Wednesday, November 25, 2009

the artist as public intellectual

I received a blurb about the upcoming fairs in Miami that went something like this:

" the return of decadence to Art Basel Miami Beach this year just might signal the economy’s comeback"

I'll pass on the decadence and the spin that this is a good thing for us. I would rather have more of the following on display in Miami.

The essay puts [Edward] Burtynsky’s work not in the context of art history, but in the context of research on recent environmental scholarship. It indirectly makes a powerful case for including artists among the ranks of our most significant public intellectuals. It aggressively pushes art out of the contemporary art ghetto and places it in the mainstream of discourse on the future of our planet. (

Via Hrag Vartanian

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Significant Objects

I'm betting that the plastic bottle may be the greatest signifier of our lost age. I hope I'm wrong but the ubiquity of the form says it will be major player for future archaeologists as they formulate their past.

Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker created the Significant Objects project earlier this year to prove the theory that a writer could invest an otherwise worthless object with value by making up a story about it. The objects are sold on Ebay and the proceeds go to the writer. Some have chosen to give the earnings to a favorite charity or cause. Reading the provenance of these odd artifacts of our consumer history is quite entertaining and gives a solid example of how alternative histories can easily make their place.

Prior Significant Object contributors include Maud Newton, Colson Whitehead, Aimee Bender, Jennifer Michael Hecht, William Gibson, Laura Lippman, Lizzie Skurnick, Nicholson Baker, Stephen Elliott, Todd Levin, Ben Greenman, Terese Svoboda, Shelley Jackson, Rosecrans Baldwin, Katharine Weber, and Matthew Battles.

hat tip: Maud Newton
image: Pink Horse
The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Kate Bernheimer,
has ended. Original price: $1. Final price: $104.50.

Monday, November 16, 2009

how does your state compare to CA?

Here's a Pew map comparing California's economic disaster with the rest of the union. Not positive news for the South West.

Via Kaus, Kevin Drum

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shockwave Riders: Collective Intelligence & TransDisciplinary Pedagogy

The following is being hosted by Parsons this weekend. An incredible list of participants. I'm going!

Shockwave Riders: Collective Intelligence & TransDisciplinary Pedagogy

A symposium on technology and education organized by the
School of Design Strategies (SoDS) Parsons The New School for Design

NOVEMBER 14, 2009, 12 Noon – 7 PM; Open to the public

“…cultural delta can be loosely described as the rate of change imposed
upon culture/society by the speed and depth of new technology.”
-from an online exegesis of Charles Stross’ novel Accelerando

Contemporary models of systems and cities rely increasingly on ‘multi-agent based’ modeling tools and theories, using digital techniques to analyze real world situations and propose design solutions. At the same time, radical and unanticipated forms of public space, communication, and subjectivity are emerging in the technologically mediated spaces of today’s cities.

It can be argued that an information and economic revolution is taking place due to these theoretical and practical changes, through the emergence of crowd-sourced collective intelligence, global swarm urbanisms, new disruptive economics ['wikinomics'] and ultimately the formation of a global political ‘multitude’- with commensurate revolutions catalyzed by these changes cascading across all cultural and political domains.

This symposium marks a continuation of the School of Design Strategies’ work to map out the ways in which emerging forms of social media, global information exchange and new models of pedagogy meet, and it brings together thought leaders from architecture and urban design, the business world, new media entrepreneurs, and media / culture theorists, to discuss and dispute the consequences of technological change in the next decade and outline strategies for developing a design and design-education models that can meet the challenges ahead.

• Ed Keller, Parsons SoDS, organizer and moderator
• Ben Bratton, UCSD & the Culture Industry
• Jamer Hunt, Parsons SoDS, Chair of Urban and TransDisciplinary Design
• Katherine Von Jan, KvJ & Co
• Mark Leiter, Nielsen, President of Professional Services
• Geoff Manaugh- BLDGBLOG and Contributing Editor WIRED UK
• Warren Neidich, TU Delft
• Daniel Perlin, Artist, Writer and Sound Designer
• Roland Snooks, Columbia GSAPP, UPenn and Kokkugia
• Cameron Tonkinwise, Parsons SoDS, Chair of Business Design and Sustainability
• Kazys Varnelis, Columbia GSAPP Network Architecture Lab and AUDC

Time & Location:
12 Noon – 7 PM
School of Fashion, Parsons The New School for Design
560 Seventh Avenue, NY NY 10018

Monday, November 09, 2009

regarding the artist's exhibition postpartum

Christopher Reiger has some substantial thoughts about dealing with feelings of disconnection after a solo exhibition.

I discussed my condition with a writer friend, and her hypothetical explanation of the solo show funk is convincing, at least with respect to my experience of the malady. She contends that, before the solo show, the artist works happily in the studio because he is fully present in his creative labor. In this "process mode," the artist understands the artwork and the art-making as an extension of self, a soulful and intimate activity. Once the artwork is displayed in a commercial gallery, however, the artist must conceive of the artwork anew. In the "product mode," the art is commodified and abstracted, effectively reduced to paper currency, worthless without social consensus. In transitioning from studio space to market space, the artist has crossed over a Hermetic boundary, leaving behind the eroticism of Eros for the commercial quantification of Hermes.

