“Someone who is highly self-aware knows where he is headed and why; so, for example, he will be able to be firm in turning down a job offer that is tempting financially but does not fit with his principles or long-term goals. A person who lacks self-awareness is apt to make decisions that bring on inner turmoil by treading on buried values.”
–Daniel Goleman, “What Makes a Leader,” Harvard Business Review, January 2004.
Recommended: an essay on freeing oneself from energy-sapping forces. It’s inspired by turning 60, but the call to preserve one’s attention for the truly worthwhile and to care for one’s emotional well-being applies at any age.
“Young(er) women, take this to heart: Why waste time and energy on insecurity? … I’m happy to have a body that is healthy, that gets me where I want to go…
What matters most is the work. Does it give you pleasure, or hope? Does it sustain your soul? …I’m too old for the dark forces, for hopelessness and despair…
Toxic people? Sour, spoiled people? I’m simply walking away… Take a pass on bad manners, on thoughtlessness, on unreliability, on carelessness and on all the other ways people distinguish themselves as unappealing specimens. Take a pass on your own unappealing behavior, too: the pining, yearning, longing and otherwise frittering away of valuable brainwaves…
My new mantra is liberating… I spare myself a great deal of suffering… goodbye to all that has done nothing but hold us back.”
money problems are the best problems to have, because when you get some money it goes away. It would be worse if I felt that the work we’re doing was irrelevant.
—Lia Gangitano, founder of alternative art space Participant Inc., as quoted by Andria K. Scott, “Consider the Alternative,” New Yorker, Feburary 16, 2015
Good advice on the art school crit, and great advice for navigating around negatrons:
“…stay away from drama queens, bastards, and bullies, even the ones who are powerful and who seem to hold the potential for your future professional advancement. …Assholes only ever help themselves.”
—Bean Gilsdorf, “Help Desk: Group Crit,” Daily Serving, July 21, 2014
Grappling with how to find a middle ground in an art career.
In the Bronx Museum AIM program, about a third of us don’t necessarily aspire or expect to be represented by a blue chip gallery, or run an art studio as a vertically-integrated business with permanent staff. At the same time, we do want something more—I think we would like to avoid still working as adjunct professors or art handlers when we’re 50. These jobs are too demanding and precarious for artistic growth and financial viability.
I’ve also spoken to undergrads about professional practices. I advised them to devise their own self-concordant goals and to be wary of adopting conventional success models not their own.
How to find a middle ground—where artists can flourish in an expensive city and an economically polarized art field—seems to be the puzzle we’re all trying to solve.
In the popular imagination, artists tend to exist either at the pinnacle of fame and luxury or in the depths of penury and obscurity — rarely in the middle, where most of the rest of us toil and dream….
The middle — that place where professionals do their work in conditions that are neither lavish nor improvised, for a reasonable living wage — is especially vulnerable to collapse because its existence has rarely been recognized in the first place. Nobody would argue against the idea that art has a social value, and yet almost nobody will assert that society therefore has an obligation to protect that value by acknowledging, and compensating, the labor of the people who produce it.
—A. O. Scott, “The Paradox of Art as Work,” N.Y. Times, May 9, 2014
Actually, there’s a small but growing contingent of us “almost nobodies” that would claim otherwise, such as the #payingartists campaign by Artist’s Network in the U.K.
For me, the issue is crystal clear: if a non-profit organization receives funds to hold exhibitions, some of those funds should go to the artists who contribute the actual artwork—without which an exhibition would not be possible. And, when artists contribute to exhibition-making with our time and labor—registration, transportation, installation, curation, writing, photo documentation, administration, etc.—we should be compensated with a fair and living wage. Larger institutions pay staff, freelancers, or outside service providers to do these tasks; funders should enable and require organizations of all sizes to pay the providers of the labor required by the institution’s programming, regardless of who it is.
Fair compensation would be a start in creating a middle ground for artists. It’s not an outlandish, and I think it’s rational and appropriate.
[Buddhist economist E.F.] Schumacher calls for economic solutions to globalization that are founded on principles of self-empowerment, self-reliance and decentralization, and local control. He advocates for decentralized working methods, or “smallness within bigness,” in which interrelated but autonomous units work together toward a greater goal. Furthermore, he presents the philosophy of “enoughness,” a Buddhist approach to economics that advocates for self-sufficiency: producing from local resources for local needs at a modest scale, appropriate for a balanced life.
