The world of art creates many ironies and clichés that in other industries do not exist. The history of art has brought us to a place where it has become a multi- billion dollar industry. The why of this I will discuss possibly in future articles but this is a given reality for all artists in today’s world. We all now exist within the framework of dollar value when a work of art is produced. As a general rule, once a work enters the public eye a dollar value is determined in some fashion whether concretely or abstractly.
I am setting the groundwork for a conversation of how the arts and artists can be manipulated and misused to the benefit of some but potentially to the detriment of an artist and the arts in general. Have you ever noticed when there is a fundraiser or some charitable something that one of the first groups to be approached are the arts? How many times have we heard, ‘would you donate a piece for our fundraiser or special cause? Usually added in is, ‘the exposure will be good for you and you can deduct the contribution on your taxes.’ One year I think I donated a total of 10 pieces for various ‘causes’ around the country. For most that would have been a year’s worth of income.
If we take this concept one step further, how many times have we been enticed or prodded to being used to revitalize a neighborhood or even a whole city? Are the arts a savior for fixing and resolving the self- serving policies of town politician’s gone wrong or economic woes for which we as artists had no say in? So you have to ask, why would those outside of the arts believe that artists are a way out of their dilemmas when all else has failed? If we take a look at this precarious belief we find some major traits that non artists and politicians feel they can exploit. Let’s be clear; this is exploitation no matter how you package the stated benefit of participation as I described in the donation example.
So riding on the back of many artists are wealthy patrons that for most artists have taken years to build and benefit from. If I can woo you to my bad little neighborhood I will have the assumption that your wealthy patron will follow you and I the developer or I the politician will benefit from all of the free work you will be doing for me that took years for you to accomplish. Maybe I can make others feel they should also be here when they ‘think’ they see your success and I can restore the market value and beyond to my real estate [your space] and the space of others to the point that you can no longer afford to be there. I say ‘job well done artist but now it is time for me to grab corporate America to take your place and pad my pockets and you have to go find another place to revitalize.You are no longer needed here.’
Manipulation at its best when it works and when it doesn’t the propagation of the cliché artist buying into the pitch of ‘the exposure will be good for you and look at the opportunity I am giving to you my friend.’ Arts Councils, believing they are promoting the arts, tend to make the worse decisions in creating public perceptions by holding ‘events’ that trivialize the history of art and reality of the present day art market. We are part of a major industry and that is power by itself. These novelty events foster this idea that artists will participate in anything to get exposure. ‘Look at what those crazy artists are doing again!’ That becomes the public perception, not a serious plan of building value, respect and real opportunity for THE ARTIST to benefit from with longevity. Artists are not Not For Profits. We, like doctors, lawyers, real estate developers etc etc have the right to business as well as personal success. We don’t need to work for free nor do we have to continuously donate our time and dollar invested work whenever we are asked. We do not have to be the saviors of any town or neighborhood. Acting in your own best interest first is a grand lesson we all must learn. They need us if we choose to participate. You do not need them and I hope this rings loud and clear.
This might sound cynical. It is cynical. We have seen this play out over and over from SOHO,Chelsea to North Adams, Beacon to LA. In today’s reality every artist can do quite well apart from the centralized art world. We do not need to take on herculean tasks of saving communities and when we think we are someone has succeeded in convincing you that their enticement into whatever it might be was for your good when all along it was in their self interest alone. Dollars. That’s all it is about. For a town it is tax base increase and for developers it is restoring and increasing real estate values. Every success eventually blows up and we begin all over again somewhere else. Bottom line is if whatever you are choosing to do doesn’t materially benefit you now and over the long run reconsider it. When someone sells ‘this will be good for you’ run for the hills. It is the red flag of manipulation; and remember you are part of a multibillion dollar industry and the clichés of the past are obsolete and they need you more than you need them.