Advocacy Group W.A.G.E. on What Its First Survey Tells Us About How Artists Are Treated in NYC
Success is never guaranteed for artists, but at least those who manage to hustle up a show in a museum or non-profit space should get paid something. This is the argument of the New York-based artist rights group W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), whose slogan is “fighting to get paid for making the world more interesting.” Two years ago, the group teamed up with Artists Space to gather data about the economic experiences of 600 visual and performing artists who had worked with New York City art non-profits in the past five years. Included in the survey were questions about artist fees, coverage of exhibition costs, and travel expenses for shows, screenings, lectures, and performances at over 67 institutions. The results give a snapshot of just how economically uncertain the terrain of artistic success is in New York.
W.A.G.E. unveiled the results of the data they collected at an event at Artists Space earlier this month. To get a deeper insight into the survey process and the final results, ARTINFO posed some questions to the group via email. Read on for the surprising numbers, and for the group’s recommendations on how to fix the prevailing dearth of artist fees.
What kind of trends concerning artist compensation did you uncover after analyzing the 2010 survey?
The results point toward a disparity in the way monies are distributed by institutions. Essentially, there are no consistent patterns regarding if and how public and private funds are being distributed to independently contracted performers, lecturers, or visual artists.
The most conclusive information is that 58 percent of artists invited to work with small, medium, and large non-profit arts institutions and museums received no form of payment, expense reimbursement, or artist fee at all. While some might argue that the survey is skewed toward those who had a negative experience with an institution and were therefore more motivated to complain about it, the fact is that they had good reason to complain: 337 out of 577 artists did not receive any compensation, which is 337 too many.
In terms of fee payment, it’s very clear that artists are more likely to receive a fee for a solo exhibition than for a group exhibition. On the other hand, when they did receive a fee for a solo exhibition, almost the same number of artists who got a fee in the range of $2,000 to $4,999 did not receive a fee at all.
In terms of the size of the fee, the range was not surprising, and is in line with what we found [nonprofit organization] Artists Space had been paying in that same time frame when we dug into their payment history. For exhibitions involving two to five artists, 47 percent received an honorarium between $100 and $500, while 22 percent did not receive any artist fee. For exhibitions involving six or more artists, 48 percent received less than $300 honorarium, while 40 percent did not receive a fee.
It looks like larger organizations and museums were 10 percent more likely not to pay an artist fee than small- to medium-sized organizations. While 10 percent isn’t a significant difference, the fact that larger organizations were not more likely to pay is significant, because we assume that larger institutions have greater means than smaller ones, and would therefore be more able to pay fees. The conclusion one might draw from this is that it’s not a matter of being able but is instead a matter of being willing.
In other words, the coverage of expenses and the payment of fees are limited by the budgetary priorities of an organization. What are funds being spent on in lieu of paying artists: Salaries? Overhead? Capital projects? Fundraising events? We can only answer this conclusively by looking at artist fees paid out annually in relation to the rest of an organization’s budget. The only problem is that there is no line item in annual operating budgets that indicates artist fees, which is why we had to do this survey. Institutions wouldn’t tell us, but artists would.
What do these results mean for artists and their relationship with larger organizations?
After compiling and analyzing the results, we are more convinced than ever that there is little clarity, consistency, transparency, or negotiation regarding artist fees — above and beyond expenses, which themselves are being covered wholly inconsistently.
Cultural producers are not in a specific relationship with non-profit arts institution as a charity provider, or on the other end of the spectrum, as a speculator. Cultural producers serve as content providers and as educators within this relationship, as non-profit status affords the arts institution tax-exempt status to provide a public good. Whether the cultural producers an institution works with have none, some, or an overabundance of cultural capital and/or commercial market value, this should have no bearing on whether or not fees are paid and expenses are covered; how each project is negotiated with each artist, collective, lecturer or performer can take whatever form the project needs, but the provision of an artist fee is a necessity.
Did any of the results end up surprising you? Was there any good news to be had?