Continue reading at Hungry Hyaena

Image: Christopher Reiger

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why Are Artists Poor ?

I’ve been trying to read more sources regarding notions of value and systems of exchange in both expired societies and our own. A year of scraping by can remind you about the importance such primary questions.

Most artists assume that economic success will be fleeting if not outright unattainable. The current economic downturn after the gilded oughts serves as a stern reminder to the vast majority of artists. If you’ve been an artist for any amount of time you must have come to the cynical observation that the economics feel more like a pyramid scheme than a means to earn a living. A very small number at the top seem to hold almost all of the wealth. The tens of thousands of practitioners who keep missing the booms and bubbles are often waiting for the trickle down affect. It’s an ugly reality that contrasts sharply with general assumptions that the Arts represent progressive values and open mindedness. The Artworld likes the idea that it is a platform for societal critique, boundary breaking and intellectual rigor but often these aspirations appear to be nothing more than window dressing for an economic structure that creates more destruction than anyone wants to admit to. Although many of us have more than enough anecdotal evidence of economic disparity, there seems to be little factual analysis on the subject despite the fact that billions of dollars are generated annually.

Why Are Artists Poor? (authored by Hans Abbing), a visual artist and professor of Art-Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. The basic premise of the book is timely: in the world of contemporary art, the poverty of artists is misunderstood. This isn’t just some starving artist cliché perpetuated by the society at large but a blind spot within the community itself.

excerpt from the book review:

“Why Are Artists Poor?” explores the panoply of truisms about the art market, the role of the state, the public, and the attitudes of artists themselves. Abbing proposes a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on the insights of economics, sociology, and psychology. Briefly, he argues that art is shrouded in a pervasive mystique, but that the economy of art is also unique, resembling no other sector of production. The argument is based primarily on a study of the West (Europe, U.K., the Americas), though Abbing feels that his broader conclusions apply equally to the situation in Asia.

In fact, the poverty of artists is a recent phenomenon, with numbers increasing dramatically since WWII. A study of Holland indicates that the vast majority of artists (77%) are living at or below subsistence levels, and cannot make a living from art alone. A second job is necessary, and it typically generates twice the income of the art job. A graph of total income distribution of the artists in Abbing’s study resembles an asymptotic curve, with fewer than 1% at the top who are extraordinarily well off. Paradoxically, with the increase of prosperity in the industrialized nations, the number of impoverished artists has increased as well. Abbing argues that these developments are, in fact, connected.

In economic terms, this suggests an oversupply of artists, but unlike other sectors of the economy, artists do not quit. That they seemingly “cannot do otherwise”, leads Abbing to his first claim: the economy of the arts is exceptional. The usual mechanisms of supply and demand do not function. The question is: why not? Why do people become artists, knowing their compensation will be poor, and why don’t they quit when they have trouble surviving?

A dizzying number of reasons are interrogated and, unsurprisingly, money, fame, and recognition are not decisive factors. The most fundamental explanation for Abbing turns upon a sense that “art is special”, i.e., that to be involved in the art world with a capital-A is a special activity, that artists are driven not merely by their urge to create, but almost by a sense of social obligation. Since the nineteenth century, the practice of art has become a mode of authenticity. Many non-artists tend to see artists as somehow more authentic than themselves. This desire to give expression to an “authentic self” seems to be one of the main forces that attract young people into the arts.

Logically, one would expect that putting more money into the arts, either via state support or other forms of subsidy, would alleviate the poverty of artists. In fact, the opposite seems to be true: the number of poor artists actually increases. To understand why, Abbing distinguishes three groups: a small group who are not poor; second, poor artists, but seen from outside, seem that they “could have” avoided poverty; third, artists who are altogether poor, with the majority belonging to these latter two groups. The third is in the danger zone, but both second and third share a common work ethic: when money comes in, they invest it into their art, buying more equipment, putting more hours into their art job, etc. Their economic condition remains unchanged.

Continue reading at Tokyo Art Beat

Review by M. Downing Roberts

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Artists and the Economic Recession

I saw this item last week over at Winkleman's blog regarding the recession and the numerous takes on "where are we now". Some positive observations on the fairs and the gallery situation here in New York. What interested me the most however is the survey Ed linked to. I took the survey and found it comprehensive so I've pasted below the relevant details and encourage artists to take the survey and pass it along to others.

via Winkleman:

Enter Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) [link via the Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America] who have posted an online survey to help gather exactly such data:
Welcome to the Artists and the Economic Recession Survey

Is the recession over for you, or still going strong? As an artist, the conditions you face in this current economic climate should be heard and addressed. The Artists and the Economic Recession Survey invites you to share your experience. This survey is being conducted by Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a ten-year national initiative to improve conditions for artists, and supervised by Helicon Collaborative and Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

There is strength in numbers.

LINC has been working with organizations around the country to distribute the survey…but we want to make sure we reach the widest range of artist voices possible, especially artists who may not be part of formal organizational networks. Reaching as many artists as possible improves the quality of this important research, and better equips everyone who advocates for artists and the arts.

In addition to completing the survey yourself, could you forward this to every artist you know?

Completing the survey takes about 15 minutes, and it is offered in both English and Spanish. All responses will be completely anonymous. If you have already taken the survey, please do not take it again. If you complete the survey, you will have the opportunity to enter a drawing for one of four $100 prizes.