I got pretty excited when I saw that a Hill & Knowlton document was making the rounds on social media. In it there is some great numbers regarding how economically fruitful culture was to Canada, and that the arts actually contributed more to our overall GDP than forestry. Forestry! Take that resource extraction based economy.
But then I read that the stats were from 2010. That’s five years ago. Now five years means nothing in terms of art’s impact and influence, I still get wobbly when I look at art work made over a thousand years ago. But five years is a long time in the life of a contemporary artist. In Canada our public gallery system is on a three year funding system so most of us have exhibitions two or three years from now in order to get into that funding cycle. Five years also marks how long many of us can show a particular body of work. It’s not too often you walk into a gallery and see contemporary work that’s eight years old. It happens but curators and dealers want new things. Five years is about the amount of time you can finish a BFA and an MA give or take a year or two. Five years can be just enough time to reflect on work made that long ago and rethink its importance to you. Five years is significant in the life of an artist.
Think for a second what you have done in the last five years. I did a residency in Yorkshire, England, exhibited there two years later plus I had thirteen exhibitions here in Ontario as well as two trips to Cape Breton for workshops and exhibiting. And that is just the art stuff I do. Add the rest of your life, like the fact that two new people were created in that time (my niece and nephew) and you’ve got a heap of busy.
Since 2010 a lot has changed in the art world. While the Hill & Knowlton document is still relevant there are many other factors by which measuring the health of the art world needs to be taken into account. 2010 marked the year that many of us who were selling our work saw our buyers completely disappear. In that time I have met artists who have gone back to school to get an MFA, moved out of places like Brooklyn because they can no longer afford to live there, watched the rise of administration and curatorial fields take up a lot of economic space, witnessed the stagnation and reduction of funding in the Canadian art world, and been a participant in activism that vies to keep art from being dragged into entropic capitalistic consumer interests.
This sea change is palpable to anyone who works in the art world and yet it is only now in the most marginal places being recognized as a potent epoch that changed anyone making art forever. Possibly the most disconcerting idea that has cropped up in this time and perhaps this has happened because of this entropic backdrop is that people are now concluding that art can be used like a service. Art has moved from individual experience to communal experience to consumer experience with end users who want to be fully engaged without commitment like they do on Facebook. I don’t blame the public for this; I blame the art world for allowing itself to be pimped up, Tweeted out and instagrammed through a vortex of commodification without any regard for its own self worth.
People fight oppression through organizing and uniting themselves. It is the only way to do it. This will never happen in our current art world. There are too many vested interests in keeping it a murky and untidy place. There are too many artists who think they are undiscovered geniuses who act like they have disdain for the mainstream but would walk a red carpet in a nano second if they got the chance. We blew it essentially.
For the next five years I plan to work toward dignity and integrity. Although sometimes I wonder why I care about artist’s rights when in fact so many of them don’t care themselves, I have to remember that I am not working for those who can afford the luxury of indifference. I work for those who do care. We are small in numbers but we are smart, creative and understand that everything can change even in five years time.
Pic from Wikipedia