Thursday, October 19, 2006

Put-up or Shut-up

[image, Ladder for Booker T Washington, by Martin Puryear; what does this image have to do with this article, well not much at all... maybe it is symbolic, i'll leave that up to you]

Warning this post will most likely be a bit disjointed as I couldn't sleep and felt I would make use of the time posting, I apologize in advance.

I have been doing a lot of thinking and evaluation of the local art scene, my work, goals, and desires over the last several weeks as I prepare for my first solo show outside of the city. The love/hate relationship with the commercial aspects of being an artist. The division of time in the studio and that of the business and social aspects expected of artists these days. The struggle with having a job and money yet no time to make art or having no job and plenty of time but no money for adequate supplies. All these issues are fairly standard for all artists, I expect. But what is it that makes an art community work? What makes it successful? What does it take to be a better artist? And what is it you want out of the art community?

During a discussion I had with some artists earlier tonight, the topic came up as to what the problem with the local art scene was or speculated to be. Some of the issues that came up were, a lack of collectors, not enough galleries, lack of active artists, poorly curated shows, not enough communication, artists not looking at art, etc. These issues exposed more questions in search of trying to understand why and how things may change. Have local artists become to complacent? Has the proverbial "bar" been too low for such a period of time that things have become stagnant or perhaps too easy for artists here? Why is it that in an art world where everything is going global do most local artists feel they need to leave to obtain their artistic goals?

To be completely honest, I have a lot of pet peeves that make me mad when it comes to our scene like the fact that I rarely see more than a handful of the students that attend Herron School of Art at any of the gallery openings (Herron openings aside, but then again...) or other art lectures and events. It bothers me that it is not uncommon to see several artworks by one artist at multiple exhibitions in one night (it's not like we have a lot of galleries). And recently one of my biggest pet peeves, artists complaining about the lack of options in this city and yet they do nothing to change this or make it better. Now the point of this whole rant is not to complain or lay blame per se but I think it wise to lay it all out there for everyone to see and from this pile we can hopefully build something better than we have now.

[image, a work by a Moscow based collective, from Ed Winkleman's blog post]

Thinking of the complacency of many artists in the city, the message from this image struck me. "Be the change you want to see in the world". Simple and honest. At first I read this and thought about how I was attempting to do just that in a some small way with the art shows I curate and the projects brought about by Old Brush Projects, one of them being this blog. But then I started to think of the more global and moral aspects of this same statement. Each of us should be more proactive and artists nowadays have to be proactive when it comes to their careers.

We need to take control of the art scene, each and everyone of us, and mold it into the world we want. Artists, go and look at more art in person, think about your audience, have a conversation with other artists, gallerists, collectors, factory workers, police officers, and the homeless. If a venue for your work does not exist, create one, if even for just a few hours. Don't be afraid of criticism, it is only an opinion take from it what you can and grow. Artists often view dealers and curators as the people with all the power in the art world. Artists still have power. Art is still made in the studio (typically) and there we (as artists) hold all the cards until the work leaves the studio. We must take responsibility for ourselves first and foremost and later the dealers and curators can join the picture if you so desire them to be a part of your world.


Check out these two insightful posts from two of my regular blog reads, first is a wonderful post from Deborah Fisher titled "Don't Bash Other Artists". It deals with views of artists writing critisim of art and some of the percieved and real problems with this practice. (something i consider often.) And next another wonderful post by the great Ed titled, "In Defense of Commercial Galleries". The title says it all. An all around wonderful read.

4 Responses to “Put-up or Shut-up”

Diong said...
October 19, 2006 at 10:46 AM

Great and inspiring post!

Anonymous said...
October 19, 2006 at 9:59 PM

Yes, great and inspiring post!

We all need to be more proactive.

On an international magazine I made the same remarks "... we (artists) need to be more proactive and not just react to what is going on."

I recently organized and curated an exhibition in Indianapolis with much success. On opening night there were people from all walks of life. Policy makers, educators, stay at home moms and dads, artists, students, musicians, and even a few business people. 13 pieces were sold by people from New York, San Francisco, Germany, Boston, and Indianapolis. Also another artist drove from Cleveland to check out the show. I heard from artists as far as Alaska, Germany, Rhode Island, Portland, and London UK about this exhibition.

