Mid way through a webinar hosted by the Canada Council for the Arts an officer casually mentioned that ‘outcomes’ will be more emphasized in their #NewFundingModel which is their overhaul of how artists now apply for grants. This idea of emphasizing outcomes was never qualified so I don’t actually know what the council means. I can only surmise that the council needs to reflect its effective use of public money. The word outcome is an extremely loaded one for artists. Red flags went up all over Twitter.
I’ve never had a problem with this need to show that your work exists outside of a vacuum, it is public money after all and thus the success of the public side to what you are doing seems a reasonable thing to ask. Success meaning: that your art isn’t relegated to your basement. Beyond that however, I have over the years failed to see how knowing how many people actually saw your work constitutes success; if this is what is meant by the word outcome. There are plenty of examples of art exhibitions no one has seen but left significant impacts on our cultural community. Sometimes just discussion about the work, regardless of viewed or not enables an art community to grapple with its distinct features. You’d think that today where most of us see a lot of stuff only online that viewing at a distance would be a serious consideration for attention. Art history and its ongoing importance is dependant on us to imagine the context for when an artist lived and exhibited without ever seeing such and such exhibition in question. Regional art making is also problematic: If you live where I do, having 50 people show up to an opening is a stunning coup. In Toronto, you have failed. So, it is all relative really.
It’s never seemed to me to be the sole responsibility of the artist to find audiences anyway. No longer. In fact it now seems that you must have an audience for your work or such things as relevance and significance will not be granted to you. This has been a growing marketing idea whose time has finally come home to roost. Art as service is the goal behind all this stuff; it’s a way of making it an accessible career to those who won’t take the risk but want the rewards. With this shift, the artist is finally made to exist for the sole purpose of helping an MFA program pad their enrolment, an arts fair presenter become rich, and an internet site go viral. The ‘rugged individualism’, a concept that is fairly emasculated at this point, of the artist goes by the way of letter writing – another century’s idea.
An outcome can suggest that going into your art making process you should know how it looks, acts, works and is perceived when finished. This works great for technology; build an app that looks for constellations and then relay that information into a chart. But for painting? Make a painting that is kind of abstract but with representational flourishes so that it isn’t totally confusing, but really colourful and with trendy colours not old fashioned Prussian blues and stuff like that and the subject matter should be topical, maybe about gun violence or immigration but not so obvious that it is preachy, and it should be huge but not so big it can’t fit into an SUV and make sure that you use weird tools like butter knives and not just paint brushes. Oh and kind of make it look like a Turner water colour but also like something Bridget Riley might do. With a video you might get away with this kind of thing but a painting?
Or perhaps outcome means what kind of reaction you will get from your work. Provocateurs and artists that deal in outrage would certainly be able to fulfill a paragraph on why people might hate their work. Or maybe the outcome is a financial gain; I hope to sell this work. Teaching would certainly fit the bill for this idea; the students will know how to print on material at the end of the week.
For those of us in the long haul of working toward a lifetime of investigation, outcomes will have little relevance as they mean forcing an idea onto decades of thinking and doing. For me the outcome of my various projects would be that they get finished (which is why I am applying for money in the first place). Getting to the point where you will exhibit or present your work isn’t easily quantified. How to present publicly is an entirely new journey. Things change. Mistakes are made. Outcomes evolve. They are a mercurial, ever shifting idea to an artist and they should be. We must resist these arbiters of certainty or we shall perish without results.
If the word outcome means I am done, then perhaps the council is onto something. All other definitions bind art to an artificial construct that will short circuit the reality of creativity: a forever moving map of the soul.
Image from the Tate website.