There was a surprise in gender differences in the coverage of travel expenses. It turned out that 69 percent of female respondents reported that they did not have any travel expenses, and of the remaining 31 percent who did, only 10 percent of them were partially or fully compensated for their expenses. Whereas 45 percent of male respondents reported that they did not have any travel expenses, and of the remaining 55 percent who did, 50 percent of them were partially or fully compensated for their expenses.
According to our sampling, some people (42 percent) who work with these institutions are actually paid — so it is possible. But accordingly to our sampling, over half are not. This inconsistency occurred throughout the data, and is what spurred the W.A.G.E. survey to begin with. Now we know it’s true. This pattern must change, and eventually end.
Other good news is that there are many cases of artists having very positive experiences exhibiting with non-profits in New York. The purpose of this survey was not to publicly shame these organizations, but to gather evidence that there is a lack of consistency in their payment practices. For the most part we assume, and have experienced first-hand, that the dedication of non-profits to supporting the work of artists is a fact. We suspect that artist fees are not being paid for a number of different reasons, the main one being that there are no existing guidelines for what is appropriate and what is anticipated. The provision of an artist fee is therefore postponed, ignored, and if paid, is done so arbitrarily. W.A.G.E. Certification is intended to change that.
What are the first steps the art world can take to start solving the issues that the survey confronts?
An artist fee must be part of any exhibition, lecture, or performance proposal made to visual artists and performers. 100 percent of the cultural producers who work with arts institutions must be offered a fee as part of the negotiation of their work with that entity.
Both the artist and the art institution must be held to a compensation standard, whether this comes about because an institution develops methods of internal regulation in order to receive W.A.G.E. Certification, or via external pressure from funders — or both. W.A.G.E. Certification could require organizations to provide proof of payment of fees in the form of canceled checks paid to exhibiting artists and by incorporating artist fees as a separate and distinct line item in operating budgets as a matter of protocol. W.A.G.E. Certification is still in development, but funders could enforce this now.
How difficult is it to survey such a disparate group as artists? Is it possible to be at all comprehensive?
It is extremely difficult to be comprehensive, yes. The economic structure we’re dealing with is unique, baffling, complex, layered, and alarmingly opaque, pitting cultural producers against each other in a destructive game of competition without compensation for their work. The non-profit is not a commercial marketplace, and although it clearly influences that marketplace, it is not one and the same; rather, it is a separate working and presentation space with its own budgets and set of mechanisms.
Surveying artists is difficult because of the unique nature of each artistic proposal and exhibition type. There are likely to be more exceptions to the options provided in the survey than there are those that conformed. Film screenings and lectures are a case in point. These activities can either be considered separate categories or they can be considered exhibitions or performances unto themselves. If an artist considered a single screening at MoMA to be a solo exhibition, then that’s how the data would have been entered. When we constructed the survey we were also limited by the technology at the time (2010). Survey Monkey has since evolved to make more nuanced data collection possible.
Changes in artistic practice necessarily make it difficult to place things in defined categories, and it was a challenge to take all of that into account without the survey becoming prohibitively complex. We’re thinking about how we can fix any holes, augment it for the continued collection of this data, and represent the fluid and flexible nature of negotiation strategies between arts institutions and cultural producers.
