Winners Get Grants, Losers Don’t
“… like any juried or selection process, there’s people who can be perceived as winners and people who can be perceived as losers.”
So says the executive director of a prominent D.C. non-profit arts organization in a recent article in The Washington City Paper.
He’s right. There simply aren’t enough public-sponsored venues and exhibit halls for every artist who wants to be seen. And it would be a losing battle even if D.C. didn’t have the number of federally-funded arts institutions it has, all competing for the share of attendance and visibility local arts non-profits might otherwise expect. The MD and VA suburbs are bursting – and as is the numbers of artists who now work and reside there – all wanting to take advantage of the city arts opportunities and limited arts funding.
(Funny it is how the topic of D.C. Statehood is nowhere to be heard among those speaking of DMV arts and culture. As if there simply isn’t any relationship – or if any attempt to define the difference between those with state representation and those without is offensive or irrelevant in a discussion of art and arts funding?)
What to do…? Concede to the sports analogy of “winners and losers”? Why can’t D.C. become like a major-league player in the arts? Why shouldn’t D.C. attract wealthy arts patrons like the big-league owners, and class-A administrators and curators with competitive salaries and seasonal contracts? Not to mention that D.C. real-estate development would be nowhere without quality arts and entertainment. No, we mustn’t disappoint the owners, the developers, the managers, the team … or the fans.
So it’s a good thing that there are so many artists and performers (makers and creatives) in and around D.C. It “raises the bar”.
Another question I keep returning to is, “Since when did the arts become a competitive endeavor and why?
Is the sole purpose of arts organizations to establish even more competitive arenas with more entrepreneurs and even greater stakes (and subsequently more “losers” than winners) in the pursuit of a more “refined” or “progressive” culture …?? Awards, prizes, grants, exposure, sales are not what all artists want or need; but it is the only thing they’ve come to expect will ever be offered if only by some stroke of fortune or dogged placation that those who control the rewards of cultural labor might look upon them.
So despite what artists are being told they need and want, the last thing (…ask any artist) is to be informed that they are a “loser” and not among a select team of “winners”. Not this time. But maybe next? Everyone receives his or her turn? Not likely.
What’s the alternative?
(First it must be seen that there is a significant difference between visual and performing arts organizations, their audiences, as well as their function. There are a few similarities but I wish to focus on the visual arts as that is my area of knowledge and not attempt to draw too large a picture or create too many generalities).
Museums of contemporary art, arts institutions of contemporary culture, and arts organizations – that profess to support more community-centered arts and culture – but also serve for the promotion and marketing of contemporary global culture as an economic incentive. The differences between their vision to serve as education centers, as showcase venues for artists, and as arts advocates varies as much as those functions may be blurred or be said to overlap. As centers for arts education, organizations and institutions may be eligible to receive non-profit status and much needed tax deductible donations – even though the direct impact or supplement to school-based arts education is also be heavily abstracted – particularly where those centers for arts education are estranged geographically from the communities and neighborhoods they claim to serve.
The truth is that contemporary arts institutions and organizations are less educational than promotional in their programming – serving more as proxy venues for artist promotion and sales as well as training grounds for the careers of curators, administrators, consultants, assistants and the host of arts-professionals whose competitive salaries must be paid from an ever-increasing requirement for funding. Managing gallery and performance spaces is also very costly, contributing to a large percentage of an organization’s overhead expense (and volunteer time) while serving only a small percentage of artists and a limited range of cultural views.
However, from the artists point of view (and similarly like any unobstructed lawn with a goalpost and bleachers becomes a potential playing field for sports enthusiasts) any public building with bare walls and lights becomes a gallery, or a performance space and a potential sales and promotion venue… or more to the point, a source of revenue to be “managed”.
As there is never enough space for all of the art and performance that is produced, selective management becomes absolutely critical to its continued function as a viable space – choices must be made and curatorial standards and narratives must be devised to substantiate those choices – however dubious or artificial those choices, standards and narratives are to reality and relevant to the community in which they are displayed. Hence, “winners” and “losers”; those who are assisted in selling their work or their brand, and those who are left to fend for and support themselves.
