All posts by blogcabinbyvic

artist, writer, sometimes poet, website/social media developer

Get a job

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Years ago in Ontario we ushered in a new conservative provincial government who brought with them something called the “Common Sense” revolution. As I was young and lived a fairly unstable lifestyle I noticed this government’s action’s consequences over time – the most damaging of which have never been resolved. Almost half my friends in my art community quit or took teaching jobs. The rest of us struggled on. Some moved away from a city like I did. Some left the country.

In the years following many of us tried to figure out how best to live our lives under a new paradigm where we all had to become art-terpreneurs, use small business as a winning example of how to be an artist (“you make product don’t you?” I was told) and be shoved through the degrading vortex of Richard Florida’s “creative cluster” zeitgeist. We were held up as an example of how to gentrify our city’s neighbourhoods and told over and over and over how much money the arts contributed to the overall economy. We were an economic engine! Oh goody, I even used the phrase myself.

Our recent exhibition in Toronto. Here is where we engage with what I am going to start calling ‘defiant beauty’.

Meanwhile in my universe incomes plummeted. And lots of peers scrambled back into academia where the thought was that at least there would be steady income. Now the art world runs on academic fumes; art galleries have given over to DJs & nightclubs, and the contemporary work being made seems to be about tech or a sociological context in which talk, consensus, convergence, conversation, and more talk seems to loom larger than anything hanging on a wall or sitting in the middle of a gallery. Language and ideas reign in the new contemporary field. For the rest of us not welcome in this new world order – we just tried to hang onto our studios and hoped for the best.

What we should have all been doing is safeguarding our art worlds against the tyranny of ideologues. We should have been shoring up public support and public money (not grant and council money but actual private sector money in the form of people purchasing art). We should have spent our time not aggressively making our supporters test themselves against a changing world – we should have spent our time reassuring them about art and its importance. We should have spent our time creating more art supporters not more artists.

Ahh but I learned in therapy not to ‘should’ people. As a community the arts in Canada has always worked in an uneasy balance between socialized ideals and nurturing millionaire art stars. I think however things began to get a bit lopsided when the Chair of the Canada Council started calling themselves a CEO. Remember when being a CEO was cool and now it’s public enemy #1? That didn’t take long.

But where to go from here? In Ontario we are now on the verge of a new “common sense” revolution in the form of a new conservative government, although their motto now is “Poor? Get a job.” Their transparent love of hate seems to be a selling point. Yes, and that is where we are in civilization, being run to a certain extent by people who think compassion, justice, fairness is all part of some liberal conspiracy to make everyone gay. And there are Nazis again now too.

Art now for who or what? I guess most of us have just reconciled ourselves with the fact that we will not be saved. We must survive. What gives me hope is the fact that many of my peers who have just steadily continued to work at what they do have gotten very, very good. This may be an epoch of ‘defiant beauty’ – I can only speak for painting at this point. All this “the world is ending, the world is ending” isn’t really having a negative impact on the work. And it never did.

I think the artists who just enjoy their work, make it regularly and do their best to get it out there for people to see are real leaders in this cultural climate. The hope is in the art – it always has been, it always will be.

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for Anthony

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide still sits inside me and shifts around as I move it backward and forward in my heart. His book and the one that changed his life from obscure kitchen lackey to major travel/foodie superstar is Kitchen Confidential, one of my favourite reads this century. I am now watching Parts Unknow in chronological order as I don’t get CNN and have never, ever watched that channel. As I watch him now, his haunted, lanky looks seem to be both a part of the world and not as he tries to inhabit places where real people live and eat. Even though you can tell through time his dress, luggage and everything got decidedly upscale, his love for the equality between the street and the temple was an embedded compass he brought everywhere. He always seems uncomfortable but delighted by the surprises and pleasure eating with other people can bring. He is at his best when among journalists, writers and thinkers as he himself is part of the club; a wonderful writer and philosopher who could probably tell you more about the world than any Phd. expert.

Upon reaching the summit of a temple in Myanmar his companion, one of the world’s greatest chef’s remarks at how special the view is, how holy and monumental it all is and imbued with spirituality. Bourdain responds by saying perhaps but also there must have been loads of slave labour involved in creating it. It is this world view that may have caused his eventual mortal decision, but it is also this kind of world view that for me is essential to understanding who we are as a species and where we are going. It now occurs to me that I have been underestimating my passion for who he was, what he stood for but mostly for what he said. While his shows were scripted by him, he was smart enough and creative enough to understand how to make spontaneous moments matter. He allowed himself to be in the moment on film. As you watch Parts Unknown you become aware at what a gift this is that we are left with.

This a great book.

Bourdain worked in restaurants for over 20 years before he wrote his first book and never made money until he was almost 50. For alternative types who are slow starters his journey is proof that youth isn’t necessarily the best place to shine. His age is very much a part of what made him so relatable; somewhat grumpy, a complete grasp of his capabilities and lack of, humble and honest about his origins, and a stoic perseverant spirit that  knows that life unfolds in front of you and choice is all you have. He was a grown up. A real one. Hard drinking, former drug abuse and righteous sarcasm aside, knowing one’s faults and still showing up is the hallmark of maturation. Bourdain exemplified this in spades.

It may seem curious to some that I have chosen to laud a celebrity chef here in my little art blog as opposed to some inspiring artist or creative team. Unfortunately, I find that career-oriented curators and academia leaning art work uninteresting. I say unfortunately because an MA is the thing to have today and working with someone to get an international show seems to be the goal so… boring. Give me the travels and curious experiences of artists who do their own thing, set up their own shop, travel and make work that means something to them. I guess I wish the arts had an Anthony Bourdain. We don’t. Sadly, I don’t think that he’d be appreciated even if he did exist in the art world.

I don’t know why but the arts are missing that heroic panache of someone who calls out pretension and tries to level the playing field among the art stars and the not-art stars. Who is that person? They don’t exist. And maybe they can’t. Maybe the foodie world is easier for someone like Bourdain to exist in, perhaps because its frontline venues are eateries and not galleries. Or maybe the art world isn’t as curious about the bigger world the way Bourdain was.

Food can travel so well, be a symbol of a shared world, and involve everyone. Art should be like that too. I do see some vying for such a world and I am grateful. We should always see the struggle because we won’t always have a Bourdain to point it out.