is research and research is art, without ever training them in anything resembling actual research methodologies, objectivity, or how to interpret data.


22 Jun

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn interesting summary in MIT Technology Review of some recent research done on creativity in historical art, creativity here being taken to mean novelty in imagery or content that had an influence on other– by definition less creative and more derivative– works by the same artist or by others. A machine vision algorithm analysed “classemes”: visual concepts which “can be low-level features such as color, texture, and so on, simple objects such as a house, a church or a haystack and much higher-level features such as walking, a dead body, and so on.”

Intriguingly, the algorithm is not restricted to figurative art and it can cope with abstraction and pop art, although at this stage they seem to be looking at painting. The software critic also tends to broadly agree with human assessments of the most influential works and artists even though it was not primed or biased in any way; all it did was look at which artists were being creative and which were being derivative in their imagery. Possibly another point for the “yes, good and bad art is quantifiable” side.

By the way… I must point out that despite MIT supposedly having some of the best logical minds on the planet, nobody seems to have noticed that MIT stands for Massachusetts Institute of Technology, therefore this publication’s name is Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technology Review.

Read the original scientific paper here, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Technology Review’s review here here.

(Previously: Google AI’s halluncinations)


25 Apr

I want your souuuuuuuuuul… and a £25 submission fee, and a massive commission fee, and some other fees that are hidden in the small print, and…

I’ve been helping several correspondents do detective work on some artist farming businesses who’ve tried to pick them up recently. My definition of artist farming is taking money from artists for vaguely defined services or for promises of success or sales that are deceptive and otherwise not as advertised. These schemes and businesses promise a lot but usually achieve little or nothing positive for the artist; they may indeed damage an artist’s credibility and their prospects of being taken seriously. They certainly don’t have the interests of artists or art buyers at heart in any way. All they care about is milking as many naive marks as possible. In Britain the same little pack of bandits seems to have about 90% of the artist farming business sewn up, they’re all friends with each other and they all co-validate each other’s lies and puffed-up CVs, linking to each other with bogus endorsements, spurious logos, sketchy web sites and narratives of success that don’t hold water.

Since it’s surprisingly quick and easy to get the measure of a company online, I thought I would share some methods to either put your mind at rest that the company is legit and the person you’re dealing with is who and what they say they are… or not, as the case may be. Where so-called “art opportunities” are concerned, the latter usually turns out to be the case.

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