Letters Volume 33 no 6 July-August 2019
An Open Rebuke to Galleries
I’ve wandered diligently in your empty wildernesses and I’ve carefully studied the spaces in between. I’ve searched for scraps in the deep ravines of nothingness and I’ve appreciated the stillness and beauty that exists in the void. I’ve worked hard and now I’m weary. Now I drag myself past empty walls and across vast floor spaces in a red mist of irritation and disappointment. I have ‘Seriously?’ emblazoned across my brow as I pass the cash desk and vow never to return.
Can I please remind you that visitors come to see art and not your empty gallery space? Your obsession with purity of presentation is running amok and has become an affront to visitors and to artists who are desperate for gallery space.
The Disease of Grade Inflation
Your article gives a very real and sad picture of the academic environment in universities today in the US, but could also focus on the evolution of how children have been raised over the past decades. Children once freely played outside in their backyards, at parks and playgrounds; parents once read with their children. This no longer is important to most parents, since there are easier ways of parenting today – video games.
Reading abilities and attention spans have diminished over the decades, as video games gradually entered the lives of children starting in the 70s with Asteroids, then moving on to Pac-Man, Mario, Nintentdo’s Gameboy, the Warcraft games, Sony’s PlayStation 2, Xbox, the Wii, and Minecraft. As the games became more addictive, we have witnessed a sharp decline in learning. With 2.2 billion gamers worldwide today and 65% of households having at least one person who plays video games, it’s truly no surprise that university level courses have had to be watered down to meet students’ diminished academic capacities. We have all seen small children sitting in trolleys at the supermarket with their handheld devices, totally concentrated and avidly playing their games while one of their parents shops, missing out on the visual and audio experience of what’s going around them. Everywhere children at restaurants wait in absolute silence for their meals to arrive, while clicking away, same for their parents on their phones. This goes on until they go to bed, addicted to their devices, but not to learning. The future looks bleak as the minds of these children and adults are taken. I ask you, do we still need universities for these minds? Call it education.
What a pessimist you are Jane! Instead, look at how many artists are employed in creating computer art for video games around the world. It means these artists haven’t had to hold second jobs to support themselves.
You think drawing pictures for a video game company is art? It sounds like your brain has been taken too, along with all the other game addicts out there. What is art in your opinion? I hope you have the courage to answer.
Speakeasy: Not so Easy
It would make sense if the conditions of the art market changed with the new European Union ruling on having to verify the identity of a buyer making a purchase of 10,000 euros or more. However, I believe that very little will change with this ruling and dealers, and buyers will only get more secretive than they already were. It’s the auction houses that will be taking a loss, as high priced art works will only go underground and be sold outside territorial waters on boats or on private jets in undisclosed locations, like with drug dealers.
Here’s the article:
“European Union tightens anti-money-laundering rules in the art market
Dealers will be compelled to verify identity of customers buying art for 10,000 or more”
I found your Speakeasy very thought provoking and wondered if we could start a conversation on it here in the comment area. I agree with you when you wrote “…a call for more democracy, transparency and equality for artists is required. But artists have to make this call. Are we up for the task? An artist network based on mutual friendship, support and exchange of ideas is the most effective tool against an art market that primarily follows a trail of money.” This call for “more democracy, transparency and equality” needs to be enacted for our governments, the media, the healthcare and welfare organizations, not only for artists. These key elements are sadly lacking from our lives today. I was wondering if you could go one step further and elaborate on how you envision this network for artists.
Thank you for your comment and question. I am happy to elaborate a bit more.
When I was writing this Speakeasy, I had something very concrete in mind: blind submissions. A “blind submission” is when an Open Call for artists asks for anonymous portfolio submissions or exhibition proposals by artists on projects. Unlike the majority of Open Calls, a “blind submission” withholds the name of an applicant when reviewers sort through the submitted material. In most cases CVs are not even part of the submission.
As a practicing artist, I spend a good amount of time responding to all sorts of Open Calls: exhibition opportunities, online publications, grants, residencies, etc. In the past decade of applying to various calls, I have come across two “blind submissions” (and these showed up within the last two years). It is possible that there are more “blind submissions” out there, but even so their number is minuscule and shockingly low.
