Marxist theory holds that there are no heroic individuals in the art world. Even the most solitary practitioner depends on the people who manufacture their supplies, the understanding of the people for whom the art is intended, and in the best cases, the critics who write about it. I suppose an artist could, in theory, draw on the beach with a sharp stick, let the tide erase it without anyone else seeing it, and be satisfied, but for the overwhelming majority of us, art is a form of collaboration. This piece is about the difficulty in negotiating that path in conceptual art, of trying to have a work carry a message that is understandable to its intended viewer without becoming either so simplistic that it becomes polemic, or so difficult that the audience refuses to engage with it. The works of this kind I find most interesting incorporate collaboration, either on purpose, or by fortunate accident. Recently a particular piece in Brooklyn, ironically starting out as a statement about a heroic individual, Edward Snowden, has ended up showing how collaboration provides layers of meaning, and so gives greater insight into both the original subject and to our own role as the viewer and ultimate collaborator.
Pamela Geller is planning a “Draw the Prophet” event in Garland, Texas in the same location as a Muslim group held a “Stand with the Prophet” conference in January. The First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest will be hosted by the Curtis Caldwell Center, which is owned and operated by the Garland Independent School District.
Geller’s event comes on the wake of the Islamic terrorist attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in January. Following the attack, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) scheduled the “Stand with the Prophet” conference at the public school district’s conference center. Geller, the President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), scheduled a protest outside the event that was attended by approximately 2,000 people.
During the Free Speech Rally in Garland, Geller spoke with Breitbart Texas about her reaction to the large and loud crowd of protesters. She said that Muslims are trying to impose restrictions on free speech like they are doing in Paris. “Thousands of Americans said ‘no way!’”
“The media can smear us and the President can stand with them,” Geller said. “We the people are not having it. If there is any proof of that, it’s today. We dwarfed them.”
When the public reads stories in the media about visual artists, it is all too often about art stars that are selling their works for six figure sums or an item detailing glamorous parties on the art fair circuit.
A shot of reality is being offered at the CUE Foundation under the leadership of Cevan Castle, a public programming fellow who has organized a six-part series of talks entitled, “If it’s Not work It Must Be Play.” I attended the first two panels, Economists on Under-Compensation of Labor in the Arts, and W.A.G.E.- How Creative Labor Should Be Compensated. The third, The Artists Financial Support Group Speaks Openly about Money and Debt, will be held on January 30. The following announced topic is Artists and Gentrification: Community Development Experts On Improving Neighborhood Stability.
As an introduction, Castle ran down a continuum of concerns for artists ranging from the nuts and bolts premise of, “What is the value of our labor?” to the imperative of moving toward “actionable ideas.” When I asked her about her motivation in tackling these themes she said,
“I wanted to look at current concerns and obstacles to art practice, particularly for our region. Although we live in one of the great art centers, the city is losing the characteristics that made it hospitable to art practice. There are large segments of the population that live in increasingly precarious circumstances. The predominant models in the art business are obviously unsustainable, as artists are repeatedly asked to personally subsidize public art consumption and the power figures in the art market. Under the pressures of real estate costs, educational costs, increase in costs of living and yet little to no pay, the urgency to revisit business models that work for artists grows. That is, if we truly believe that art contributes something significant, beyond it's current role in speculative real estate development, to our society.”Laying groundwork at the first session, four Feminist Labor Economists parsed material through what Dr. Deborah M. Figart called a “critical gaze.” This translated as examining data on premises other than solely earnings. Figart stated that the “creative class is an important part of the economy, but [traditional] economists overlook important factors.” These can encompass education, location, work time, marital status and children. Then there are the societal norms of “who is appropriate for a job and what it’s worth.” Ironically, when there are greater numbers of women and people of color in a specific field, the “pay goes down.”
Figart outlined the imbalance of power between artists and business people, and the wage gap between “bohemian and non-bohemian” workers. For creatives, income is often pieced together with part-time jobs. Salaries and job security are low, and it doesn’t help that there is an overlap between what is considered work and “leisure activity.” Figart underscored the “devaluation of work in the arts” except for the top 1 percent, remarking, “and then there’s everyone else.”
