“The life of an artist is a contradiction. We are expected to be individualistic, yet the worth of our work is judged in shared collective values. This can pose some problems when we produce something very avant-garde in the spirit of Picasso, Duchamp or Gauguin, but social defined notions of quality are often defined by whether something looks similar in style to Picasso, Duchamp or Gauguin. Spirit is irrelevant. If we are too different, then our work sits outside the square of what is socially defined as ‘good.’
We artists are subjected to expressions and sayings that advise us to disregard public tastes. For example, Vincent van Gogh said, “Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion.” If we were to take heed, I suppose we could disregard all those who like van Gogh’s quotes, and even the quote itself, which could get us in a weird kind of circular argument about whether we are being individualistic and disregarding public opinion. Bit of a head spinner that one.
Another way we could disregard public opinion is to cease caring about whether the public likes our work so that when we have exhibitions, we would not care if anyone came. I have to say that that would be odd. I can’t speak for all other artists here, but I must say that when I have exhibitions, I really don’t want to be the only one in attendance. As an exhibiting artist, I will just have to accept that I care about the public. Furthermore, even though I am not keeping with the spirit of van Gogh, I see promotional benefits in citing the media responses etc in my artists resume. (Ok, I’ll contradict myself again here, I hate the idea of an artist resume that cites positive social reaction to one’s art, but I use them anyway.)
We artists are told that we are socialists and vote for left-wing parties, yet we operate like little capitalists; selling our own work, keeping our profits for ourselves, competing for gallery openings, and competing for space in art magazines. Admittedly, we sometimes stage exhibitions together; however, the fact that these exhibitions are often marketed with clichéd words like ‘eclectic’, ‘diversity’, and ‘variety’ suggests that everyone is still doing their own thing. Furthermore, some works will find a little orange dot beside them after a sale, and a very happy artist will be smiling. Maybe they will be smiling because they now have money to buy a decent meal, but maybe they will be smiling because they are more successful than their fellow exhibitors.
Considering that it is common to hear other artists complaining that the public is too sports focussed, it might be expected that we artists might be celebrating these sales as little signs that the public does in fact like art (even if we personally didn’t get a sale.) In reality, it is more likely that the knives will be sharpened and critical comments will be uttered behind the successful artist’s back. Sales in a group exhibition definitely reveal that while all artists are equal, some are more equal than others.
I should point out that I am mainly just referring to “western” art cultures here when I say “we operate like little capitalists”. After all, I’ve experienced artist communes in China where profits are shared amongst artists, but I am told Chinese artists are repressed because they don’t have government support and don’t have ‘freedom’. I’m obviously lucky to be in Australia where only 1% of government funding for the arts actually goes to artists while the other 99% goes to organisations that allocate that 1% of funding towards those artists that they have a good relationship with. (Hmmmm, this sounds a bit like how China operates outside of the arts. The government allocates money for the people, but needs a bureaucracy to “manage” that money, which naturally promote the fact that the people want this version of Communism.)
In art, we don’t think of art’s value in monetary terms. It would be irrational if we did. For example, I once personally spent upwards of $500 to make and exhibit a sculpture involving dead fish that offended public opinion and I knew it had almost no chance of being sold. For me, the value was in the idea and I gained great satisfaction out of seeing reactions to the idea. That said, if a gallery had come along and bought it for $50,000, I can’t tell a lie, I’d be telling everyone how much the work sold for, and increasing my prices for everything else. What can I say? I like money as much as the next artist.
I suppose this is the stage in the article where I am meant to say something profound, or give the answers to these contradictions but I am not going to do that. I am not even sure if there are any answers. Perhaps I will demonstrate my individuality here by quoting the great Georges Braque:
“ Art is made to disturb. Science reassures. There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.”
If you want to see more of Chad’s work you can visit his website Lonely Colours Here.
N.B The opinions reflected in this post are those of the guest blogger and not necessarily of ArtiPeeps.
- Watch Out For Frenzy’s Flash Feature this Thursday (17th January) with Greg MacKie– your fortnightly photo-poetry combination.
- Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley kicks off again this Friday (18th January). Another great review of a classic author or work of literature.
- New Abstract artist Lili Morgan will be taking up residence on the Visitor Peep Page next week, so watch out for her.
- There will be also be our first Transformations Post on Monday 21st January which will focus on Book 1 of Metamorphoses in readiness for our Collaborative Poetry Project starting in February. See Transformations Page. There’s still time to join….Let me know @ArtiPeep or via the reply box.