But what if … arts organizations were NOT in the business of promotion, of giving support to some artists but not others? What if arts organizations supported ALL artists both equitably and more directly without preference to gender or race, style or substance? What if arts budgets went directly to the communities they represent to strengthen the cultural infrastructure, providing incentive for artists and cultural workers to remain within those communities, to thrive, and both preserve the native culture and provide for the unique cultural requirements with which the artists have an innate and natural relationship? What if arts organizations did not serve as a proxy for the commercial market as galleries and theatres to promote art and ticket sales or as a career platform for transient arts administrators, transient curators and transient non-artist professionals? What if arts organizations were not players in the cultural gentrification of communities but the glue that held those communities together to resist urban expansion and cultural homogeneity?
What would arts organizations do?
Perhaps the most effective, the most significant (and the least costly) thing arts organizations could do is to formally recognize the difference between art and artists; between culture and its potential for marketing. (Many of those who annually profess “support for the arts” could care less about the welfare of artists or community cultures. To them “the arts” are either a collector commodity or a refined source of entertainment that likewise must be codified, qualified.. to be entered into competition; to earn approval or disapproval through critical judgment.)
Rather, artists and culture share a living relationship, a symbiosis, by which one is not likely to survive without the other. For art to survive requires nothing more than a museum and those with the means to collect it. For artists and cultures to survive requires a great deal more imagination and committed effort.
“Art has no ‘dominion’ really – it just exists and sometimes in the unlikeliest places made by the unlikeliest people. here
Functionally speaking, arts organizations could raise money along with awareness to do little things that would actually help all artists thrive and by extension to build and secure a more vibrant, viable art community that the public would be proud to call their own and in a way that would set a newer, higher and directly productive standard for arts organizations everywhere.
How would they do this?
As an advocate for artists’ rights, affordable housing and studios, as advocates for fair practices, create job banks for artists, create emergency funding for artists and their immediate families when there is a serious medical need, fire, or job layoff, underwrite group insurance, to advocate for health safety in the arts workplace, as a representative for artists with the local government with regard to city planning and arts education in the public school system, in conjunction with other arts organizations to advocate for artists in federal arts legislation, as an advocate for elderly and handicapped artists, as an archive for local artist’s documents such as with the Archives of American Art, as an historical library or repository of the Arts in D.C. or to assist artists with the compilation of their personal archives here
The truth is there are plenty of things that D.C. arts organizations could be that are fully inclusive that doesn’t presume to select one group of artists or selection of any individual artist over another; that doesn’t contribute to divisiveness, that doesn’t require a curator or even a scheduled exhibition space; whose budget isn’t merely self-preserving, and that doesn’t presume that the only need artists have is greater exposure (“people die from exposure”).
The idea that artists and the public must be educated to the latest trend in contemporary art or to the newest big-names in a list of this year’s emerging artists – or that artists are somehow uniquely gifted or visionary in voicing the needs and issues of communities while remaining silent with respect to their own issues of livelihood – and that somehow manifests as a cultural service – is not only short-sighted, it’s redundant and proven to be of little if any long-term effective value.
It’s time to stop seeing arts organization as arenas. Art is not a competition. Artists are not players. Culture needs to be served, not sold; it is its own reward, and a city with its diverse neighborhoods and cultures deserves to be treated fairly, unequivocally, with equanimity to all – that art and art practice might the one human endeavor by which NO ONE LOSES. Ever
Banned from The Newlyn Orion Gallery
I have processed your invoice and sent to our accountant – payment should be made next month.
We are currently reassessing books and magazines in the gallery shop – unfortunately titles that are not directly linked to our exhibitions really struggle to sell – including magazines as witnessed by having to return all 5 of the last issue to you. We are dramatically cutting back on the titles we stock. So unfortunately we are no longer able to stock New Art Examiner.
Simon Jaques ( Exchange Gallery, Penzance)
There are other publications and books in the Newlyn Orion Gallery that are not directly linked to their programming; the Publisher considers this to be a form of censorship and if not censorship an example of institutional arrogance.