|The Future of Art: Computed Creations|
How to Make it in the Art World – NYmag
“THE ART WORLD made it through the real-world crash relatively unscathed, but not unchanged. And even as money still courses thick and blue-chip through its veins, the system is beginning to reexamine itself. Last month during Armory Week, there was not just the big Establishment fair but a handful of smaller and less-Establishment fairs; a couple of anti-money, anti-Establishment fairs; and at least one anti-anti-Establishment fair, which was both a tribute to the Armory Show’s origins and a flip of the bird to its corporate values, and might also just have been one big art-punk hotel party (we’re still figuring that one out). And now, for the first time, London’s Frieze fair is coming to town; when it arrives next week, it’ll challenge incumbent kingpin Armory for supremacy in the city. Our art critic Jerry Saltz, for one, is excited by this, as he is by quite a bit of the new art he sees burbling out there, art that seems to be getting smaller rather than bigger, intimate rather than corporate, and intangible and performative rather than industrial and perfectly resolved—the stranger and more mercurial, the better. It’s a moment of weird equipoise, as the Art Death Star and the Rebel Forces are battling to the quick. To mark it, we’ve decided to present our own version of performance art: a tongue-in-cheek rulebook for how to make it in the art world now—as artist, gallerist, collector, hanger-on. Many of the case studies demonstrate this period’s impish contradictions (“Make Art That’s Difficult to Collect,” “Pretend You’re an Outsider, Even When You’re at the Center of Everything”). And many of them show how to walk a line that has become particularly well trod of late: Used to be, new galleries admired the powerhouses and young artists envied the established ones—until they deposed them. These days, the envy runs both ways. Everyone wants in, and the only way to get in is to act like you’re out. Which means nobody wants to cop to having made it already, and everyone acts like they’re overthrowing the system by thriving in it. Maybe they are.”
#1. Reject the Market. Embrace the Market by Jerry Salz
Read full article here: NY Mag Article: How to Make it in the Art World
American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture
Art Recovered in Germany 25 Years After Theft in New York
The Art Loss Register sent out this release today:
Four contemporary paintings stolen in 1988 in a brazen Fourth of July theft from a New York City gallery have been recovered in Cologne, Germany 24 years after the crime. The theft had been reported to the New York City Police Department, FBI, and Interpol and registered with the International Foundation for Art Research and the Art Loss Register (‘ALR’) who today announced the recovery of artworks by Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Jean Dubuffet and Fernand Leger. The recovery of these works brings a substantial conclusion to an extraordinary case which spanned over two decades, and involved five law enforcement agencies.
Published accounts at the time of the theft stated that an unidentified intruder had picked the locks of the Solomon Gallery on Madison Avenue and quickly made off with six valuable works on display.
The oil on canvas by Karel Appel, was the first work to resurface and was recovered in 2003 when a German art dealer searched the ALR Database through his lawyer in Stuttgart, Germany. The dealer claimed to have purchased five of the six stolen works on a buying trip in New York but the lawyer could produce no documentation of the sale and refused to divulge the name of his client to authorities. A German public prosecutor issued a warrant for aiding and abetting the sale of stolen goods but a police raid of the lawyer’s home and office failed to uncover the other pictures. According to law enforcement, all references to the dealer had been removed from the firm’s case files and in a bizarre series of events, one law firm partner was charged with threatening a police officer involved in the raid.
The sudden focus on the law firm meant the lawyer could no longer represent the art dealer who quickly retained new counsel. Hiding behind this second lawyer, a criminal specialist from Munich, the German dealer once again refused to cooperate and the case went cold.
Over the course of the next nine years, no attempts were made to contact the ALR or authorities over the stolen pictures. Finally, in 2012 the daughter of the now deceased dealer contacted the Dedalus Foundation in New York to authenticate the stolen Motherwell. The daughter, a fine art professional, had also approached a local auction house but was quickly referred back to the ALR. The ALR Recovery Team immediately flew to Cologne where they met with police authorities and positively identified the works as the paintings stolen in 1988.
Christopher A. Marinello, a lawyer who specialises in recovering stolen and looted artwork for the ALR, negotiated the return of the four paintings with the lawyer for the family. “At the Art Loss Register, we’re going to make life difficult for those who attempt to sell stolen art. You can hide behind lawyers and look for loopholes in civil law jurisdictions, but eventually you’re going to have to deal with some very uncomfortable issues. The problem will not simply disappear with the passage of time. Leaving stolen artworks to the next generation is a losing proposition.”
Marinello credits authorities in the US and Germany for their strong support: “International cooperation among law enforcement is alive and well when it comes to recovering stolen art. The determination and tenacity of Special Agent Meredith A. Savona of the FBI Art Crime Team, NYPD Detective Mark Fishstein and the Cologne Police Department were critical in bringing these pictures home.”
The paintings are now owned by the gallery’s insurer who is in discussions with the former gallery’s owners about returning the pictures to their collection.
