Thoughts on Art
In the coming weeks, months, and years, this is a place for me to throw out (at times vomit) some things that I am thinking about the Art World, Art Market, and Culture at-large… I guess what I am asking the reader is, does it have to be this way? Is there another way that we as an art community can find to sustain all of us? At my core, I am a hopeful person and by writing I still hope that change is possible. Some are snippets from my previous writings that have been published and others are not fully formed ideas with a clear thesis, my Meandering Thoughts…
“So much is gained when only one person stands up and says no.”― Bertolt Brecht,
20 November 2018
The snake eats its own tail. Ouroboros or Uroborus is often seen in terms of cycles and being regenerative. In this case, I hope it is correct. The Art Market and its inflated prices at Auction – the most recent being Hockney’s $100 million dollar price tag for a painting – is by default swallowing up the market’s own tail. By collectors bidding pieces up to that amount makes me question how they are investing in the future artists of our times. That amount of money could sustain the careers of hundreds of quality artists. While collectors and auctions make the news for these absurd prices, universities are cutting budgets of art departments, enrollment is going down in art programs throughout the country, and states are doing away with art programs in elementary through high schools. Where is the investment in the artists that are working right now… the future? While smaller galleries are struggling to keep their doors open, where is the commitment to local communities? Is the market in the end killing itself? If so, hopefully something better will be reborn.
7 September 2018
Radical Thought #723
I am not sure how many know this but there is a hierarchy in pay-scale at the university. The highest paid professors on most university campuses are the Business, Engineering, and Law Professors. The lowest paid professors are generally in Humanities Departments. The argument made is that the marketplace drives the salary and that professors in Business, Engineering, and Law can be paid more in the private sector and thereby command higher faculty salaries. Although the university expectations in Research, Teaching, and Service are the same for a Professor of Law and a Professor of Art, that does not matter because in the private sector the former receives a higher pay.
This theoretically also means that students in degree programs in Business, Engineering, and Law will make more money coming out of school than a degreed Art major.
If the Art Professor is paid less based on market conditions, then why is the Art student not being charged less in tuition based on the same market conditions that will result in them garnering a lower wage after school. (Another option: Why is the Business, Engineering, and Law student not being charged more tuition?) If we are adjusting the salary of a professor, why not adjust the tuition of the student with the same reasoning. Why is an Art student paying the same tuition as an Engineering student, even though there is agreement across the board that the Engineering student will receive a higher wage when coming out of school? Why not base the tuition of students on the same logic of the pay structure for Professors in various disciplines? Obviously, there are certain core classes that all majors must take. These courses could remain the same tuition for all. But specialized courses could be weighted based on future earning potential. Hey, like I said, it is the same logic used for professor pay-scales. This is just radical talk. Or just hypocritical?
Interestingly, to my understanding, adjunct faculty are paid the same no matter what the discipline that they are teaching. Market forces apparently do not apply at the adjunct level. Hmm. Let’s leave the exploitation of adjunct faculty for another day.
Doing this may create a hierarchy within disciplines throughout university campuses where the Arts would be diminished as a lesser degree. If you haven’t checked, it already is viewed that way at many universities where the new buzz word for almost a decade has been STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Yes, we in the Arts are trying to turn that into STEaM but….
Why do I advocate for this scaled-tuition theory: 1) it would create a better justification for paying Humanities (Art) Professors less; 2) it would help reduce the large student debt that most art graduates accumulate; and 3) it may, in-effect, increase the number of majors in the Humanities (Art) because they can attain an affordable degree which by default would increase the total amount of monies that universities could generate by the simple increase in volume. In the current system, Art majors whose earning potential will be less than a Law, Business, or Engineering students are, in a sense, theoretically subsidizing that potentially higher earning students’ education.
Oh, there is one other simple solution: Value all disciplines equally and pay all Professors on the same scale. That’s just radical talk! I know.
I may be preaching to the converted on an Art forum but artists and the art viewing public are some of the brightest people out there. What do you think? Should or could this be implemented?
(Full Disclosure – I am an Artist and Professor of Art.)
20 June 2018
Cognitive Dissonance: “In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.” Tomorrow is the first day of summer in the United States. It also marks a time for museums to launch their summer spectacle of blockbuster shows. Crowd pleasers that bring numbers and bank through the doors. At a time when children are being removed from their parents at the US border, the US pulls out of the UN Human Rights Council, and the various other social and ecological issues that face us all, are we in a cognitive dissonant phase? Don’t give me, “I need art to escape”. Art is escape sure. But art is also about Truth and speaking about the times in which we live. Maybe the one thing we all need right now, is not to “escape” into our own social media narcissism of selfies but face reality as it is. Escape is something that we have all been doing for far too long. This is not about the merits of the works in any blockbuster show… it’s about questioning us as an artistic and societal collective in the context of our contemporary political and social times… Was there another type of show all these museums could have put together for their summer audience? Are we all Nero(s)? It’s leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth.
7 June 2018
Artist’s Confession: There is a problem with “Dates” on artworks, especially in contemporary times. A work of art is considered “old” these days after three years. Sometimes three years isn’t enough time to get the work shown to a broad audience, especially if you don’t have a gallery. In the search for the “constant new”, this becomes a problem when quality works might be lost to history because it missed the three-year window of “newness” to exhibit. Most shows accept only works within a three year period. There are works that artists have made that have never been shown. Are those works old? The market would claim they are ancient although they would be brand new to the public. How do we reconcile this dilemma? I have seen artists attempt to solve this problem by having two dates on their works: 1) Date Created & 2) Date First Shown. For me, I solve this problem by making the date, the year the work is first shown. It’s the only way I could think of to give a work of art a certain life-span before the market kills it by saying, “it’s too old, time to pull the plug”. For example, I have a show that opens next year in mid-January 2019 and all the works will be dated 2019. Do you honestly think that I made all the works for that show in the first week of January? Hell no. I have been working my butt off all 2018, but I will not put 2018 on those works because I will have lost a year of life on the work without it ever being seen. Today’s market requirements of a three-year life-span is problematic on numerous levels.
1 June 2018
The lack of free markets – or – Quantitative Easing (QE) for the Visual Arts. Quantitative easing (QE), also known as “large-scale asset purchases whereby a central bank buys predetermined amounts of financial assets in order to stimulate the economy”. Sounds related to what goes on at any large auction house like Sotheby’s or Christie’s with guarantors. They hold an auction for a piece of art but already have people in the wings that have agreed to purchase said artwork for a specific price. And if that specific price isn’t met, the piece never goes up for sale in auction. It’s a win/win right? Yes, if you are the auction house or the seller. But it totally distorts the free market. It never allows for the market to dictate what is the real value of a work of art. It is like the group of Warhol Collectors that I have read about that always go to Warhol auctions and bids up his work or outright buys it if there are no bidders so that the market for Warhol never drops. Totally artificially inflating the market and maintaining Warhol’s “15 minutes” in perpetuity. Who are the real winners and losers in this game?
27 May 2018
$30, $50, & $75… These are entry fees I have seen that artists must pay now for 90% of all Call for Entry Shows to present their works to the public. Some say that the entry fee is a way to weed out non-professional art… A hobbyist wouldn’t spend the money. I wonder if it is a way to get funding for a venue. Either way it’s getting offensive & obscene. Artists, especially younger artists who are less established in their careers and less financially secure, are, by default, being forced to pay these fees to get their work out into the public so that they can build their artistic reputation. Does it really cost this much in administrative fees for a juror to view the submissions on Submittable or place all the works into a power point? If the average minimum wage is $15, does it really take a venue 2 – 6 hours per submission to put three images together for review. It’s ridiculous and on the backs of the most vulnerable. The art stars don’t need these shows; it’s people on the lower scale. And when the artist does get selected for a show, all the expenses for the show are placed on the artist too including framing and shipping the work. I have seen some places charge to repack their work for shipment back to the artist too. No expenses for a venue whose sole purpose is to show work. That’s why the venue exists. Hell why not use all those monies received from submissions to pay the artists that you selected. Sometimes there are cash prizes but that is rare and I wonder if those prize monies were generated from the Entry Fee by other artists versus the venue securing funds to pay for their prizes. If you are a venue that exists to show art, didn’t you sign up for the expense of keeping your doors open and the lights on? Didn’t you sign up to show artist’s works? I have even seen university galleries charge for their Open Calls. Shouldn’t these expenses be built into your annual budget versus charging artists? Come on Now! Obviously, commercial galleries operate on a different business model and are built to charge. But non-profits and university galleries should find other ways to get funding versus charging for calls or they should charge less, like $15 per submission. It does not take more than an hour to organize 3 images from one artist’s submission.
22 May 2018
When I was younger, in my 20’s living on my own, I was dirt poor living in impoverished areas of town that I could afford. I was buying expired food from grocery stores for a quarter or fifty cents to save my money to buy my art supplies… so that my artwork would never be sacrificed. I am bored with art that doesn’t have commitment from the artist. Commitment. Commitment means time devoted to your art practice, your research, and your production. It also means a sacrifice and financial commitment to the objects you make too. I am bored with seeing works of art that show minimal commitment by the artist whether that be in materials used, ideas explored, or overall presentation. Let me say, I have seen incredible works of art made with found objects… items found on the street or thrown away, that the artist reconstitutes into incredible looking objects. I am not talking about using cheap materials to make thoughtful and beautiful works. I am talking about using cheap materials to make art (lacking craft, lacking resolved ideas, and lacking consideration of the overall impact) simply because the artist is cheap, minimal effort and minimal materials. You know what I am talking about when you see it. It’s not edgy and it’s not “Punk”. It’s just boring.
18 May 2018
If you call yourself an art critic or you are in the fortuitous position to be paid to be an art critic, then you may actually have to criticize from time to time. What happens when a city newspaper does away with full-time art criticism positions in its editorial and writing staff. You get a whole lot of articles about “this artist” showing “that artwork” in “this venue” without any substantial opinion from the author about the success or failure of the exhibition. Remember criticism is to critique, describe and detail the good and the bad (in historical, stylistic, and cultural context)… No one wants to play the bad person and in smaller cities you probably won’t be able to keep your job if you do write a scathing article on a local art hero. But I want to believe that there is still ethics in journalism and that critics would be allowed the freedom to criticize without retribution from their paper. But these days a lot of Arts writing is masquerading as criticism when it is simply restating what is on the city’s Arts Calendar. Artists are asked to be brave all the time by putting their works out in the world. Where are the brave Art Critics? Sure, there are a few writers that will tell you what they think but they also work for papers that have an active Arts Writing Staff, unlike most cities that maybe have one beat writer for all the Creative Arts (if you are lucky). This lack of varied opinions and bold, brave, and brutal criticism is another straw that helps break the backs of the art world. Every Arts Writer/Critic should have at least 20% of their total annual writings be harsh, brutal, and opinionated about exhibitions, institutions, and various other art-related issues in their city otherwise they are simply cheerleaders for their towns and not really critics.
13 May 2018
Which tribe do you belong to? It’s a common phrase heard globally in Politics and Art these days. And there is truth in the old adage that there is “strength in numbers”. I had a colleague that used to tell students, “create your own mafia so that you can help each other down the road”. This is solid advice for groups in the minority that need a voice within the larger cultural discourse. But what happens when a tribe member gets in a position of power within public institutions and drives their tribe’s members or agenda at the exclusion of others. Is there an ethical responsibility for those people in positions of power to acknowledge their own tunnel vision and recognize their bias? Otherwise, those same issues that necessitated the existence of a tribe, to open dialog and communication for the disenfranchised, can quickly become a closed narrow system that once again caters to only a select few. A feedback loop… cyclical rotations. There are too many tribes to list on the artistic, political, social, and cultural front. Being in a tribe is a valid way of working, but I question the ability of some of those in positions of power to maintain objectivity from their tribe when they get in positions of Power within the Art World. To recognize the voice of your tribe but not exclusively and systematically exclude all the other tribes is a tough balance to find but if you don’t… there is little difference between you and the oppressors that your tribe fights against. This is true in Art & Politics.
10 May 2018
I don’t think the Art World can sustain its current business model for much longer… We have been going down this road for decades but the effects are finally hitting the local (state/regional) art scenes very hard now. Crazy auction prices for historical paintings or obscene prices for a few one percenter contemporary artists while collectors do not fully support their local (state/regional) art scene. And everyone is looking for a bargain at auction or art fairs at the expense of the marginalized artist. One $75 million dollar investment in a masterpiece painting could fund and help thrive a local (state/regional) art scene for generations of quality artists… And the focus on reaching to NY for validation of an artist or a work of art versus looking for quality work in your home town (state/region) is destroying the market. There are too many good artists living everywhere that to have tunnel vision in a small geographic location is absurd. In reality, NY no longer has the answers in the same way it did in the 1960’s & 1970’s… But, it still does have the most money. No New Yorker wants to hear this but its market looks frighteningly like a giant Ponzi Scheme… Of course, there are treasures in NY just like many other places… and I am not advocating “throwing the baby out with the bath water”… but damn that “Art Market Baby” has soiled diapers and needs a thorough cleaning… and the needle is getting awfully close to the balloon. If you are paying attention, you can almost see and hear the Pop!