The below excerpt was drawn from the comments section following a June 2007 Winkleman post, entitled "What's an Artist? Take 459."
"[The] problem is [this particular artist] doesn't know how to communicate her art to the gallerinas or curators and doesn't have an agent (yet) to help her do it. Generally, if you can't talk up your art in the commercial world of biennales, etc, you're out. When she finds [a gallerist] that perhaps also advises her on some crops, frames and gallerina lingo, she will accrue art-value."Ah, yes, lest any of you idealistic creatives forget it, the measure of an artwork is rooted not in how accomplished, thoughtful or socially impactful the art is, but in the spin!
I'd like to scoff at Stefan's assertion, but he's right. Strong artwork will sometimes generate a lot of buzz, but the chatter is sustained only if the artist is appreciated by the greater machine. This machine is socially driven and fickle, not unlike the popular high school clique that (most of) us artsy types steered clear of.
Art world arbiters are no more scrupulous than their film, publishing or recording industry counterparts. Ignoring my personal struggle to come to terms with the "industrial" aspect of any creative realm - the word alone makes me cringe - I don't condemn successful art world players for their machinations. The recording industry generates buzz via MTV and billboard radio, the publishing industry with Oprah's Book Club and the NY Times Book Review, and the art industry via ArtForum, ArtNews and other glossies. All of these outlets are designed to sell or promote, and, with the exception of Top 40 radio, they're disguised as critical texts or cultural mediators. Sure, it's relatively transparent, but most of us play along. And why not? Who can blame the players?
Well, among others, Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at Berkeley and the former Secretary of Labor blames the players. The talent agents, gallerists, publicists and critics are but a small piece of what Reich calls the "supercharged global economy," but he acknowledges that this greater beast is a blind half-wit, intent on devouring its feet even as it continues to grow at an alarming rate. In the process, governments, communities and spirits are destroyed.
In his recently published book, "How Capitalism Is Killing Democracy," Reich contends that, by acting as consumers and investors rather than politically engaged citizens, "we've made this compact with ourselves." Likewise, by shrugging off the ethical ugliness and superficiality of the art market (among others), I've willfully ignored a sinister presence in my life. I wish that I could convince myself otherwise, but the Stefan's of the art world can not be ignored.
As an advocate of the Steady State Economy, local and reduced agricultural yields and population control incentives, I see our continued insistence on a "healthy economy" leading only to a more entrenched corporate oligarchy, increased cultural homogeneity, a host of new mental and physical disorders (and related diagnoses), and an exploding human population (at the expense of our animal brethren and the ecological niche we evolved to fill). But what does this dire forecast have to do with the art world? Not so much, if you compartmentalize thought as we now fence our borders. But if the art making process remains an essential part of efforts to live well, in accord with our moral values and the lessons of the planet, the willful ignorance of such an arrogant and annihilative system must be addressed, no matter the difficulty.
The question, then: In this attempt to live well, can you step outside the system without abandoning the idea that an artist can earn a living at their trade?
It would seem not. When my ancestor drew on the wall of her cave, or when we tag a truck, the act is "pure," communication is intended and self-gain ignored, but one does not "make a living" in this way. Is art only "sustainable" and vital when it touches a local community, likely serving some utilitarian purpose, too?
I'm interested in readers responding to this question. The last few months have been good for my art sales, which only accents the fact that each time I sell a piece, I'm tearing away at my own ideals...yet I continue to feel good about putting money in the bank.
Photo credit: image ripped from Houston's Clear Thinkers