Despite this auspicious ending one final work remains unrecovered. Mulberry Centre by Franz Kline was stolen along with the five other works in 1988 but appears to have been separated from the others. The ALR is appealing for information on the missing work.
Courtesy Art Market Monitor
Look who’s buying art now
Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter
Visiting last night with one of my really wealthy friends and wandering once more among his many art acquisitions, including a few I’d not seen before, I was once more catching the drift of his habits. He insisted on telling me how much he’d paid for this and that. They seemed big prices for big mediocrity from big names. That’s only my opinion–apart from his bad art, he’s got some of mine too, so I didn’t say a word. He also told me he’d flipped a few, “even in this bad market.”
My friend fits the profile of many collectors. They’re in it for the game, the name and the fame. Investment is a factor. As well, many collected works are bequeathed to museums where a tax receipt gives year-end relief to the wealthy donor. For some reason, all of my collector friends who fit this profile are men.
Recent studies are showing a sea change in earning power and discretionary spending. In the USA, among couples where both partners work, 40% of the women now earn more than the men. The stats on university attendance are also telling. Sixty percent of students enrolled in higher education are now women. If present trends continue, in twenty-five years women will outnumber men in medicine and law. Physics, engineering and professorships will not be far behind. In studies of families where the male still maintained a higher income than his spouse, discretionary spending decisions are nearly equal. On the other hand, in families where the wife’s income is higher, it’s the female who makes most of the big decisions. The persistent scenario, frightening to some of the blokes, is that CEO mom goes shopping after work while dad is home feeding crackers to the kids and watching Barney.
And what particular art are these rich gals buying? In my observation, they’re not so much interested in the game, name or fame. In the last few years I’ve not heard one single active female art buyer utter the word “investment.” They’re more interested in connection, shared experience, life enhancement, tailored quality, nest-and-nurture, soul-polishing, and yes, décor and colour-coordination. Funnily, while women do more measuring than men, big size is not so important. I would be really interested in what gallery owners have to say about this, but women seem often to be making art decisions based on lofty ideals, genuine emotions and high sensibilities. Is it that women have better values than men? More imagination? Better taste? More sense? Or is it just less testosterone?
PS: “Women are asking what privileges their own breadwinning buys.” (Liza Mundy)
Esoterica: In what I call FABE (the Female Art Buying Explosion), women have less hesitancy in collecting women artists. This may be partly because female-run and female-owned galleries have risen dramatically. In the years I’ve been painting, the percentage of female artists in galleries has slowly crept up. A few galleries now represent more women than men. Considering female artists outnumber male artists 80/20, there is still a way to go.
Showing at TSL Hudson starts this Saturday, March 24 through April 1.
Thursday, Mar 22nd: 5:30
Friday, Mar 23rd: 5:30
Saturday, Mar 24th: 5:30
Sunday, Mar 25th: 5:30
Friday, Mar 30th: 7:30
Saturday, Mar 31st: 5:30
Sunday, Apr 1st: 5:30
Member: $5, General: $7, Student: $5
Gerhard Richter Painting
Directed by Corinna Belz. One of the world’s greatest living painters, the German artist Gerhard Richter has spent over half a century experimenting with a tremendous range of techniques and ideas, addressing historical crises and mass media representation alongside explorations of chance procedures. The first glimpse inside his studio in decades, “Gerhard Richter Painting” is exactly that: a thrilling document of the 79-year-old’s creative process, juxtaposed with rare archival footage and intimate conversations with his critics and collaborators. From our fly-on-the-wall perspective, we watch Richter create a series of large-scale abstract canvasses, using fat brushes and a massive squeegee to apply (and then scrape off) layer after layer of brightly colored paint. This mesmerizing footage, of a highly charged process of creation and destruction, turns Belz’s portrait of an artist into a work of art itself.
Charismatic, humorous, and insightful, Jules Olitski is the centerpiece of a film that demystifies his remarkably expansive and at times challenging body of work. Rarely seen footage of the artist at work in his studio complemented by talks and interviews with the artist convey a clear portrait of a man driven to make art.