Reviewing panels that go through applications as part of regular submissions pay extra attention to where artists graduated from, where they exhibited, where they might have been reviewed. Any artist with a raised professional profile will automatically raise the profile of the respective organization, institute, gallery, non-profit, etc. that is reviewing these submissions.
If there were more “blind submissions” for Open Calls and if some commercial galleries would agree to host one annual “blind submission” call, we would dramatically increase the radius of participants beyond the pool of the usual suspects. We cannot be preaching about the principles of democracy as they apply to politics, but then play by different, more murky rules within the art sphere. That is hypocritical. And the idea of implementing more “blind submissions” is a very simple suggestion, but one that I believe is easy and realistic to apply.
When it comes to the network of artists that I suggest in the Speakeasy, I have a network in mind that is not based on a similarity of art styles, subject matter or a particular “school” or movement (for example a group of figurative painters only or a group of photographers who all work on social documentary issues). What matters is that these artists realize that they have power over the art market if they decide to work together. It is no secret that to this day a personal recommendation (usually by a more seasoned artist) can lead to an exhibition for a younger, emerging or less-established artist. In order to avoid the formation of a clique (which is the most common form of any art collective) that will only advance its own members, we have to become more generous and less selfish. And this is also the most difficult part: in short, we have to become better human beings who stop thinking “what is in it for me?” I am not naive to believe that this can be changed. All I can do is to lay out how we can begin to change the art world. As you correctly point out in your comment, there is a very resistant, stubborn unwillingness of people to change. Let’s look at healthcare, welfare, and – probably most pressing – climate change. We are letting things slide because the way things are, they work for some of us. I believe deep down most of us know that conditions have to change – no matter if it is the art world, the state of global politics, the attacks against journalism and facts, or the well-being of our planet.
I agree with you that people are very resistant and unwilling to accept change in their lives. However, it is through change that we renew ourselves and learn new coping mechanisms. Change is unsettling; it can create stress and discomfort. However, it is through change that we become problem solvers and definitely more creative, that is if we accept change and don’t refuse it. When we cannot embrace change, it’s when we suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, and ensuing depression.
Kevin McKenna who is from the Observer and is also the Executive Editor of the Daily Mail, makes several suggestions for climate change, one of which would help lower our energy consumption, and also teach us to live with less electricity: “Compulsory lights out. Every family would be required to spend one day a week without any form of energy supply. This would be monitored by smart meters and Alexa (who we all know is spying on us anyway). Not only would it make us carbon-neutral more quickly but it would engender a sense of community and family togetherness in the candlelight. It would also boost the Scottish population, which an independent Scotland requires for a buoyant economy.”
Leaving aside the tremendous issues we have with the environment, I think that it would be extremely exciting to see more blind submissions in the art world on a large scale. It would definitely lead to change in this climate of doomed culture we live in, where culture is just manufactured and put on our plates to eat as our daily diet. No hard decisions to make; we’re shown what is “good” art, and we all more or less just accept it as good. With exhibitions promoting blind submissions we would visit shows, looking forward to making discoveries, instead of already knowing what we were going to see.
Change is inevitable. There is much anxiety and resentment out there. Art is about change. A substantial problem is political correctness. In our Western Culture the critical or lone independent voice is suspect or not welcome, unless a deal is struck or it is safe socially. As Daren Jones the NY Editor wrote, the Critical Dustbowl is present in America. Serious critical discourse seems to be not possible. Unless there is a deal, this can happen in many ways; tacit agreement is usually the case. The present art world, except for dealers and collectors, suffers from cowardice, which is usually camouflaged under the shroud of good taste or the latest trendy fashion. If our culture is to be saved, artists, writers and publishers will have to play their part.
Derek Guthrie, co-founder NAE
Hi, you wrote, “If our culture is to be saved, artists, writers and publishers will have to play their part.” What about the buyers, shouldn’t they also play their part? I think people have forgotten that it is possible to fall in love with an artwork and to desire it as intensely as one would desire a man or a woman and not necessarily look at it as an investment. I think the buyers (society) today have lost their sense of aesthetics and purchase art as a commodity and not as a work of art. Artists themselves, should stop “producing” what they think the market wants or expects and start painting or sculpting again from the soul. Though, of course, this is Utopian, it would make for a much more interesting visual art environment.
