Not For Sale: The Interdependency of Art and Commerce
by Jacob Hicks
From the fertile crescent to the contemporary moment, the development of art has been and will remain bedfellow to commerce, as is the case with the development of every other form of civilization. The bodies of cultural advancement do not evolve autonomously, but through systematized interaction and reciprocity with opposing and parallel forms, this being in spite of academic desire to isolate and purify individual fields of study against the grumbling messy maw of collectivity and interdependence (a butterfly flaps his wings in Argentina, and all the connected chaos that that implies).
To address such a mess, I organized a showing of artists, mostly painters, whose work was united in its reflection of a form of art rooted in a deep, personally wrought understanding of craftsmanship, creativity, patience and concept, i.e., in thought and education.
For the exhibition I extended an invitation to seven (including myself) writers and artists to consider and share their subjective notions of the relationship between capitalism and art: the good of it, the bad of it, and the ugly. What follows are selections from the response essays.
Not For Sale: Notes on Being an Artist in Precarious Times
How does commerce sublimate expression? Are we, as artists, bound to the ‘rules’ of the art world we’ve inherited? And how easily do we forget those who passed only recently before us that sought a different way?
If art is a long, often uncertain, yet ultimately fulfilling calling then we must remember that that essence cannot be sold. And it is that same essence which enables art to constantly reset boundaries and enlarge definitions. Our connection to that essence might flicker and fade as the endless generation of the art world grinds on and as art schools churn out graduates. Many are taught the rules of the game but so few of us dare to change it. But not accepting the game is the only way to change it.
There is something to be said of the old moniker of the ‘starving artist.’ Not that we should or need to starve to be creative, but if put another way ‘starving artist’ says creative success before commercial success. The ‘starving artist’ connotes single-mindedness, the devotion to creating an experience that is beyond what can be found in our world.
” Without the urgent intention of reconstructing the beholder’s view of things, the image has no reason to exist, much less to be beautiful. ” Dave Hickey, Enter The Dragon.
Art’s gift is something beyond the material and perhaps in this quote Mr. Hickey has provided a baseline for the conditions of creation. It is a challenge, reminding us that our creations live in the world first (a world full of people,) and the market second.
Not For Sale: Thoughts on Art, Self, Society, and Commodity
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”-Walter Scott
As a painter I find an inescapable point of dissolution at the core of my practice. What I make is…
A) my route to a personal betterment, an avenue of reflection on the physical, social, political, and historical, a way to explore existence, to ponder questions, to find answers,
B) the making of a physical thing which observes and takes on the principal interests of the enfranchised world.
I paint to liberate myself, to find proximity to freedom in a visual language unencumbered, but I end up with a commodity, something I must profit from to continue. For anyone who suggests I stop painting, I cannot. My internal drive for the freedom painting affords me is only satiated by this language I am mastering, which in turn is only satiated by the profit I can derive from it.
The extended embrace post-modernity shares with commerce is very interesting. Many canonical contemporary artists-Takashi Murakami, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst-operate under the factory model of production, claiming their medium as commerce. Their model of operation, the profit derived, the workers disadvantaged (artists, craftsmen), suggest this is not an active critique of corporate culture, but a proliferation of it.
In 2010, the German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann installed 100,000 one dollar bills along the walls of the special exhibition room at the Guggenheim Museum. The money was every dollar awarded him by Hugo-Boss for his exemplary career and achievements. The room rippled in the most minor of breezes, and invited the desire to touch everything and take something. This exhibition served as a wonderful reminder of the power with which we imbue money.
In the face of contemporary viability, the market’s desire for consistency in production, our deep desire for success, stability, and continuation, how do we as artists hold to our personal visions? Art is personal liberator and educator as well as product and perpetuator.
It ties us to the means and modes of man at the same time that it wants to free us completely. Our challenge is to stay free.
Essay Three (Visual):
Not For Sale: The Lives of the Saints
Saint Philip K. Dick
Born in 1928 in Chicago, Illinois. Writer of science fiction novels. Patron Saint of Paranoia. Survived by selling stories to magazines and eating horse meat purchased from a pet store. Died of a stroke at age 53.
Saint Henry Darger
1892 – 1973
Born in 1892 in Chicago, Illinois. Painter, author, and protector of children. Patron Saint of Squalor. Produced three novels and hundreds of paintings while working as a school custodian. At the time of his death in 1973 no other human being had seen his work.