“In an old interview, proto-Color-Field painter Jules Olitski (Russian American, 1922-2007) suggests that looking for meaning in abstract art is beside the point. “Someone looks at an abstract painting and they wonder what it means…well forgive me, but what does anything mean? You go to bed with someone and make love, do you pause in the middle and say what does it mean?””
Full article available here:
Courtesy: Two Coats of Paint, Sharon L. Butler
Two Coats of Paint
Dear Painter …
Tomma Abts, Tauba Auerbach, Matt Connors, Charline von Heyl and Bernd Ribbeck talk about the role of abstraction in painting today
Charline von Heyl Hibiu Habibi, 2011, acrylic and charcoal on linen
Tomma Abts Uphe, 2011, acrylic and oil on canvas
Bernd Ribbeck OHNE TITEL (Untitled), 2010, acrylic and pigment marker on MDF
Mat Connors My Suitor, 2011, acrylic on canvas in two parts
Tauba Auerbach Untitled (Fold), 2011, acrylic on canvas and wooden stretcher
“What does the term ‘abstraction’ mean to non-figurative painters working today? I spoke to five artists, all of whom make work grounded in process and materiality. There is a dissonance between the directness of their work and the fuzzier set of interests and objectives – high-minded, metaphysical and historical – that ‘abstraction’ suggests. None of these painters seem interested in spirituality as a social idea or abstraction as a historical category, but they share a real belief in the metaphysical properties of work, materials, process and practice, a kind of secular faith in the possibilities of non-objective image-making. Their desire is not for transcendence through abstraction, but for a greater embeddedness in the world through materials and work.”
Link to complete article:
Courtesy Frieze Magazine
Paintings by David Lynch at Tilton Gallery
“Those familiar with the language of “Twin Peaks,” “Lost Highway,” and “Blue Velvet” probably don’t need to be shouted at to know that paintings by David Lynch, now on view at the Tilton Gallery, are probably worth seeing. It’s odd, but many fans of Lynch accomplishments in film and television are unaware that he started out as a painter — an alum from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts — and that he never completely severed his ties with the art world.
Most of the work on display will spark comparisons to his films, not unjustifiably. Surreal, paramorphic imagery dominates his watercolors and collages. You can expect a surprising juxtaposition or nightmarish misstep in almost every frame, and while the works are not without their dark turns, a commitment to humor and irony is hard to overlook.”
— Reid Singer
David Lynch at the Tilton Gallery, 8 76th Street, New York, NY, 10021 Tuesday — Saturday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Monday by appointment.
An Art Park on the Hudson? Chelsea Waterfront Will Host Marlborough-Curated Public Sculpture Show
“The coast of Chelsea may just become a new public art destination. An exhibition of monumental sculpture by George Rickey and Kenneth Snelson is expected to be approved by the Hudson River Trust, the organization that maintains the five-mile park hugging the west coast of Manhattan, and then installed this summer (exact dates have not yet been finalized). The trust is also considering a number of other proposals from galleries and art funds to organize installations, events, and performances in the park. “It’s not a new idea to put art there, but it is a matter of the right exhibition and the ability of a group to execute a project,” trust president Madelyn Wils told ARTINFO. “This area in Chelsea is perfect for an art installation.” Nevertheless, as is the case with most public art projects, the exhibition is not without its opponents.”
Click link for full article:
Brooklyn Museum to Honor ‘First’ WomenBy MELENA RYZIK
On April 18, as part of the fifth anniversary of the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the museum will present the First Awards, given to 15 women who were first in their fields. Among the honorees are Sandra Day O’Connor; Jessye Norman; Toni Morrison; Connie Chung; the choreographer and director Susan Stroman; Faye Wattleton, a former president of Planned Parenthood; and Chief Wilma Pearl Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The award — a glass sculpture designed by the artist Judy Chicago — will be presented by Ms. Chicago, Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Sackler, the art collector and philanthropist behind the center. Ms. Chicago is also the creator of one of the most famous feminist artworks ever made, “The Dinner Party,” a triangular table with personalized place settings for 39 great women of myth and history that is now on permanent display at the Sackler Center. The award recipients “will become 21st- century, permanent members of the symbolic fourth wing of ‘The Dinner Party,’” the event’s organizers said in a statement. The awards are part of the Brooklyn Artists Ball, the museum’s annual gala that celebrates local artists. This year’s focus is female artists; Martha Rosler, Amy Sillman and Mickalene Thomas will also be honored. Marisa Tomei, the Brooklyn-born, Oscar-winning actress, serves as an honorary chairperson.