The Chicago Cabal as Buffoons, Interlopers and Thieves
Dear Editors of the real New Art Examiner:
The copyrighting and trademarking of the term “New Art Examiner” by a group called “Art Message International” is both buffoonery and a barbarism.
I once investigated trademarking the name of a commercial software product I wrote called SUPERPATCH. The lawyer, who specialized in intellectual property, trademarks, and copyrights (he had already secured copyright registration for my product) told me that, before he could proceed with any formal action with the US Trademark office, he would need to conduct thorough research with respect to any other entity either using “SUPERPATCH” or holding a trademark for the term. He would of course charge for that search. And should he find someone else using the term with respect to a product that overlapped with mine, the issue would be who used it first, not who applied for a trademark first. He said to proceed without this search would be a violation of his professional responsibilities. And to attempt to trademark my product’s name in the face of someone else’s prior use for a similar product would be foolish.
I guess, in the case of trademarking “New Art Examiner”, there was no need to do a search, since it is obvious that the term had been in use by a similar product for decades, and remained in contemporary use. Applying for a trademark in the face of such facts is so blatant it raises questions about whether the lawyer who prepared the application met his responsibilities as an officer of the court. The ruffians of Art Message International are also suspect. The fact they openly assert “Established 1973” as part of their co opted logo demonstrates they are conscious it came from some other source than themselves.
Thus, the Chicagoans are interlopers and thieves, attempting to steal from Derek a term he owns in order to drive him out of existence. Lawyers are not known for their great ethics, but I am surprised any lawyer would participate, on ethical as well as liability grounds, in executing such a theft. The “new leadership” simply stole the store from its owner.
While the foolishness of their action makes them laughable, they are nonetheless worth taking seriously. While stupid in business, they are good with art writing. If they continue to compete with the authentic NAE, the publication most likely to succeed, if either succeeds, will be the one that appeals most to readers.
The real NAE has some advantages: Name recognition and historical significance are the main ones (which is why the Chicagoans want to take your name and logo in the first place). Product manufacturers spend millions to achieve the recognition that the New Art Examiner has earned for itself over the past 40 years. Fortunately for you, the theft of your name and logo is unlikely to stand. You may even be able to recover compensation for the damage they have done to your reputation and the advertising revenue they have received while illegally using your logo.
After that things could easily flip. There is an idea here of “America First” that has taken fire. It is not a right wing idea, as many suppose, but rather a part of human nature that the right wing is currently leveraging with great effectiveness. Derek and Jane bootstrapped the NAE in the 70s with an even more localized version of it – “Chicago First” – and they are hardly “right wing”. Their effort was unquestionably successful because it is a good way to position any project. So the Chicago group has the advantage of being the home team, as far as American and especially Chicago readers go.
Making art writing free and freely available is, unfortunately, the categorical imperative for most who would provide information about art to the public, if they are to have any impact. Both publications realize this, but the Chicago group is openly embracing it. Derek has been slow to deal with this issue, though the real NAE does, as I write this, provide free access to content through its website, which has been fully functional for a couple of years. The phony “NAE” has yet to put up anything, despite their enthusiastic stance about the importance of free access. You need to match their enthusiasm. Perhaps you do. You certainly have beaten them to the punch as far as delivery goes.
They are adopting a more “trendy” approach. There is no doubt that trends exist because of wide spread acceptance of them, and therefore focusing on them necessarily suggests there are potentially more readers who would be interested. They are deemphasizing copy which examines corruption in the art world, which is probably a good idea since there is little that can be done about it anyway. “Gender Politics in Art” is about as trendy as anything ever was, and has been bludgeoned to death in a nearly infinite number of venues, but it is popular because it is popular. I must suppose there remain many folks who want to hear about it and similar over-indulged topics. There are consequences associated with choosing to follow trends or to not follow.
Their design is more open, featuring more white space, especially around images. In the world of printed matter, white space costs as much to produce as any other space in a publication. On the internet, however, there is no difference in cost, and white space generally reads more pleasantly on a standard computer screen.
