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Monday, 14 November 2011

Art that sells is the destructive 1%

Joerg at Conscientious was sent a comment by Aaron Hobson.

Aaron asked:

 “I was wondering if art galleries, blogs, and magazines will soon only be filled with socially outgoing, marketing driven artists that also enter competitions?”

This got taken up all over the place including on Flak Photo Network, a Facebook resource run by the super-positive Andy Adams.

It seemed interesting to me how much the question became to do with the very nature of art. Essential things like marketing and galleries were central to the conversation, but why is this.

Of course marketing and selling is important to photographers and artists but that is not what art is about (although it is what Art is about). In a similar way, the making of art has very little to do with galleries. These places are, in the sense that they are commercial galleries, interested in a particular and very narrow kind of art that can be displayed within a space in a particular kind of way, they are interested in people who can produce work that galleries can show. And so people produce the kind of work that they can show, they kind of work that sells, the kind of work that wealthy people like - which is problematic. It's a symbiotic relationship where what galleries, gallery consumers, and gallery feeders produce is intricately linked in an unbalanced but self-replicating chain.

There are particular ways of communicating within this chain, but they all require a certain respect for the communicative and productive forms of discourse of the chain. Central to the forms of discourse is the idea of a product that is recordable in some way. If it can't be recorded, it can't be shown. If it can't be shown, it can't be talked about and it can't be a product.

The gallery and all its discourses (including the academic, media and online discourses) are about the tangible in other words, and because of this art becomes imprisoned by the politics of consumption.

So we lose a central element of the idea of art is some kind of near-mystical idea of the sublime, of its ineffability, its transcendence above the mundane details of the everyday. It is about beauty, elegance and grace or insight, poetry and emotion.

It is almost as if every time somebody looks at something in a gallery, they are looking at a way-of-seeing, a way-of thinking or a way-of-feeling that is outside their realm of possibility, that is from the heart and the soul, that is free and uninhibited by the preconceptions of the market. And if they try to buy something, they are trying to buy something that is outside their realm of possibility.

But by buying that something, one is at the same time destroying it. Similarly by selling something one is doing the same thing. The gallery makes a venue that is comfortable for the buyer, that has a familiar air of decoration and opulence, that plays to their vanity as a wealthy consumer. The very act of buying and selling, of marketing, of advertising, networking, of entering into a discourse of consumption is doing  something which must not have a pound or dollar sign at it's heart.

And in doing so, it destroys the art it is supposed to uphold. The gallery destroys art by making it something to be consumed. What it tries to do is sell taste and feeling to people who essentially don't have taste and feeling.

But at the same time, the artist who takes part in this, the person with the sense of the sublime, with heart and soul and feeling, enters into a diabolical contract. The price of the price is to lose one's heart, to lose one's soul, to become what one is supposed to be. It's a simple trade off - you pay me and I will give you my integrity, honesty and dignity - kind of like any job I suppose.

For me, art is something spiritual and physical. It's a way of being, a way of making that is more to do with the making than what is made - if you're into what is made, then you're talking about craft or design rather than art per se.

It is about relationships and escaping the earthly world, of emptying one's soul of the transitory and illusionary things in life - of escaping ideas of politics and power and wealth except to critique and belittle those earthly things - all the things that are absolutely central to the idea of the gallery and the people who consume there.

The problem with that kind of art is it doen't need to be recorded or preserved, indeed it shouldn't be recorded or preserved. It's an etching in the sand on a beach, a scrabble of twigs lined up against a log, a sculpture of thorns in a rosehip, a scribble on a wall, a stencil of an eye, a homemade manga cartoon or a bunch of dodgy birthday posters - just a few of the misguided artistic endeavours of this household in the last few months.

I know that most if not all gallery owners want to escape from the gallery-as-art-shop but find it difficult to do so because they have bills to pay.And that most artists find marketing and selling a grind that belittles both them and their work but still have to do it because, guess what, they have bills to pay..

People do need to make money, they do need to promote themselves but I think it would be good to recognise that galleries and their patrons do not have a monopoly on art, that patronage does not equal creation. We need a little redefinition of our terms where the art that is consumed is the destructive1% and the unearning and unrecognised art that never gets labelled or hung  is the positive and life-affirming  99%. Nobody's going to buy tickets for that kind of art, it's not a blockbuster show, but it's the art the matters - and it's not something you network or market or connect for. You don't sell it, you don't consume it, you just live it.


Stan B. said...

Photography, like any visual art, cries out to be seen by its very nature- and those that create it will jump at whatever chance to show what they got. Even someone like myself likes to occasionally dream. Let's face it, there's not too many Vivian Maier's out there who can work in complete isolation (and if her work hadn't been discovered through a complete fluke- talk about if a tree falls...).

I don't know what the future of the photo blog is, but I certainly wouldn't lump them together with galleries. And online magazines/galleries are a valid (if unequal) alternative to print mags and physical galleries. The whole internet thang has always been, to a large extent, to wrest some of that power away from the more commercial, "traditional," socially outgoing(?) sources. So I'm not really sure if I understand his question, or if he understands the differences...

Oh- and I agree with everything you stated. Like I said, sometimes I like to dream...

colin pantall said...

Thanks Stan - yes, it's a bit of a hippy dream really.

I don't know about the internet thing - it's so big and has so many corners that it's a bit of everything really. On the whole though it replicates the real world but in a disatisfactory manner. Everything is always a bit second-rate on a computer.

aaron (cinemascapist) said...

I like where you took this topic and I agree 99%... the 1% disagreement comes from categorizing all collectors as "people who essentially don't have taste and feeling". That was a bit of a silly blanket statement. They are outnumbered and rare, but there are thoughtful, well-versed collectors out there.

Dmitri said...

I can't entirely agree with this post. It seems single-sided.

Selling art and creating art does not have to be related. We are in the trend of adjusting art to customer needs because of shitty sales strategies which dictate that "the customer is always right". The truth is that the customer has no idea and they should be educated. What I mean is, that we could and should continue making beautiful work that relates to the deepest parts of our souls, and not buy into trends or fashion. As for sales, we have to present our work in the best possible light and allow the customers see it's true beauty, just like we did when we made it. If it's done right, it would be bought, without being sold.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Aaron - there are lots of blanket statements but I think I cover myself against the one you mention - there are loads of collectors who have taste and feeling. I've just been looking at William Hunt's Unseen Eye - not the book that it sets out to be, but one that demonstrates great taste and feeling.

Beautifully put Dmitri - that's what I was trying to say!

marcus doyle said...

I drifted into photography like one drifts into prostitution. First I did it to please myself, then I did it to please my friends, and eventually I did it for the money. - Philippe Halsman

Excellent article.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Marcus and a fabulous quote to fit right in there.

Scott Martin said...

Fantastic post. Definitely one for a seminar Colin.

Deborah Parkin Photography said...

I love this post Colin - I love your honesty and how you describe our need to do what we do. I really wanted to have something to add to this but to be honest, I know very little, in fact nothing about how galleries work or the 'selling/selling out' side of things - I naively blunder my way through. I would like to sell work, silly reasons like earning by doing something I love - a pretty selfish reason I suppose. But saying that, I do constantly question how I want to go with my work - where I want to go & at this point I have no idea.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Deborah - I'm not sure if it's entirely honest or entirely true, but I think the big picture is more or less right.

Check this out - http://hard-copy.tumblr.com/