Friday, August 20, 2010

Money for Artists!

Ok, so I do not run Soup, nor have I attended one yet, and I didn't hear about it from the New York Times but through a coworker at the DIA, but this idea is GREAT for Detroit. I am posting this picture because I've been waiting for the moment to talk in a positive and excited way about artists and money.

I hope that this will be the first in a series of blog posts about commonly misunderstood concepts about art that I would like to rectify through my personal experiences. One of the first myths being that artists don't need money... (believe it or not there are those within the art community, I will not name them here or in the future that artists in fact do better work when given no money.)

This entry is about how there needs to be more grants and funding for artists. Grants make an artistic career a viable lifestyle. It supports something that is undervalued.

First, I want to get out idea of how I believe money works for artists, as a tool, not an end in itself:

Money makes more money, which is to say, imagine a tool that can be used to build an even larger tool. There are some projects that can only be made using these tools, sometimes we envy how large someone else's tool is, but it should be known that it in the end, it as a tool, can only be used to make certain kinds of projects. Can you think of other projects that require no money that would actually be made worse if one tried to use it?

I wanted to say that money is better defined as grease, but I think grease can be broadly described as a tool anyhow.

Next, I feel like there is a tendency to avoid 'profiting' from one's art or 'Selling Out'. But then again we have plenty of tendencies to avoid business strategies that don't relate to money directly either that we hold as a stigma. Take the idea that some people don't like how 'networky' I am, they are very turned off when I get excited that I know someone who they should talk to. 
But money does not come from networking, opportunities come from networking and opportunities beget the opportunity to get attention and business people and companies and corporations all love translating attention into sales, so they will use your abilities to get attention to help them sell something, and thus give you money as part of their 'marketing strategy'. This is basically how people make money off of their websites who don't sell anything, they could even tout something completely different from the advertising that is placed on their sites. 
Sure, we'll take your money, but we'll remind our readers who are smart enough to know the difference not to buy into your sh*t. 

Also I will say that there is a limit. Creative Capital or Creative Time did a study and found that giving artists too much money can freak them out and they'll stop doing... well, anything. 20,000 dollars at a time they found was the optimal amount of money to siphon to an artist.

Chapter 2: Artists used to be really really important in society, so important they were privileged, which includes money. Arts funding reveals our priorities as a nation, and if we disagree with them (see total military budget and bank bailout compared to arts funding) we need to work towards vocalizing and changing that ratio. It also helps that we have much more freedom as an artist than there has ever been.   

I don't care how much someone tells me that Damien Hurst's art sells for too much money, people are complaining about the art market, not about the sustainability of a diverse number of artists. The art market takes care of itself, which is to say, when the economy collapses over and over again, you'll be happy to say you never got involved in buying a work of art for millions of dollars. It's not that artists are privileged people, it's just that certain artists came from privilege, and some have figured out 'the game', good for them, so what? it's not for you.  There was a reason that they were held in such high esteem, artists have historically held the crucial role having the 'critical outsider perspective' or as the romanticized wise poet that will inspire. Nowadays art is simply part of the bigger picture for many people to be an ends to a means of 'being happy'. I think all three are still valid means (and there are much more) for making art, but giving artists money seems to be a HUGE point of contention for many.


These are just of the few descriptions that are used to attack arts funding, usually by Republicans for some strange reason, although overall interestingly enough, Republicans donate more money to charities than Liberal people do.  But here are others that we rarely think about how misdirected they are:

The best most authentic art happens without funding!
Good art will eventually be funded just because it's good!
Stereotypes! Complacency!

Even some people in our field don't think much about how often they relay the stereotype of a romantic starving artist or as part of something where one would not necessarily expect to get paid for what they do.

Here comes my big point about how I think about how money (grants) affects art:

I assume that artists know they do not work in a bubble and for the most part create work with an audience in mind. When given just a little more money than they need, artists act like they have a hole in their pocket that goes straight back to the community. The more money given to artists, the more the immediate public benefits. Funding today is about trusting artists with their ideas, ideas that may be beyond present day common sense. With a little extra cash in their pocket artist 'A' can finally take that risk and do that outdoor art project they've been wanting to try, and this time with the support of their neighbors. They may feel needed especially if the money is given to them from the community itself, they feel obligated and generally put in more work than other workers are paid hourly. It's not blown on lotto tickets, even when it's used for travelling, people who have ever gone on vacation with an artist know that artists are constantly 'researching'. It's extremely annoying to those who just work hard and play hard and keep it separated.
 Artists are holistic, in that it's not about a 9 to 5 job, it can be about integrating everything that you do in your art practice and work into a lifestyle.

Part 4: This is actually all besides the fact that art actually does something. It has a detectable role!!!

Here is the definition of art that I liked a whole lot that I found in Rachel's anthropological textbook:
 Although difficult to define, art may be understood as the creative use of the human imagination to aesthetically interpret, express, and engage life, modifying experienced reality in the process. 

Now someone tell me how money could affect this process in a negative way... 
Isn't it possible that if more money were given to artists for projects they would be able to have more diverse ways to aesthetically interpret, express or engage  life. 

It is necessary to fight against a cultural view of the artist as a maker of things that are exclusively aesthetic. Artists lead the way. Artists question flaws of what is considered 'normal' and create an abundance of alternatives, innovative ideas and everything that cannot simply be reduced to monetary value.
Idea #5, Case Studies: So then why do we find artists in poor neighborhoods making great art? Don't the arts thrive within having 'nothing' to work with it? Isn't creative ingenuity more likely to happen to have when all you have is your creative energy?

If we replace the word artists with 'optimists' there is far more that can be said about a good fit. An optimistic person sees plenty to work with in the most challenging situations and many opportunities for creating something that has never been tried. When an area begins to develop and good things begin to happen, new optimistic people move in, making it so that... well... the original optimistic person may not be the MOST optimistic resident. They in a way, they may not be needed, and they would know it first. So they move on, in search of a new challenge. 

This may explain why a building designed to house artists end up housing people who enjoy the lifestyle of artists and may even paradoxically be the type that normally supports the arts but find themselves part of the gentrification of a particular area. Now if the art is good or not that comes out of this area post-gentrification compared to the 'original' artists, this may be a matter of cycles. Who's to say that the kids of the gentrification generation end up going to art school and being inspired since living in such an art-laden city. Should we tell these kids, sorry, someone famous has already put this place on the map, everything you make will always be second rate. I believe this may have more to do with another romanticized notion that the artists overcame so much to create REAL art. 

If you want to start an interesting case study, we should look at the amount of artists that come from dentists that work in the Midwest. Why do so many of their kids become artists? They need to be studied! And when we crack what the secret is we can produce more artists, instead of the conditions that make great art.

Here are some links that have inspired this post:

1 comment:

soundandthewords said...

Cedric! I wanted to let you know that I truly believe in paying artists and grants. It's one of the reasons I work so hard at my job. Here's a link to one of our grant programs - - too bad you don't live in Orlando :)