Thursday, February 5, 2009


I just found a file labeled "gripe". Apparently I wrote this some time ago, although I don't now recall why. It was probably written in response to how many art institutions rely on volunteers to get things done and to me being asked to freely give my time or money to some cause, group or organization. I find that it is still relevant and delves into a lot of issues I perceive of in showing art, especially as pertains to patronage and valuing art and artists. So I will post it here. I don't know how to resolve many of these issues, so I would welcome other points of view on this. And I don't know how relevant this really is - perhaps I am just overly jaded. And perhaps some of this will change with the new Presidency, at least in regards to some of the funding and budget cuts and lack of incentives.

It seems to me that what is regarded as worthwhile (in regards to what is touted as good and shown in major institutions) has become so alienating to the general public that many would-be patrons have turned from the arts entirely. And it seems that now that a lot of grant monies and government support have been cut, a lot of art opportunities are disappearing entirely or are becoming even more limited.

Commercial galleries have become ultra-commercialized, sometimes favoring better known artists from big name cities or exotic faraway lands whose works they think they can better sell. In order to compete, those galleries that do show local artists cannot take any chances on the types of work that they show, choosing artists primarily on the basis of marketability. Many non-profit galleries, due to the loss of funding, have had to rely on extorting money from the artists themselves in order to survive and offer opportunities to those same artists. Other venues are constantly being explored and are becoming more and more popular, from creating art out in the public sphere to showcasing work in other area businesses, but I don't know just how many sales or how much name recognition actually results from these sorts of endeavors.

And the art world has become even more limited in regards to arts education as well. Those who wish to pursue a career in art are at a great disadvantage if they have not studied and absorbed all sorts of modern movements, and many people are just not exposed to those movements unless they choose a career in art to begin with. There are so many changes and so many new artists and ideas that an educational background in modern and contemporary art is outdated almost as soon as one graduates if not even before then, depending on where he/she studied. But most people who do not choose art careers know little about modern art. Public school programs teaching art and stressing its importance have been drastically cut and continue to be cut as time progresses. Thus, the gap in knowledge between those who are studying and involved in arts education and the general population is widening at a dramatic rate. And the less that the general population understands about modern art, the less important funding arts programs becomes to those same people. So it cycles around, and arts education programs are cut yet again as taxpayers vote not to support art that they don't understand.

As a result, there is an overall lack of exposure among people who are not already involved in or who have not seriously studied art. Partly, this is just the end result of the culture that we live in: many go about the day-in-day-out drudgery of their existences without ever becoming much aware of what is actually going on in the world around them. They go to work and go home, watch TV, surf the Internet and read the paper, but seldom do much outside of their regular routines. Simply put, they don't have or make time to do so. And many individuals' regular routines don't seem to include being involved in the city in which they live. Granted, there is an influx of people moving into the downtown area and livening it up some, but I wonder, as they start to develop their own routines, will they want to be involved in the arts or will they feel that it has little or nothing to offer to them? That depends on how we market ourselves as a community of artists more than anything else.

But for all that the lack of exposure is partly a result of an overall cultural acceptance of an apathetic lifestyle, I think that the art world hasn't been doing itself any favors either. This all cycles back to what is praised as worthwhile. Although it is good that artists can continue to be influenced by and respond to past artists and ideas, some of these movements have become so abstract that a lot of people who haven't studied them cannot and don't feel a connection to them at all. They think, "My five-year old can do that." They are unable to appreciate or understand the complexities involved in that sort of work unless they read about it and seek to learn more, something which few people will go out of their way to do. Especially with something that they feel disconnected from, that they already do not understand. Modern and contemporary art movements simply aren't being taught to those who haven't made a conscientious decision to go out of their way to try to learn and keep up with them, and this only furthers the alienation and lack of understanding on behalf of the casual observer.

We, as artists, need to begin to touch base with the general population and relate to them in some way (we don't necessarily have to agree, cater to, or see eye to eye, just be able to communicate with one another). By all means, we should challenge and provoke, but all the while work not to drive others away and to encourage them to want to learn more and to become more involved. How is this accomplished? I don't know. But as people come to better appreciate and understand art, they are more willing to fund it and to recognize the importance of teaching art to their children. Thus their children also learn to better appreciate and understand art.

So to make a long gripe short, I am frustrated that many good art opportunities have had to rely on volunteers and have come to expect artists to freely donate their time and money to support the arts in order for those programs to survive. I don't see this happening to lawyers and accountants and doctors and engineers and chemists and computer programmers and a whole slew of other professions, who expect some sort of compensation for their time unless they decide to donate it in order to better the world in some way and not just to ensure the survival of their own career path. Is art truly so unnecessary that we must devalue ourselves by freely giving of our time and work to be able to have art?

The more that we, as artists, are willing to freely give, the more that it will be expected and even required of us to do so. Why would anyone pay somebody to do something if they can get it for free? Thus, art is regarded only more so as a philanthropist endeavor, as a hobby, and not as a valid career path in and of itself. Artists must work other jobs in order to survive and must be willing to freely donate their time and money in the hopes of furthering both their art careers and the arts organizations themselves. But, competition aside, if we all band together and try to change, to make some difference in how we perceive of ourselves as a group, perhaps we can come to better respect and understand one another and hopefully then command more respect out in the world.


ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Jeane Vogel kind of touched on this topic in her Peace Corps for Artists? post awhile back.

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

In many ways, this discussion seems kind of irrelevant considering how many people are struggling financially. But I think that it offers an opportunity to reassess and to work together towards the common good.

I also think that it is even more critical that we assert the importance of art during tough times. Art is a great means of catharsis. It is an excellent healing mechanism. It allows us to connect with others and to express what we are going through. It helps us to stay sane. We need to nourish our mental and emotional well-being, especially in tough times.

Colin said...

I still hace a couple charities I donate to through the arts/my work, but had recently been asked to donate a peice to be auctioned off at a banquet, and refused. I refused because I would have to BUY a ticket to the banquet, and the gallery in which this all would take place has completely ignored me. Screw that.
I DO feel it is my social responsibility as an artist to engage those around me in the arts when I can. You do that very well in your blog- a great deal of people reading this might never think about some of these perspectives. In fact there are a lot of local artists doing this through blogs, and I find that encouraging and educational... also very interesting.

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

I am kind of torn on this topic. I donate a lot of my artwork and time to a lot of groups, some of which only exist through the dedication of volunteers and otherwise would not be around to offer opportunities and exposure to artists, communities and various causes. And I don't think that artists should shut themselves off from everyone else while not supporting other groups and endeavors.

But it feeds into itself. Artists are hit up for a lot. The more that we give of our artwork and our time, the more that people hit us up. We can devalue our own work by freely giving it to various causes because it feeds into the idea that we don't need to make money off of our work, that our art is a hobby and not a genuine career.

I think that artists should (and many do) work to engage those around them, both artists and nonartists alike. I love plein air events for this because they engage people who otherwise may never set foot in a gallery or museum. This holds true of art fairs as well. But then I feel the need to question why so many people simply do not feel welcome in galleries and in museums, such that they will not go even if interested in art. I find this pattern to be disconcerting.

There are a lot of opportunities to engage people all over the world online and blogging can be a means of connecting, but the Internet is quickly becoming inundated with people expressing their ideas in this manner that I don't know just what kind of readership is out there and whether or not others will find said information in the sea of everything available.

Blogging communities can help this a lot because they can organize groups with similar interests, but otherwise there is a wealth of information out there that is spread by word of mouth, and with so much of it to spread I don't know how far-reaching that becomes.