Breezy design and trend following are exactly what the New Art Association did with the Chicago based NAE at the turn of the century. Trendy topics, a more open look, and lots of color formed a package that closely resembled all the other art publications of the era. It looked like the obvious ticket to greater success, but it led to bankruptcy instead. As appealing as the “breezy” and “relevant” approach the Chicago phonies are taking seems, sites like ARTSY, HYPERALLERGENIC, and ART FAG CITY own this space, and own it big time. They struggle for money due to the inability to sell subscriptions that affects all art writing these days, but they do have funding, because they have an enviable record of impact in the trendy “niche”. Both versions of the NAE have yet to establish a beach head in their space.
Both the real and fake NAE need to do better with financing if either is to succeed. Monetizing a website works sometimes, but depends upon heavy traffic which, despite your gains in readership since you began allowing free access, is not yet up to that task, while their site does not even exist. In fact, funding appears to be such a major problem for both publications that acquiring it could wind up being the basis for whether either of them endure. Derek has been amazing in persisting for years without much money, but that can go on for just so long.
Chicago has the advantage with American readership because there are more of them, they live here, they want to focus exclusively on American content, and they seem gung-ho for the moment. Without Americans willing to do the legwork that the Chicagoans are doing for themselves, American readership is likely to fade due to lack of content that is of greatest interest to us. Workers are hard to come by if you don’t have money to pay them, especially because your center is located on the other side of the ocean. This is a tough one.
That said, I think you should go further than merely “asking” writers to decide whether they want to publish in yours or theirs, even though the odds say some of them will choose theirs. The abject barbarism of what the Chicago folks did precludes friendly cooperation.
The Cornwall Associates Shame the Chicago Cabal
To the Editor, New Art Examiner
The Associates of the NAE collectively wish to express their displeasure at the actions taken by individuals in Chicago, in particular Michel Segard (Associate Publisher), in breaking the code of honour of the NAE, attacking the integrity of our publisher, Derek Guthrie, and the editorial independence of the UK editor and contributors. Chicago’s interference caused the resignation of a key U.K. contributor and put at risk an important London launch.
We do not interfere in the affairs of Chicago and Chicago should keep out of ours.
We consider Chicago’s actions in entering into a power struggle, banning Derek Guthrie from the New Art Examiner Facebook page, and breaking away from our publishers ultimate control utterly deplorable and in total breach of NAE’s code of honour.
Response to Chris Cutrone’s ‘An Incomplete Project’
Thoughts on reading Chris Cutrone’s piece:
“An Incomplete Project” and “Jürgen Habermas’s critique? ”
The question on Modern / Postmodern concerns me less as an artist though perhaps a little more as an educationalist.
We are all aware of modern art’s grand narrative of emancipation as an ‘invigorating failure’, while the “aftermath” of postmodern ignominiously stumbled into the realm of kitsch. My concern is how the ‘universalism’ of the modern came to a sad end, (or has it?), when really we have never been modern in the sense that capitalism ran ahead of art and in doing so torpedoed art and life.
As an artist my concern arises out of feelings for things as objects in the world, and that includes us. Seeing the world is what we do as artists. What we see and the many different ways of “seeing” amounts to the culture of speculation. When every-thing is seen and thought through as an object standing there in the world, in a space, in relation to other objects, of time, of history, of sensual time and passing fancies where everything can be a dream with no standing force of grounding, texture or light, when reason itself changes, is interrupted, broken into illogical sections or diametrically cut into separate zones, then and only then does the notion of genre or style cease to exist and we may approach “reality” with a reasonably clear mind. However, the object-thing I am seeing and sensing always appears to retreat and not relate to any particular form. In this sense reality is never completely exhausted. (The history of art is full of retreating objects). Reality has within its state of being much more subtlety of mood and having many hidden facets of form as it faces the world and us, not only in itself as a form of life but also in the mind of the subjective self, moods and memories in other changing life-forms that we ourselves have. Such an event if achieved, can be frightening and at its best must be so because it goes way beyond any idea of aesthetic or critique. I’m saying here that what is being made, is not a matter of style, artistic movement, or whatever.