Ellen Mutari spoke about the redefinition of work as going beyond the singular yardstick of “a paycheck.” In addition to work as financial security, she identifies it as “identity, purpose, and personal fulfillment.” She discussed the consumerist notion of “work as a commodity—something that you sell,” instead putting forth that work has “multiple dimensions.” Mutari pointed to the “false premise of the cultural narrative” which promotes the idea that artists don’t care about anything except “making the work and having it seen.” This concept, she suggested, “yields to underpayment in the arts.”
Can the system be changed? That was Catherine Mulder’s rhetorical question. She envisioned the goals of “eradicating exploitation” and pushing for artists to have job security and agency. A labor activist, Mulder spoke of the guilds during the Middle Ages, where members taught and trained future artisans. In today’s landscape, there is an output of MFA students “mired in debt.”
When questions were taken from the floor, the matter of artist royalties came up. Figart was quick to respond, “When you sell a work of art, there are no residuals.” She added dryly, “I have a problem with that.” The point was raised about the need to delineate art as “intellectual property.”
There was plenty of discussion about the “obscenity” of the auction houses and the 1 percent buyers who were establishing value for their connections. The feminist economic viewpoint is that “stuff that doesn’t make money isn’t valued.” Figart closed out the evening with the aphorism, “You have to think outside of the box to change the box.”
At the second gathering, concrete actions were examined. Lise Soskolne offered an outline of the efforts the New York based activist group W.A.G.E. are putting forth to build a “sustainable model for wage certification.” The group’s mission is based on a manifesto that was written in 2008. Soskolne was emphatic that art workers needed to be “remunerated in order to survive.” Before getting into the nitty-gritty of her talk, she noted with a touch of humor, “We demand compensation for making the world more interesting.”
Drilling down on several of the basic conundrums that creatives repeatedly face, she delivered one of the top excuses for non-payment: “Exposure.” Soskolne asked, “When an artist is presenting content, why is there no pay?” W.A.G.E. took a survey in 2010 to dig into the reasons why artists were always broke. They targeted both visual and performing artists who had been involved with a museum or non-profit space during the time period of 2005-2010. The results weren’t pretty. Several well-known institutions were singled out by respondents for their behavior. Soskolne emphasized that foundations dispensing funds needed to hold non-profits accountable, applying “downward pressure.” I particularly liked the poster, with its visuals and anonymous comments from the questionnaire. Succinctly underscoring a key point was the observation, “Free means useless for society, and we’re not.”
Soskolne said, “We’re trying to systemically change things.”
It may not happen overnight, but a transparent conversation is essential. Educating artists is a good place to start.
Photos: Courtesy of Wage for Work
In some states—like Texas, where a pair of college art students created a series of graphics to support a bill protecting mothers' public breastfeeding rights—this isn't even a dramatization:
Women have been asked to stop breastfeeding in church, during jury duty, at the pool, at the mall, and on social media. Often, they’re specifically told to go to the bathroom. Sometimes, they have even less sanitary options available to them — one Pennsylvania woman sued her employer after being forced to pump breast milk in a dingy and sweltering locker room littered with dead bugs.Women are told to breastfeed for their children's health, then told that breastfeeding effectively means they can't go out in public. It's just one of the many catch-22s of being a woman, but it's a situation that can be improved by making it clear in the law, if not in the minds of some idiots, that breastfeeding is not some kind of inappropriate sexytime but is in fact how babies eat.
Obamacare took a step forward in this area by requiring all employers to provide their workers with “reasonable break time” to pump breast milk, as well as a private and clean space for that activity. Advocates praised the health law for “bringing breast feeding out of the bathroom.” But the state laws in this area still vary. Twenty two states — including Texas — don’t specifically exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. The legislation tied to this ad campaign would protect Texas mothers’ right to feed their babies in public, stipulating that “a mother’s authority to be in a location may not be revoked for the sole reason that she begins to breast-feed.”
This is the first in a series to discuss the designs for the future national memorials commemorating our major wars since Vietnam. While there should be memorials for all of our combat operations since they all have names and casualties, perhaps that is something that should be considered, much like the billboards that record the numbers of deaths per second from smoking. I will periodically return to this topic with reports on news of proposals and competitions.
