May 16, 2010

More Re- "ART WORK"

Temporary Services' one-off newspaper explores how hard times affect artistic process and compensation, and artists' responses in their own and others' behalf. The issue assembles writings by Gregory Shollette (contributor to Artforum and co-editor of The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life); Holland Cotter (Pullitzer-winning writer for The New York Times); Julia Bryan-Wilson, author of Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam Era (2009); artist/writer Nicolas Lampert; artist/writer Harrell Fletcher; artist Lize Mogel; and Cooley Windsor, author of Visit Me in California; and many more.

Here's Temporary Services' intro:

Things have become demonstrably worse for artists and arts organizations. A 2008 report from the National Endowment for the Arts tells of an astounding 63% increase in artists’ unemployment from 2007 to 2008.

Why is visual art, which can be understood as a basic foundation for human communication, not funded as an integral part of our lives as Americans? Why don’t we think being an artist is a “real job”?

We can optimistically point to times in the past when things were more hopeful and better for artists and arts institutions. For example, the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Program once had money and was empowered to hire artists to take photographs, make murals, write stories, compose poems, and document the tremendous times the country was going through. Federal funding employed and nurtured some of the greatest American artists: Dorothea Lange, Langston Hughes, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Zora Neale Thurston, Thomas Hart Benton, and many others. It left us with tremendous public works, glorious murals, and a sense of strength and abundance that should be reclaimed out of the ashes of dirty capitalist shenanigans. However, this program was only possible after much pressure from the Left, from unions, and from artists themselves. It also worked because of leadership that carried out a vision that the free market could not harbor – nor would tolerate for long. The infrastructure that sustained programs like the Federal Arts Program was completely dismantled.

We’ve often been amazed at the fact that so many students and younger artists have no idea what kinds of great things received government funding [before the] Culture Wars [inaugurated with Reagan] and before the neutering of the National Endowment for the Arts. [Among other things, o]ne can trace the origins of early encouragement for even as vast a genre as Video Art through looking at the record of NEA funding in the 1970s.

We are in a moment very much like the Great Depression. Unfortunately, we cannot depend upon the creation of governmental programs, the learning institutions, museums, and archives, or even basic social planning to help ease the situation in the U.S. for artists. According to a report made in 2006 by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit Washington, D.C. based think tank, the top 5% of income earners in the United States own 60% of the average U.S. household net worth. At least twenty percent of us live in debt, and while we struggle to contribute to society and create art that carries meaning and hope for all, the top 5% earners effectively make decisions for all of us through their daily economic and cultural choices. Many of those top 5% are on the boards of directors for both corporations and cultural institutions. Is it any surprise that our major museums increasingly are using corporate sponsorship to lead their programming and name their galleries? Is it any surprise at all that even the language of art discourse is being invaded by business terminology?

For far too long, the rhetoric and logic of the market has dominated the production of discourse and livelihoods around art. Letting the market decide, as Reagan, Milton Friedman, and other ghosts of capital past cried, has drastically limited what we think art is and can be in our society. We have seen how quickly the commercial market collapsed, hurting large numbers of people. The art market in the United States has hemorrhaged gallery after gallery, and there will be no bailout to save them or the artists they represent.

This newspaper asks us to consider how to do several things: to work for better compensation, to secure opportunities to make art in diverse and challenging settings, and to guide art attitudes and institutions, on all levels, in more resilient directions. It is also an examination of the power that commercial practices continue to wield and the adverse effects this has had on artists, education, and our collective creative capacity. In recent times, resistance to the status quo has been minimal. Artists for the most part have been hiding and hoping things will get better. Now is the perfect moment to gather, pool knowledge and resources, question, confront the system, and create alternative models using the inspiration and energy we reserve in more stable times for other kinds of artistic production.

Please read this paper, copy it, share it with others, and use it as a springboard. Share it with your classroom, make an exhibition, start a discussion.
In Julian Schnabel's film adaptation of Cuban artist Reinaldo Arenas' autobiography, Before Night Falls, Arenas remarks something to the effect that tyrants invariably seek to suppress artists, because they fear what they can't control.

To be continued . . . .

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