No it’s not a style but a gesture, a mark, autonomous as an object/thing made for the world as an advent in the world brought from something hidden into something unexpected. “Object” and seeing the life–world as an “object” whether in music, writing, visual art, performance, society, a storm, a mass meeting or whatever is the means by which I can encounter reality, or a sense of reality. My knowledge of reality intellectually or scientifically doesn’t grasp the knowable of things in-themselves. I can have great knowledge of my paints and where they come from and their atomic form, and may think I know where to put them on a canvas, but not until they hit the canvas do I have a sense of experiencing/seeing them. The combination of brush, paint, canvas, arm, body, mind and spirit wrought into an experience of action is not only the search for reality, but in finding it. Critical writing, to be in the reality of the life-world, also has to be lived in the physical materials of language, experiencing reality as part of the action of writing. I am certain this is common knowledge to all artists (or hopefully so) I don’t want to say the word creative because I’m not sure what that means when it comes to seeing “objects”. More to the point is, how to arrive at “reality” and the practice of preparing for that “reality”. For me, reality in this sense is a power. Maybe it’s the power of natural forces, i.e., nature, and as being human is nature we must also take into account what we consider non-human as a part of nature: the object as made by humans. Perhaps it’s easier to sense this as a visual act and perhaps more difficult in a critique of visual art. After all, a critique is nearly always a critique of itself! In fact I find critical writing often confusing, reflecting confusion by its “often fragmented and unfelt knowing.
Chris Cutrone cites Susan Buck-Morss’s “sustained critical moment of aesthetic experience” like the one I have described above. Yes, the moment is sustained through many moments, what is being “built” in a sense is a homage to experience itself as a thing in its-self. But then again, what is this thing called experience? In my world it is outside an idea of experience, that is, when experience itself concerns a reality in the world infused with the reality of the art it enters: once there the realm of something beyond reason into chaos takes place.
In terms of whether this so called experience is either Modern or Post-modern is of no consequence. What should be of consequence is the reality of the “object” as a painting. So that one has an Object in-itself and a Painting in-itself, also to question both as valid in terms of existing as life-forms. Whatever source of ‘experiencing’ life-worlds as form an artist brings to an event as an advent on canvas, a realization maybe being achieved of a glimpse into the kind of reality I’m talking about.
My view of Jürgen Habermas I fear is not good. In my reading, the idea of his understanding of a “dialogical process” leading to “communicative rationality” worries me. I’d rather turn to Jacques Derrida wherein deconstruction comes into being nearer to how an artwork functions on many levels through plunging into fathomless depths, widths, breadth and heights. I suppose that’s postmodern, Hah!
In my view artists should be more concerned with education through ideas of seeing, not only in art schools and schools generally and humanity programmes, but more importantly, in the work of art itself. Performance Art once had this advantage! But not in relational participatory art forms. Art itself is essentially educational. Herbert Read’s “Education Through Art” and Claire Bishop’s reference to Félix Guattari’s “How do you bring a classroom to life as a work of art” are very much to the point in teaching about the “object” as form and its evasiveness to human sight and mind. Not to forget also the ‘teaching’ of Friedrich Schiller in his “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”. A series of twenty seven letters written in the eighteenth-century during the French Revolution with its emphasis on play as part of his concept of reconciling the inner antagonism between sense and intellect, nature and reason.
Penwith Society Bans New Art Examiner
Dear Editor (Times and Echo)
It has come to my attention that the Penwith Gallery in St.Ives, has banned the sale of the New Art Examiner magazine from its premises. This censorship and attack on the free speech of and critical discussion by artists and academics flies in the face of the original values of this once progressive and inclusive society.
I do not know why they have opted for this draconian approach, but surely opinion can be discussed, argued and conclusions reached without the archaic impulse of suppression.
Hopefully, those responsible for this inartistic act will promulgate their reasoning. It will be interesting to find out as to why their skin has become so thin.
Jason Lilley, Full Member of the Penwith Society of Arts
Volume 31 no.6 July / August 2017 pp 4-8