In many US international military operations, the end of combat operations signal the end of a war, but in the war memorials are the focal points that can help a nation heal although we have yet to have a national Korean War memorial and only recently one for World War II, plus we have had a contentious memorial(s) for the Vietnam War, whose history has been conditioned by its cultural significance.
So what should our primary Southwest Asian war memorials be, where should they be sited, and what should they look like? This topic was broached in 2011.
Perhaps will there be two primary war memorials: one for Iraq (Bush I & II) and one for Afghanistan
War in Afghanistan (2001-present (2014)) Part of the War on Terror and the
Conflict in Afghanistan
My first proposal is for the Bush I & II wars because surely they are connected: whether on or off the National Mall, it should use the same plaza dimensions of the toppled Saddam statue monument including the equipment used and the actual cropped picture "crowd" numbers, but overlaid by a WTC footprint shadow and including a monument to the Pakistani ISI, surely the most important player in all our recent Southwest Asian war adventures. Every 100 hours, a fireworks display.
The War in Afghanistan should be memorialized by an actual full size reproduction of Usama Bin Laden's walled compound in Pakistan filled with water cascading over all of the walls.
Let a Thousand Designs Bloom
Nato Thompson: I said to you, ‘Rick, what are you going to do? Because now there are all these social practice programs where a lot of white kids are graduating and they’re going to go into communities of color and try to help everybody.’ And then you said, ‘Well, it sounds like they’re finally going to get an education.’
Rick Lowe: When you think about the field of social practice, I’m kind of in-between. I come out somewhat of the community arts era and now straddling into the social practice side. It was really funny to me today, I was thinking, ‘Man, is social practice gentrifying community arts out?’
This exchange between Rick Lowe, the founder and director of Project Row Houses in Houston and brand-new appointee to the National Council on the Arts (see Third Ward TX, my friend Andrew Garrison’s wonderful 2007 film on this work if you can) and Nato Thompson, Chief Curator of Creative Time, was part of the Creative Time Summit, a much-livestreamed late October 2013 New York conference on “Art, Place & Dislocation in The 21st Century City.”
Before and since, I’ve had a bunch of conversations with fellow artists about “social practice.” I consider them part of a larger decentralized conversation now taking place about the naming, values, social position, and impact of socially engaged art-making. The question that’s being called is cooptation: is yet another insurgent, critical movement being watered-down into something palatable to the establishment artworld—something that may reify existing power relations rather than undermining them?
This election, let's not be afraid, as Paul Ryan has suggested of the heavy books and Greek columns that represent the elitism of the Democratic opposition, because we need to think of spectacles like the RNC as the kind of "high theater" based on heavy books and needing Greek columns even like the ones below at Miami University of Ohio.
This is the convention of high art not unlike the 9/11 attack being referred to on the day of 9/11 by a CNN consultant as "low-cost, high concept" and Clint Eastwood's speech at the RNC didn't disappoint, although it would be interesting to know how much he received as an appearance fee.
Clint Eastwood gave a perfect rendition of the deconstruction of celebrity. Perhaps he saw Kirk Douglas' appearance on Bill Maher's Real Time and thought of how sad and pathetic it was to show how difficult it was to be an aging celebrity who wished to be celebrated but was patronized by an institution based on lies and deceit. He didn't want to be a prop, especially since he'd been co-opted by Bush 41 and "make my day". And yet the crowd tried to be the empty chair he spoke to, as though President Obama might be there, but to the GOP, he is as all political influence in democratic hands, an absent and idealized Other to be reviled, like throwing peanuts to CNN camerawomen. Apparently they were angry that his 'half-time in America" ad for Chrysler was too close to the Democratic message The average viewer might think the drunk ramblings to an empty chair was simply a bad performance; it was Krapp's first tape or "Some Exit". Like the tiff between Eastwood and Spike Lee over Iwo Jima, the film Invictus proved the true global political ideology necessary now and gave us better insight on Eastwood's ideology. His performance at the RNC showed how this event would have been better framed as a celebrity roast and in this case, rMoney is on the platter.
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