Saint Vincent Willem van Gogh
Born in 1853 in Zundert, Netherlands. Painter. Patron Saint of Isolation. Sold only one painting during his lifetime. Died of a self-inflicted gun shot to the chest.
Saint William Blake
Born in 1757 in London, England. Painter and Poet. Patron Saint of Visions. Ignored during his lifetime, and considered mad. Died in 1827 and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Not For Sale: Preserving The Artist
I know the focus of the following essay, if one could call this an essay, is meant to be on the development of consumer culture in the art world. Well, this will not be that, or at least not directly. With some shame I admit I have little to say on the art world as a subject, seeing as I hold it in far less regard than many. Sure I feel strongly about multi-millionaires who would rather spend incredible amounts of money on a few Andy Warhol’s than support dozens of working artist for the sake of making a killing on their big investment. But that discussion can wait. For the time being I rather focus on what strikes me as a more pressing matter. That is consumer culture in so far as it influences the practice of artists, and their interpersonal relationships to one another. Without laying down some primary foundations as individual artists, how can we hope to have any meaningful disposition to the greater community?
No museum, school, gallery, or studio is safe from the entropy of consumer culture. Everything it touches seems to be reduced to a homogeneous monotony of cash value. Even among our peers we artists run into those who immediately value the quality of our practice by the quantity we earn from it.
We have to stop, take a deep breath, and let go of the pride, and the shame. We stand before the thresholds of richer existence, but before crossing we have to do the very thing that those who profit the most from consumer culture fear the most. We have to be content in our condition. Art can help us do this.
Quality matters too, and must be re-introduced to the dialogue when discussing the merits of art. Now you may be wondering what the point would be of making sincere art that no one ever sees. This is a valid concern. We are all trying to connect in meaningful ways to one another. Without the development of interpersonal relationships life loses its meaning. To this I say, trust your hunger. That starvation, that pit in your gut, that deep dissatisfaction, that haunting need to experience what is beyond the typical, and the ordinary, and let it drive you. Find those experiences and carry them forward through your art because our culture, like our citizens, looks fat externally while starving for nutrition internally. It would be arrogant to believe that one is so unique that others are not longing for the same sustenance. Take comfort in knowing that we are not as special as our elementary educations taught us, and put a little trust in the possibility that self affirmation may not be self alienation.
After all, are we not all here tonight, as a collection of nobodies and maybe some near somebodies, marginalized and pushed by rising expenses to this basement, never less celebrating in human creation? Isn’t that too success?
Essay Six (Visual):
Not For Sale: Art and Commerce, Uneasy Bedfellows
Lily Koto Olive
Art and commerce have always been uneasy bedfellows. The balance between creating art and surviving as an artist is a bitter skirmish. Unless you are one of the lucky few born into an existing support system, there will always be endless financial hurdles to confront. Art production costs to attain necessary supplies in order to bring ideas into fruition are extremely burdensome and wallet draining. Stagnation due to attempts to work and pay off massive accrued debt from outrageously high education costs can be debilitating for some. Creative paralysis is not an uncommon plight; one I have both experienced personally and seen happen time and time again to many of my undergraduate and graduate school colleagues as they struggle with these financial burdens post-graduation.
Unlike many countries in the EU, the United States unfortunately has shown that it doesn’t place much value on investing in our culture nowadays. Arts funding constantly faces increasing cut backs. Non-profit organizations, museums and public arts programs struggle to find ways to stay afloat. Benefactors still donate, but not as much as a decade ago; the US economic collapse that coincided with 9/11 and the tragedies and costs of the Iraq war have overextended the US budget way past its limit. The lack of federal funding for these key supporters of emerging artists means less support for young artists. Breaking into an arts career can seem very daunting.
At the end, we as artists create luxury goods, items that most people can live without. The art world teaches us more and more that to break into the commercial art world, you must tirelessly work to achieve inside connections and cohorts who are willing to take a chance to help your career. In order to meet these art world professionals and get started on the path of networking and investigating, you really need to be stationed in an urban environment, such as Paris, London, Berlin, LA or NYC, which comes along with impossibly high costs of living not conducive to fostering an emerging arts career.
There are many other avenues to gain support. Starting collectives, curating your own shows in pop-up spaces, and meeting your own collectors are all great. While the commercial art world can really assist an emerging artist, we are not at the mercy of it. With a bit of creativity and tireless focus, you can help pull yourself forward without waiting for opportunities to be given to you. The key is never giving up your faith in yourself and your work. You have to keep believing that you can make and create your own path artistically.
“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.” – Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses.