Friday, May 28, 2010

Print, the Media, and Equilibrium

Roberta Smith says of MoMA PS1's Greater New York: "It pays lip service to all of the touchstones of the moment: collective art making, the ephemeral, audience participation, political subject matter, art as life, art as documentary, art as social interaction" (NYTimes, May 27). I find myself wondering if lip service is key here; rarely do I see art in such sanctioned spaces that is a real social and political response to the contemporary American landscape. I have been joking about my Five-Year Art Crisis as I re-assess my art practice, the momentum of academic systems that have rewarded me in certain regards (though I remain in the fiscally untenable position of practicing as an independent scholar as well as artist) and the contexts within I would ideally work. And I find that the politics I hold dear thrive best in less sanctioned spaces.

Still I turn the idea of equilibrium around in my mind, as the theme of next year's Southern Graphics Council conference. Like so many things in my life, running the art conference circuit doesn't make sense. I pay out of my own pocket to go, and it's not clear what kind of professional rewards I reap. But what continues to compel me is the notion of bridging this gap between the Print Community (I use caps facetiously; how do we determine which communities of people creating prints receive this title?) and the activist print community. And equilibrium seems the perfect umbrella under which to consider how artists approach a world that seems increasingly out of balance.

Being an activist is to take an approach of hope and optimism, however dark the world appears. Creating activist art is an act of faith in the power of imagery to sustain social movements. Rebecca Solnit refers to the narrative we tell as activists, reminding us that our arguments and efforts to spread information are aided by telling the story in as many and as compelling ways as possible. To be an activist is to take the position that we the people have control over the spread of information, that we can change public discourse. This is why narrative and graphics become crucial to any campaign. We can no longer trust the media to tell our stories for us. We cannot show up to protest and expect the media to meet us there. We have to change the information landscape, reshape it, redraw the maps we use to guide our lives. This is where the multiple comes into play. This is why I believe in it with ardent fervor. How else do you battle corporate media than by making your image countless times in an attempt to counter-balance their narrative?

So with that in mind, I invite any references to print artists addressing these concerns--that of the media, and of trying to restore balance in the narrative of our society.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Art, Business, and the Revolution

Admission #1: When I propose a presentation, I have no idea what my conclusion will be.
Admission #2: When I put together a panel discussion, I have a point in mind that I secretly want my panelists to make. Often the panelists have their own ideas--which is fantastic. I’m not attached to how we reach an outcome, as long as that outcome rocks. I wouldn’t trade in the discussion that happened at the Southern Graphics Council Conference panel I moderated, Resisting the Remarque, for anything. But I admit that I secretly wanted to talk more explicitly about art economies that are resisting capitalism than about the social content and context of the artwork at hand.

The party line seems to be that most artists are terrible at marketing their work—except when they’re not, in which case we deride them for clearly being more interested in marketing than in art—and then, that we need to overcome our sense that it is somehow wrong to, or that we are undeserving of, making money from our work.

Case in point: Manya Scheps’s May 18 article on the Philadelphia Weekly Arts and Culture site, “Good or Bad? Picasso Painting Sells for $106M.” Scheps’s take is that instead of deriding the sale as a waste of money, artists should take heart that people are still buying art, and should become participants in the market, stating that: “while small-market artists can’t eliminate the disparity between ultra-rich collectors and themselves, they can steer it in a way that is mutually beneficial.” Frankly, I’m unsure how precisely Scheps thinks one can ever view disparity as mutually beneficial. But more to the point, I’m tired of the idea that artists must embrace the market and let go of their idealism and/or market phobias, as if a resistance to the market could never be a decided form of resistance to the capitalist economy that would appear to rule all decision-making within American society, both socially and politically. Recently selected Republican nominee for Senate for Kentucky, the Tea Party affiliated Rand Paul, stated on primary night, “capitalism is freedom, it means the freedom to voluntarily exchange goods, and retain the fruits of your labor” (as quoted by Kate Zernike in the May 19 NYTimes), seeming to conflate our economic system with our system of government. Admittedly this is an understandable mistake, according to the way things play out, but not one you want your government officials to be stating outright. The other problems with this statement I won’t bother to break down here.

Chief Cultural Officer of the City of Philadelphia Gary Steuer blogged yesterday about the book What Poetry Brings to Business. Again, I tire of these efforts to bring together the worlds of art and business. One would think that in the wake of the recent economic meltdown and the ongoing uncovering of the absolute venality of those running our financial system, it would be okay to be a bit suspicious of our economic system—not just of “the big banks” but of the structure of capitalism itself, and the social mores we’ve brought up alongside it.

I don’t object to artists selling their work, particularly as, no matter what our ideals, we find ourselves here trying to survive within a capitalist system. However, I would encourage us, artists and non-artists alike, to think about making a livelihood from our work, rather than about making money from our work. This gives us space to carve out alternative values in thinking about the quality of our lives, to explore economies such as gifting and bartering, and to see our position as artists-outside-the-blockbuster-echelon as a potential site of power and reclamation to redefine the ways we create a livelihood through our work practice.