Courtesy New York Times: ?partner=rss&emc=rss
Tiebale Women Painting Their Houses
“Doubt is a central factor all the time. There’s always the doubt: What the hell am I doing out here in the woods, all alone, painting?” Neil Welliver.
Neil Welliver Light in Brook 1985
“One day last week, while looking at the painting on my work table, I had a powerful physical sensation of the floor dropping out from under me, my head going dizzy and my innards flip-flopping as I thought, like Welliver did (though for me it’s not a “central factor”), “what the hell am I doing, making tiny paintings of details of farm machines?”
Read the rest of this thoughtful article from Altoon Sultan in her delightful blog Studio and Garden:
Altoon Sultan paints meticulous minmal farm machinery and hooks abstract textile rugs.
“PARIS (AP) — Organizers of the Cannes Film Festival have chosen to honor Marilyn Monroe by selecting a photo of the Hollywood sex goddess for the poster of this year’s event.
The organizers said in a statement Tuesday that “50 years after her death, Marilyn remains one of the major figures of world cinema, an eternal and contemporary reference of grace, mystery and seduction.”
The poster shows the American actress, eyelids lowered and lips pursed, blowing out a candle on a birthday cake.
The 65th Cannes Film Festival runs from May 16 to 27.
Nanni Moretti, the satirical Italian filmmaker and 2001 Palme d’Or winner, heads the jury at this year’s festival on the French Riviera.”
Written by AP
Joan Miró: First UK exhibition of sculpture – Yorkshire Sculpture Park
“May my sculptures be confused with elements of nature, tree, rocks, roots, mountains, plants, flowers.”
“Yorkshire Sculpture Park to host one of the most important exhibitions of Miro’s work to date, recognising his sculpture as a central tenet of his practice, and fulfilling his wishes that ‘sculpture must stand in the open air, in the middle of nature’
Yorkshire Sculpture Park is gearing up to stage the first major UK survey of sculpture by Joan Miro (1893-1983). The exhibition is being undertaken in collaboration with the artist’s foundations and family, who belief this to be one of the most important exhibitions of Miro’s work ever given that it will fulfil the artist’s belief that ‘sculpture must stand in the open air, in the middle of nature’. And it will provide UK visitors with the rare chance to experience a significant collection of Miro’s large-scale outdoor works, usually seen only at the artist’s foundation and estate in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca.” Artlyst
Full article here:
”I think anyone doing anything on the street is commendable, you know?” In this video, artist Barry McGee contemplates the “untouchable” nature of street art, and talks about why it’s weird for him to install his artwork inside of galleries and museums.
Robert Genn of The Artist’s Keys discusses a recent jurying experience:
Last night, while on jury duty, my fellow juror and I agreed the most common fault seen among entries was in composition.Well drawn, well rendered and well coloured–all came to naught when the composition had significant faults. I’ve often written about what an artist should do. In this letter I’m giving six common pitfalls. Last night we noticed them all.
Weak foreground. The foreground appears as an afterthought. Wishy-washy, unresolved or inconsequential–it fails to set the subject onto a reasonable ground or to lead the eye to what the artist would have us see. Even in abstract or mystical work, a foreground needs to be implied and understood as a vital contributor to the whole.
Homeostatic conditions. Homeostasis means equidistant lineups of trees, rocks, blocks of colour, or other patterns that are too mechanical or regular. It includes trees growing out of the tops of people’s heads. While sometimes seen in nature, homeostasis is a natural human tendency–a subconscious reordering and regularizing within the brain. “Even in front of nature one must compose,” said Edgar Degas.
