The price of alternatives
Post #1196 • June 18, 2008, 3:11 PM • 69 Comments
This comment was probably too long to leave at Edward Winkleman's, but there it went anyway. Ed said:
I have repeatedly supported the notion that if artists are not happy with the terms of the system they have every right to change those terms. Implied in that opinion, though, is that the work of changing the terms falls to them.
I fully agree with this. But it's a touch galling - just a touch - to hear it coming from someone on the inside of that system. Let's note a couple of aspects of coming up with one's own terms:
1. That it not only involves coming up with some means of fiscal survival that doesn't compromise the integrity of one's work, but that entire structures have to be generated by any number of like-minded people in order to garner critical recognition. The system as it stands involves galleries, museums, critics, and curators, and the news-making portion of that system reserves serious regard for a far narrower slice of working artists' priorities than they will typically admit to. However inadequate the observation that "art is, above all, about personal expression and craftsmanship," I'll take it over the notion that art is, above all, about ideas and issues, and there's no question about what contemporary museums prefer given a selection of mid- and early-career artists. Cutting a new path that doesn't involve this system is going to require extraordinary endurance and business acumen that most artists by nature don't possess. So while it may be true that the artists who don't like the system have the responsiblity to create their own situation, the choice is between being chained to an oar in the slave's galley or throwing oneself into the open ocean. Thus not all of that bitching is misplaced.
2. That the system is going to kick and scream as alternative terms become successful. For instance, criticism (not just art criticism, but all criticism), in the 20th Century form that we've come to know and occasionally love, is dying. It is moving to a shorter, more populist, worse-paying form on the Web. Hardly any critic regards this as a good thing, but something of a mini-industry of snobbery has sprung up to bemoan the allegedly consequent imminent death of critical thought. (See Lee Siegelpuppet, et alia, who are so sad partly because we all know what's going to happen to them.)
If a generation of kids who think of music as something you buy online from the artist grows up to become adults who think of art as something you buy online from the artist, the gallery system is toast, and gallerists everywhere will bitch - and bitch hard - about how nobody takes art seriously anymore. That's probably a long ways off, but I have lived long enough to see one gallery attempt to make insulting claims on sales of my work off of my own website. The zero-middlemen model may be where we're headed, and it's one of the few alternatives to the gallery-museum system that looks viable right now.
I see this even from my own little house on the blogosphere. To put it perhaps too mildly, I have a non-mainstream critical perspective. For this I have endured a steady rain of shit flung by people who are commercially, aesthetically, or philosophically served by the establishment as it stands. I have learned many things producing Artblog.net, chief among them that the person most likely to call you a Nazi (or with equal venom, a conservative) is the one who thinks of himself as open-minded. I expect this rain to wane to a drizzle and finally stop as print reviews become increasingly rare. My question isn't whether, but when.