Wednesday, 7 August 2013

So, What's the BIG IDEA!?? (2nd Draft of Manifesto)

Re-conceptualzing the value of Art in the Age of Commodity
                        (AKA “For what it’s worth…Almost a Manifesto”)
“Nothing dollarable is safe.”
John Muir 1838-1914
(Writer and Inspiration for the National Parks movement in America.)

If you have not read ‘The $12 Million stuffed shark’ by Don Thompson (2008) then I cannot recommend it enough.
I believe it should be a prerequisite for any arts-based degree offered currently…and if I was to impart anything about contemporary-art to a group of aspiring students it would unfortunately be to study marketing not painting.
If you want to play the game, loosely known as an ‘arts-career’… it would be only sensible to know what the game is, and just who your playing with and potentially against.

It is a disheartening reality for me as an avid viewer of, and maker of was never about money for me, nor should it be in my opinion-yet in a comodified world, where ‘value’ and ‘price’ seem interchangeable concepts (or labels) how can ‘art’ meaningfully separate itself from the structure it is inexplicably linked to?
Or should it?
Is the contribution of concept-driven artists like Koons or Hirst more or less a commentary on this out-working of capitalism or is it simply a manipulation of it?
It becomes very academic very quickly- because the only ‘yardstick’ we seem to be able to measure with is what someone is willing to pay to ‘own’ it…or ‘bank’ on it.

The whims of the industry(especially at the highest, most influential and often more criminal end) is dictated by auction-houses, dealers, designers and collecting ‘fashions’- not by those creating or really consuming the product. With the unfortunate result that much of what is considered to be of artistic, cultural and historical value is hidden away- or horded away by the excessively wealthy, and rarely makes its’ way into museums or other public institutions. (And if it does, usually it’s through a philanthropic-gift, not purchased by the gallery) The insane amounts involved in these transactions not only excludes the public from forming a relationship with a particular art-work or artist, but creates a self-feeding cycle of ever-hungry-for-return business-people, elitist ‘handbag-ulars’ and middle-managers.

“One never comes to the end.
If Picasso, in one of his anti-painting moods, were to jump out of the window, Mr.X...the brilliant collector, would say;
‘That makes a lovely mark,’ he would buy the pavement and have it framed in a false window, by Z..., the brilliant frame-maker. Picasso, the painter of crucifixions. The canvases which result from his fits of rage against painting (torn linen, nails, rope, gall) in which the painter crucifies himself, crucifies painting, spits on it, spears it, finds himself checkmated, and is fatally forced to accept the fact that the whole massacre must end in a guitar. My dream, in music, would be to hear the music of Picasso’s guitars.”
-Jean Cocteau (Opium,1930.)

This all sounds, and is- very critical…but there is a ‘silver-lining’. For me personally; the understanding of the economics helped to solidify ideas of ‘collect ability’ an ‘success’ (if not the rationale for creating art as a profession in the first-place) as well as motivating me to seek out a way to ‘by-pass’ or ‘short-circuit’ the current system.

My modest attempt- or theory (after some thought), aims to ‘re-distribute’ the value of my art away from the investment/return calculation towards enjoyment, personal-connection and rarity.

Basically work can no longer be purchased, auctioned or ‘banked’, but instead is only ‘gifted’ or ‘donated’ by the artist or recipients. It’s value is what its’ worth on the wall, not on the books.

Idealistic, I know. Of course, these are intentions, and as much as can be ‘contracted’ or made ‘legal’ (in an art-law, estate-control sense) I’m sure some crafty collectors will eventually find or create ‘loop-holes’ to capitalize on my output should they seek to.
I simply would love to attempt a divorce from the contemporary climate of economic rationalization, and find another method of getting my art into the hands of those who love it and onto the walls of institutions that otherwise may not be able to purchase it on the so-called open-market (when it’s considered expensive enough to own) or are unwilling to ‘risk’ hanging something that someone affluent or influential has not accredited or made meaningful by marketing mechanisms, or worse- the so called industry ‘gate-keepers’.

“...we are the willing, led by the unknowing,
doing the impossible- for the ungrateful..."
-Tube, NYC Graffiti Artist

My concept/idea/launch will be titled ‘Espont├íneo’: a Spanish term for a crowd member who spontaneously leaps into the ring of a bullfight, usually using they’re own coat as a cape to goad the bull (and are somewhat like a ‘streaker’ in Australian sporting culture- only more daring). It seemed an appropriate metaphor for this conceptual community project/show/donation-thing my idea seems to be evolving into.

Isn't it better, in a lot of ways, that when i stranger see's a work on a friends wall- and they ask, probably instantaneously: how much did you pay for that? That the answer be, nothing...actually, I met this artist and he give me this picture because i like it, and he explained it and yeah, it's a gift- and I can't sell it...but you really like it, you can have it!

I’m still ironing-out this methodology (or attempt to re-evaluate my art/life) and am willing to take-on any suggestions as to how this could or couldn’t work. I’ll end this second draft by posing a series of questions and answers- please feel free to comment or contribute.

Isn’t something free, worthless?
My background as a busker and street-artist has educated me clearly on the ‘value’ of painting, and that ‘value’ is inextricably linked with its monetary-worth. “I hate that! How much did you pay for it?” And how is this price ‘determined’?
I could stand outside an ‘Art-fair’ or famous dealership and sell my work for $20, or inside for $20,000 or 20 million- All that depends on the class and conviction of the buyer…which is independent of me as a painter and completely dependant on my credentials as a product or celebrity. In the nitty-gritty…what is money itself worth? The scale shifts with circumstance, art is after all only ever worth what someone will pay for it.
Let alone the shifting winds of global-economics, which is quickly becoming-sadly, our collective pseudo-god.
So I’m aiming to start from the basics, human to human- taking money out of the ‘loop’ I believe will help create a more honest ‘exchange’ than fiat-currency could ever achieve.