Thank you for your comment and question.
I agree that the buyers have to play their part too. And you are absolutely right to point out that some buyers/collectors do it out of passion: they will only buy a work of art that resonates with them. In that case, it does not matter to them if it is a work by a well-known or entirely unknown artist. I remember reading an interview with the art critic Jerry Saltz in which he mentions that he and his wife (art critic Roberta Smith) often go to flea markets and buy most of their art there. I love that idea! But this is an exception.
I also do not want to generalize too much and make things simpler than they are: I do believe that many collectors/buyers out there care for art – whatever their motivation might be to buy art (whether it is for speculative reasons or because they truly love art). But that is also why I think that artists can’t just point to the art market and blame it for everything that is going wrong with contemporary art. Artists have some agency and they can take a look at the current situation and come up with strategies that will strengthen their position within the art market. One first step as an artist is to become more aware of power relationships within the art market, be critical of them, find other artists who think alike, get together and try to figure out what can be done to reclaim some of art market and change its dynamics: find a gallery, art-space (non-profit or artist run) or curator that you like and approach them as a group of artists, have some ideas about how you envision an exhibition, for example. Or maybe a panel discussion or an open call or a collaborative project…This is, of course, being done by artists across the globe and it is no guarantee that it will replace the art market (it won’t). But it is better than hoping that the ultimate goal for an artist is to be represented by a gallery or to be showing at an art fair.
Thank you for your comment and helpful feedback – I really appreciate it! I hope you are right: if we all start taking small steps in the right direction, maybe at the end we will actually find changed conditions that are truly more inclusive and lead to a better, healthier (art) world.
The above conversion is pertinent; we have a globalized world with a flight of money and wealth to the top 1% richest. The situation emerged with the birth of modernism. The isolation of the artist is a time-honored problem that befell the art scene around the emergence of modern art. Simply the mass public could not identify with the modern artist. Our Postmodern era has witnessed the rise of media as a political and cultural determinant. See Orwell 1984 and Animal Farm, also The Road to Wigan Pier. The American Modernist Avant–garde is fading and past its sell-by date. Somehow artists and writers are going to make their own individual case, which I see as very difficult as our culture is strangled by class warfare that we call the art world.
Derek Guthrie, co-founder NAE
I agree with your description of “class warfare” with regard to the art world, if we think of the “art world” as the world of art fairs. Just today, I saw somebody post an image of a striking Egon Schiele watercolor on Instagram that is on sale at Art Basel. My first thought was: this work should be part of the collection of a publicly accessible museum. Instead, it might end up on another yacht.
I am not sure that I agree that the “flight of money and wealth to the top 1% richest” emerged with modernism. I think it emerged with capitalism and then capitalism took hold of the art market by imitating what it was already doing in other sectors of the global economy: if there is a desire by the private sector to buy art, surely we can put something in place that will generate money even for those of us who do not really care about art. And this system works for some artists (the 1% as well).
The question then becomes: how do we (people of the arts) come up with ways to critique the art world and at the same time offer alternatives to how art fairs are covered/discussed and how the art world is much bigger and more diverse than what happens at art fairs.
Making Love To The World
“I think the most important is to be yourself.” Gehry, on the other hand, is a very special self, especially since he was a truck driver who became a world architect. The guy’s a genius, I’m jealous; I was always intimidated by architecture. Then Gehry says there’s a lot of satisfaction in finding yourself. I listen to this truck driver architect and him I believe. My own instincts lead me to think life’s about finding yourself, that’s when you do your best work. And the same thing’s in the I CHING, the Book of Changes, one of the five Classics of Confucian thought. Follow your inner voice, no matter what the cost.
What a powerful message you wrote in your comment. The problem is that technology is covering up this inner voice, meaning that many people will never find it, since their “ears” are only listening to social media or to their video games. I wonder if people under thirty even read anymore, though maybe someone will design an inspiring video game of I Ching with nice, artistic images.
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1 thought on “Letters Volume 33 no 6 July-August 2019”
In answer to Margot Fortier’s letter, I think the buyers must be educated to appreciate art, something that should start in childhood. If there is a lack of sensitivity toward the visual arts, it’s impossible to have conscientious buyers, in which case we only have people who buy art for interior decorating or even worse, just for investment purposes.