Grain destined for export stacked on Madras beaches (February 1877) I've started writing a series of posts on photography on World...
Monday, 14 November 2011
Art that sells is the destructive 1%
Joerg at Conscientious was sent a comment by Aaron Hobson.
“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.