How does you- the artist, make an income if you are literally giving your art away?
Like most ‘emerging’ or ‘established’ artist’s that I know in this country I have a day-job and few illusions of ever earning a wage from my art…and so I’m not reliant on my art to eat, although I have been in the past.
The only ‘income’ I need in an artistic sense is to cover overheads like studio-rent and exhibition outlays (I recycle as much material as possible). Therefore the only funding I desire is the financial-support required to continue to create, exhibit and contribute my work more widely. Therefore: support for the artist is freely given by collectors, patrons and the general public- with incentives through online proposals and open-funding networks and other services.
Example: I wish to have access to or own a decent camera for a potentially strong painting project- and so I open this up to donations. In return anyone who contributes and registers an interest will be sent a by-product of that project (be it a signed print, poster or original-piece) and is invited to be part of the exhibition/community that results.

How does someone get some of your art?
Simply by applying- with the only charge being that of delivery/shipping. Usually this would involve actually meeting me or becoming familiar with my work/ethic online. Instead of blindly buying my work from a dealer, thinking that you are somehow supporting the artist financially with your purchasing choice- my method will allow/require my patrons (not just collectors/investors) to be personally involved in my process and progress as an artist. Sponsorship and support can be a way of ‘allowing’ the affluent to contribute to my on-going success and/or notoriety…not just ‘purchase’ me for status or fashion- but truly ‘patronizing’ me. This is done on a free and open basis, with no in-built arrangements or contracts or obligations. I seek involvement not just investment.

Why collect your work at all?
Fore mostly you do so from a genuine interest and enjoyment of what I make- not because you paid X amount for it, or where convinced by dealer-Y to buy it. To ‘Have’ me, you must move me to donate to you. This returns a little of the power of ownership to me- although its true that my work can be ‘re-gifted’ by the initial recipient- it also means that the inevitable conversation on ‘price’ is re-directed into a story of barter, on-going friendship or involvement…this is more personal than an object’s pre-owner list, or lineage...or indeed ‘was auctioned-by…’

Also, its’ rare for the wealthy to not be able to purchase an item.

In a world where everything is for sale, I’m attempting to step-away from the lure of currency and reduce the conversation to an honest evaluation…to those who genuinely care- my work is free, yet for those who want to ruthlessly ‘collect’ or ‘bank’ me- my work is not available at any price. This not only allows me to be ‘picky’ about where my art goes, which has philosophic value to me-it also creates a situation of ‘rarity’ or ‘scarcity’ in the ‘market’ for my work. If you cannot sell it, then you cannot buy it, and therefore it is theoretically ‘priceless’ in a sense- but realistically is not ‘commercially-valuable’ to be exchanged in that way.

Is there a History to Free-Art?
(Or at least the idea of Non-Commerical Art?)
Indeed, the history of modern art in particular has many examples of reactions to, and against the commercialization of art. Van Gogh-of course, is now un-price-able but despite his brothers art-dealership only sold one small painting during his life time. His contemporary, Australian John Russell –almost never showed or sold his work…or Cezanne, who sold only under the counter in a backroom for 20 years before being thrust from recluse into stardom.  When commercial success was about to pounce upon Fred Williams in the 1960’s, he quit showing for 6 years until he was satisfied he was working for the right reasons. Brett Whiteley at the height of his career was forced to pay market-price to purchase back his monumental mural for a retrospective, and when it was proposed to be exhibited in public, the gallery-attendants (which is my day-job) refused to guard it and had a strike until it was removed…so in the end it fills his studio, which is now one of the best gallery-spaces in Sydney. The father of almost all 'contemporary or concept work, Duchamp quit art to play chess into a rip old age, the list goes on..Francis Bacon famously brought a picture from a gallery someone had stolen from him, for a huge sum of money, and destroyed it in the street outside the gallery...jumping up and down on it, that piece, he said, was never supposed to see the light of day/the public...etc..etc...
It's a large discussion, one that I am willing to have with anyone, at any time...

Will you do commissions?
Yes, but on a case-by-case basis for pre-arranged barter or art-swap (I like other artists work too) and the work will similarly not be ‘re-sellable’ but could still be exhibited later…it remains a gift, just a requested one.

How and why will you exhibit if nothing is for sale?
Strangely, for the reasons artists began showing their work in the modern-era…so the general public can see it?!
Future shows will be purely that, exhibitions not sales-opportunities. The shows will be so that private collectors can display my work in context, support my on-going career and contribute by generating a new network of people to donate to and be patronized by. This will hopefully result in shows being re-calibrated from a blend of a kids-birthday-party anxiety and a sales-pitch, into a more genuine experience of art appreciation, not price-list evaluations. Exhibitions will become a promotion and a place to meet and talk and commune with other patrons, create new projects and commissions. Instead of filling a room with skeptical buyers- and trying to ‘selling-out’, these events will be more enjoyable, with a room full of people showing what they potentially have commissioned or simply own or enjoy and want support.

“Without forgiveness, our species would have annihilated itself in endless retributions.
Without forgiveness there would be no history.
Without that hope, there would be no art,
for every work of art is in some way an act of forgiveness.”
–Shantaram by G.D Roberts

Thank you for your time, this is still a manifesto in the making-
Please feel free to contact me and contribute.

Pheelix, 2013

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