—Abigail Satinsky, “Appropriate Technologies,” Art Practical, April 3, 2014
Addendum: See Christian L. Frock’s “Beyond the Studio: What Do Artists/Writers/Curators Need?” (KQED Arts, May 12, 2014).
Reading Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World* makes me want to read about who’s stories aren’t being told.
I’m enjoying Thornton’s stylized writing and insight into major institutions, but a few quotes hit a nerve with me:
Gallerist Jeff Poe:
“Takashi [Murakami] worked so hard on this painting that several staff quit.”
(What’s wrong with this sentence? What are the implications of making “Takashi” a metonym for a vertically-integrated art production empire?)
Artist Phil Collins, while a Turner Prize nominee:
“…the commercial art world … is there anywhere you could possibly feel smaller?”
(If Collins, who has significant recognition, can made to feel small in the art world, what are the psychological effects for everyone else with less power?)
In response, I envision a restorative book to tell the stories of marginalized figures in the art world, make their invisible labor visible, and reveal the fullness of their humanity denied in their roles propping up the art world, its power dynamics, ethics, and etiquette. Here goes:
Profiles would shadow subjects at their day jobs, as well as in their commutes, homes, their own art studios, and communities.
In general, I’d like to know: What is it that they do? How do you explain what you do to non-art people? What attracts about this job? What are the disadvantages of this job? How does it rank against other jobs? What are the physical tolls? The psychological or emotional ones? How much security does it offer? Where do you see yourself in 20 years? How does this job lend you power/insight/connection/meaning, or not? What is the value of interfacing with the art world in this way? Do you see yourself as part of the art world? What are your contributions? Are they adequately recognized? Does your family and community/communities participate in the art world; how, why, or why not? Ideally how would you like to participate in an art world? In the world at large?
The seven chapters would profile:
- Gallery Interns/Sitters: Young art students, their debt and their privilege, what they are learning in exchange for their unpaid labor—explicitly, and implicitly.
- Museum Guards & Custodians: Profile two or three at different museums, unionized and non-unionized. Who are they are as a group? How do they interpret the art or interact with artists? What they would recommend about museum policies and practices, such as admission, curation, engagement?
- Museum Preparators: Expose what they do. What the risks are, and how the hierarchies in museums work, and what is the gender distribution. How many are artists/musicians?
- Artist’s Assistants: Including former assistants who’ve walked off the job, and a survey of Murakami/Koons alum for example.
- Fabricators: What type of skills are required, how they feel about producing artists’ work, how they became fabricators, assuming that many went to art school for their own practices.
- Art Handlers: On a truck, in a private home collection, service entries, bars. Profile a young upstart and an old timer. Investigate the nature of male cynicism.
- Museum construction crews: Who are they, where are they from, what are their working conditions, and what they will do at the end of their contract?
Also, a section of data visualizations, including CEO vs average worker type comparison charts, and maps of art-related labor migration overlaid with globalized art fair/biennial circulation.
This would clearly take a year or more in the making. It could be a standalone book, or a series of long form essays in a periodical. I don’t have this kind of capacity, but I’d love to see this in the world‚ so I encourage others to take this idea and run with it!
*Thanks for the book trade, CLF!
Some generative, collective thoughts for transparency and against competition.
Thinking about all the things that are supposed to go unspoken in the art world, and artists’ self-preservation, and how even a teeny bit of transparency can seem risky or radical in the obfuscating art world. Our battles seem so hard won, why share any insight with others? Exactly because none of this is easy. Info and access are the easy bits, relative to good work, persistence, and longevity.
“Every interaction involves a choice between collaboration and competition, and to what degree. Eventually you have to choose the world you want to live in.”
“So much of the way that the art world is structured favors competition. Grants are competitive. … Artists compete with artists–stealing ideas instead of sharing them, or using copyright laws to guard against thoughtful re-use. Artists compete for shows in a limited number of exhibition spaces instead of finding their own ways to exhibit outside of these competitive venues. Artists conceal opportunities from their friends as a way of getting an edge up on the capital-driven competition. … This is a treadmill made from decomposing shit that is so devoid of nutrients that even its compost won’t allow anything fresh to grow. We need something better to run on. … Working toward a global network where one creates opportunities and, in turn, can respond to limitless opportunities without the pressure to compete, allows for a more generous, diverse and open art practice.”