For me the take on leaving Indianapolis is more for creative reasons and the chance to collaborate with other artists.

The arts world greatly benefited from Andy Warhol venturing out to New York City.

Cities like New York City, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo have thriving arts communities but also as important a progressive media network.

Indianapolis is a great city for what it is. Will it ever be a thriving cultured city? Too early to tell. If it never does is okay with me. Maybe Indianapolis is not meant to be this great arts city we all hope one day to be.

Much success on your solo show!

Jeffrey Geesa said...
October 19, 2006 at 10:03 PM

When and where is your show, Scott? PS. Answer your damn phone.

Anonymous said...
October 28, 2006 at 8:34 AM

The problem with the business of art is a socialogical one more than a economic one for Indianapolis and probably most of the Midwest.

Some major changes have occurred over the last 60 years with the practice of buying art. In the years leading up to the first World War, men were comfortable with buying art and, being the main breadwinners, made the final
decision on luxury purchases. However, after the war and during the ensuing baby boom, men stopped purchasing art (for most midwestern heterosexual males, buying or making art was not considered "manly") and women became the main decision makers of household purchases and, in most cases, the actual transaction makers. As economics rose to the level where most families could afford college and/or a pasttime, art became something that many middle-income people could persue and buy.

These two factors combined changed the face of the art business forever in this country. A glut of good, bad and mediocre (original and reproduced) art began filling galleries, stores, auctions and anywhere else it would reasonably fit. And, trained to be thrifty, many women began buying the lowest common denominator in art because it was cheap and easy to come by.

The trend has continued and increased. It's possible to find someone who either considers themselves an artist or is an actual working professional artist in nearly every family tree or city block. The avocation of art is no longer special nor is it overall something reserved for the elite as it was before the war. Due to these and other less important factors, art as a pursuit has lost its importance. As well, the end result is viewed with a great deal less scrutiny and the bar is lowered every year with each new throng of artists announcing themselves.

To most home-makers, purchasing art is just that and is no longer viewed as "collecting". Art is something that you decorate with and replace as styles change.

It's wonderful that art has become more accessable and has taken a seat among the middle class, but the effect this has had on the buying public and their relationship to what most would call fine art is the clichéd "I could do that" and, unfortunately for many fine artists, they do. When a luxury loses it's cache, the price goes down. When the number of possible purchases goes up, the price goes down further. When a culturally important avocation loses it's importance, the public's focus fades.

Something moves in to the resulting vacuum which can attain easier and more cultural glory for the practitioner and the purchaser. Popular music? Sports? Fashion? Gadgetry? Yes, all of these have grown over and in part have taken the place that art held 60 years ago. And all of them are purchased more cheaper and more easily in a growing number of locations.

Of course, this arguement is not valid when speaking of the coasts or any other large and/or culturally important center where educations are more numerous and saleries are higher. But for the most part, the midwest cannot be examined with the same set of criteria with which the coasts are viewed. Purchasing habits, socioeconomic factors, cultural trends and other factors differ from region to region. The midwest's home-grown attitude toward art means that anyone can become an artist if they stick to it long enough. This becomes highly evident when you stop to consider craft malls, craft fairs, Ebay and other venues.

It isn't that fine artists aren't producing good work, it's just that Indianapolis doesn't really need it and can't afford it. If they want professional work, they need only go to Target or Linens and Things to get a 36 dollar framed print to fulfill their art needs. And this is truly what many feel is "art" as they see it. Or, if they want an original, they can get a family member or a neighbor to paint something. After all, artists are everywhere and art isn't made in studios only. It's made right there on the dining room table or mass produced in a factory in China and shipped here.

There are probably many arguements to the contrary but if you look at the simple facts, there's a direct correlation between the popularity of fine art in the midwest and the factors mentioned above.

Sadly, any dent in the economy makes this trend increase. Yes, educating the public is the only answer, but how do you educate a group that simply isn't interested?

Now, get out of the way, you are blocking the television and the Colts are on.

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