Amorphous design. The general design lacks conviction. A woolly, lopsided or wandering pattern makes for a weak one. Often, the work has unresolved areas and lacks cohesiveness and unity. “Everything that is placed within the enclosing borders of the picture rectangle relates in some way to everything else that is already there. Some attribute must be shared between all of them.” (Ted Smuskiewicz)
Lack of flow. Rather than circulating the eye from one delight to another, the work blocks, peters out and invites you to look somewhere else. “Composition,” said Robert Henri, “is controlling the eye of the observer.” Effective compositions often contain planned activation (spots like stepping stones that take you around), and serpentinity (curves that beguile and take you in.)
Too much going on. Overly busy works tire the eye, induce boredom and make it difficult to find a centre of interest or focus. Less is often more. “Take something out,” said the American painter and illustrator Harvey Dunn.
Defeated by size. Effective small paintings often work well because they are simple and limited in scope. But when artists make larger paintings they often lose control of the basic idea and what is ironically called “the big picture.” “The larger the area to be painted,” says Alfred Muma, “the harder it is to have a good composition.”
PS: “A well-composed painting is half done.” (Pierre Bonnard)
Esoterica: The path to stellar composition is spotted with potholes. Further, compositional design can be unique to the individual, and intuitive. This approach can be unreliable. Habitual poor composition can have long-term effects on otherwise excellent work. After our engaging juror effort (there were many excellent, compositionally sound paintings), over a straight-up gin Martini (for a change), my friend and I loftily decided to found a “School of Composition”–where only composition would be taught. Like the tattoos on the girl’s back, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Giving and Taking:
How can we share without being ripped off? And how can we take without ripping off? This post offers no answers, just examples and questions. I realize the irony here, but I hope you will share your own experiences with regard to giving and taking–and the dangers of doing too much of either.
Marketing Mondays: Giving and Taking
It’s a poetic truism that as we climb up the career ladder we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. So what happens when the metaphorical shoulders belong to people who are still climbing themselves?
I’ve been hearing a lot lately from art-world folks who feel ripped off by their colleagues or students. Maybe coveting is just the human condition, but I suspect there’s something more at work: the desperation so many have for attention, for success, for a little piece of a shrunken art pie. You know, “I’ll have what he’s having, even if I have to take it out of his mouth.” I’ve been affected by some of the actions I describe but make no mistake, this post is not a rant. The examples I’m sharing come from all corners of the various art worlds. Today I’d like to consider how we give and take.
This first one comes from Independent Curator X. He says, “In conversation at an opening I discussed a few ideas with [Y, another independent curator] about a show I was beginning to put together. He [Y] asked some questions, and I answered; I offered some observations and he responded. It was a brief but interesting exchange. The next thing I knew, he’d announced plans for a show suspiciously like the one we’d discussed.” Curator X’s voice rose as he told the story. “I guess I don’t need to tell you that I’m not sharing much with my colleagues these days.”
Don’t I know it. I helped an artist who was writing a book on the same topic as one I’d published. There should be room on an artist’s bookshelf for more than one volume on a topic, so I said, “I’ll help you, if you promise you won’t take your book to the same publisher.” We had a verbal agreement. To be honest, the little voice within me kept emitting a warning beep, but I answered her questions, made referrals for her and more. Some time later I got an email telling me she’d sold the book. Where do you think she took it?
Artists who teach independently, particularly classes focused on technique and process, see this kind of behavior all the time from the adults they teach. I have heard some version of this story over and over again: Someone takes a workshop. Suddenly that student starts offering the same workshop—with the same outline, the same tips, and in one instance recounted to me, even the same conversational patter of the original workshop teacher, who had developed her engaging style, to say nothing of an original syllabus, over decades of teaching. One come-lately instructor started teaching almost literally down the street from her teacher and for a lower fee. You can call this Capitalism. I call it cannibalism.
“I had a private student who didn’t even know what the primary colors were. The next thing I know, she’s teaching!” says a longtime artist well versed in color theory and much more.
