Sunday, April 23, 2006

Preserving America's Cultural Heritage

No this isn't some right wing call for defending the legacy of Christopher Columbus! This is a new draft Bill being proposed for Congress and is the brainchild of artist Jeffrey Vallance of the California College of the Arts. For the full details go to the homepage for the project.

The idea is to support all working artists living in the United States! Having watched the NEA and the NEH be regularly gutted over the last years and seeing how a small percentage of artists get to have a piece of the big economic pie shared by dealers, collectors and auction houses (and just a tiny fraction at that)- I'm more than happy to see this ambitious proposal. The idea presented is that the arts are a civil responsibility and that artists deserve to benefit from an effective infrastructure that recognizes visual artists based on a commitment to their career not based on their content. They've done their homework. This isn't some 'feel good about creativity' bullshit. The econometrics are there, the research is there and the case for historic need are there. This is a worthwhile effort so I encourage everyone to learn about this and try to support it in some way.

As cited on LeisureArts last week, there needs to be a broad goal of growing economic access for artists like this draft bill addresses. LeisureArts proposed a degree that focuses on how to actually create capital streams for investment in art. I think this is smart, because artists are at the bottom. There are only a few servicable systems to support artists globally that will be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing world economy-
[ex. Artist Pension Trust, H.R.1120, CA Civil Code 986, The Art and Collectibles Capital Gains Tax Treatment Parity Act, EU subsidies] but many of these are in their infancy and unproven.We will be forever in some kind of serfdom without new models for survival.

I was just having this discussion with an artist on a train to Hudson, NY yesterday. We were mentioning how the subjects of the Art Market, economic viability, the role of dealers and the MFA mess were all hot topics - continuously on line for some time now. That people feel frustrated for the most part in reconciling career and art - and in every way that can be interpreted. We took all the pejorative jabs we could muster at all of our real and imagined villains, from the Wall Street nouvea riche to curatorial studies, but the sad truth kept coming back to us that artists do come in last -across the board: musicians, dancers, writers,etc.
All the 'stuff' is mostly built on our backs and yet the artist rarely gets to benefit beyond the 1 sale with a 50% cut (or worse, pennies for a word).

Yo, there's no royalty check coming from Christie's!

What a great value for everyone else. What other industry gets a 'product' which they put no R&D into, provide no manufactuing costs (I know there are exceptions here, but few) and yet get half of the consignments sales! And then have 25 artists on there roster so no one gets a show, save for every 2 years! We talked about the need for artists to start reclaiming some things for themselves - take a little back from the dealer and the curator - start finding Direct routes to the market, direct routes to each other. Its an interesting proposition to undertake I think. How does the artist go direct? Can you circumnavigate the gallery infrastructure? is it wise to do so? Are Web sales the answer? Should you hire your own PR? Can you create alliances/economic blocks with other artists and incorporate curatorial participants and non-practioners? These are real questions to consider.

As an aside, my friend brought up an interesting point that curating in the past was done by art historians which is no longer the standard. That is a big shift in itself. Its not to say that an art historian is any good at curating, many are lousy, and inferior to less academic curators, but it does say that the intent of curating has changed a great deal. I still argue that there is vital need for the curator as well as the art critic within this mutant of an equation,
but one does wonder how these shifts are affecting the pecking order and therefore the economic life line of the artist. (More on curating perhaps later)

Artists have to reassert themselves at the center of the equation more than they have in the recent past. They have to create economic independence so that ART can continue being relevant. Make the Public!


Lisa Hunter said...

Well, poets probably have it worse than visual artists, but your point is well taken. The gutting of the NEA came on top of earlier decisions to cut school funding for the arts.

Maybe part of the problem is the commercialization of art. At some universities, new MFAs probably make more than new MBAs, which gives a false impression that market forces alone can support the arts. (And of course, there's the popular romanticized image of the Starving Artist who doesn't need money to make great art. And, of course, the polarized politicians who can always find some type of government-sponsored art that will get tax payers riled up.)

highlowbetween said...

Hi Lisa - yes Poets, a truly ignored 'sect'. That's an important observation you make that the highly successful new MFA distorts the market perception.
Its easier to embrace the starving myth because to do otherwise would acknowledge the need for artists in our society.
Why would an artist want a family or a house? They're Crazy artists? they like poverty !