Of course teaching is not just techniques. It’s concept, information, inspiration, and it’s the instructor’s history of experience as well as her experience with art history that is brought to bear in each class. Independent teachers are typically working artists who have found an entrepreneurial way to pay the bills by opening their studios and sharing some of what they know. Theirs is a very different situation from career educators who, working within an institution, are protected either by tenure or by institutional policies that don’t typically allow the hiring of recent students. (Adjunct instructors are more vulnerable, alas.)
Artists who open their studios, whether to students or to friends, leave themselves open to another kind of cannibalism. An artist with a significant exhibition history recounts this story: “Every time I let a particular artist into my studio, I felt like she was casing the joint. She would pick things up and ask a lot of questions about materials and techniques. It felt so odd that after a few visits, if I saw her through the peephole, I didn’t answer her knock.” Some time later the artist understood what that feeling was: “When I passed by her open door one day, I looked in and saw what appeared to be my work! She’d been ripping off my ideas. Not only that, I learned she’d been sending submission packages to the same galleries I’d shown at.” Eww, isn’t this the plot line of All About Eve?
A community art center, around which a sizeable number of artists gathered, was known for its annual juried show, an event that brought in a lot of entries, made money for the center’s projects, and provided great visibility via advertising and outreach to its exhibiting artists. The community became factionalized when a second juried exhibition, with a slightly lower entry fee but none of the cachet, sprang into existence at the exact same time. The ersatz entrepreneurs drafted behind the art center’s advertising and visibility. We’re not talking David and Goliath, here. These were two Davids, each of which suffered as a result. (The come-lately exhibiton ceased after a couple of years, leaving divided loyalties in its wake.)
“There is lots of room in the world for artists to be successful,” says one artist. Fair enough. But what is that pathological need you have to occupy the very spot where a teacher, mentor or colleague is standing and then whine, “Why can’t you be happy for my success?”
On the other side of the coin, there are those who know of exhibitions, grants and other opportunities who never share that information, as if by hoarding they will secure one of the coveted prizes. I remember this from art school, when there were fewer opportunities and the (male) teachers clung ferociously to their art-world crumbs. You’d think that kind of mindset would be outdated, but just recently I learned of a colleague who intentionally gave an artist peer the wrong grant deadline, even as the real deadline was fast approaching. I called him on it (as did several others). “Less competition,” he said with a smirk. What an arrogant a-hole.
The Mini-Me Mentality
It’s my observation that the folks who have the least to offer are the ones who are most vocal in crying, Nothing is original. We should all share. Art is for everyone.Tell me, show me, give me everything you know. You can try to limit the drain by sticking with colleagues at your own professional level, but as Exhibit A suggests, that doesn’t always work. Retreating into a tower isn’t a viable option, especially given the ubiquity of cyberspace.
So . . . How can we share without being ripped off? And how can we take without ripping off? This post offers no answers, just examples and questions. I realize the irony here, but I hope you will share your own experiences with regard to giving and taking–and the dangers of doing too much of either.
A reminder: Anonymous comments are OK if they add to the conversation. But if you have something negative to say—to me, about the topic, to a commenter—have the courage of your convictions and identify yourself. I’m not providing a forum to cowards.
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Fountain Art Fair
Fountain is an exhibition of avant garde artwork in New York during Armory week, Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach and Los Angeles during Pacific Standard Time weekend.
69th Regiment Armory
68 Lexington Avenue @ 25th Street
March 9 – March 11, 2012
Hours & Special Events:
Friday, March 9, 1pm–7pm – VIP & Press Preview
Friday, March 9, 7pm–11pm – Artlog presents: Public Opening Night Reception, Fab 5 Freddy (DJ set)
Saturday, March 10, 7–11pm – Art For Progress presents: Saturday Night Party, Performances TBA
General Hours: Saturday, March 10 & Sunday, March 11, 1pm–7pm
$10 day pass / $15 weekend pass at the door
buy discounted tickets online!
The Plot Thickens in Forgery Case
Declared Motherwell Forgery
Fascinating story developing.
Courtesy New York Times: