Art Work: Response
This is Our Real Job by the Temporary Services Group +
State of the Union by Gregory Sholette
Although several of the contributors are listed, it is unclear to me who from the group"Temporary Services" is responsible for writing the introductory section This is Our Real Job. As is the case with many of the texts I have read this semester, the article hammers home the perspective that the artist should assume the role of social activist. In this particular text the proposal is framed by the failing social infrastructure that has taken root as a result of our present deteriorating national and global economies. The author accurately emphasizes the particular difficulty that this economy presents to artists, while suggesting that artists should be highlighting cuts to federal funding of arts programs, the lower standard of living for artists who continue their work in face of the economic hardship, and the negative effect of the even more pervasive infiltration of capitalism into the world of professional art, the author urges the artist to assume the role of activist / change agent. As Gregory Sholette discusses in greater detail, the author touches on theWPA’s Federal Arts Project of the FDR Administration and the lack of or such Economic support for today’s artists as both a symptom and contributing element to the current economic dystopia. The article goes on to note the disproportionate wealth distribution between the “top earners” the rest of the population, mentioning that 20% of the population in actually living in debt (or “negative wealth” is it is stated). The text encourages the academic instructor to push further in the role of the dissenting voice while both advocating and taking direct action toward revolutionary change, asserting that there is no better time for such action. Lastly, the article succinctly urges “…us all to consider how to use this moment to do several things: to work for better compensation, to get opportunities to make art in diverse and challenging settings, and to guide art attitudes and institutions, on all levels, in more resilient directions” as well as provide feedback to artandwork.us to improve the quality of the group’s organization and output.
As an extension of this, Gregory Sholette discusses the history of economic support programs for artists in relationship to the lack funding that today’s artists face. He reintroduces the significance of the FDR era Federal Arts Project and discusses the development of significant artist support organizations such as the Art Worker’s Coalition, The Artists’ Equity Association, and their vital (albeit fleeting) existence as models for the types ingenuity that must be restructured to support the work of today’s disenfranchised artists. Sholette also emphasizes the capitalist takeover that has necessitated the self-invented artist-entrepreneur. Acknowledging today’s socially funded arts support programs as woefully insufficient in the face of corporate deregulation, he notes the shift of artists seeking support through the private funding of such resources as the Artist Pension Trust.
Relative to This is Our Real Job, as a citizen I agree with the basic principles put forth by the author as passionate and well reasoned rhetoric. It seems clear that this introductory article is putting forth a call to action for artist/educators to capitalize on the moment and multi-laterally work to restructure society to empower the artistic community for individual benefit, the benefit of the artistic community, and the benefit of the society at large. It is obvious that intervention is needed. Is the artist hard wired to be an interventionist? Phrases like “we would rather explore ideas for reworking the economy to benefit everyone” featured towards the end of second paragraph seems to suggest that “we” are. (If it is not the artist, then who is the "we" that the author is referring to?) Although I have stated a similar opinion in the past, I feel that the repositioning of my point is relevant to the discussion. As a citizen, I completely agree with the author. I am solidly part of the same ideological constituency and, like the author, clearly recognize that the artist must somehow find a way to weather to economic turbulence of today and the future and prosper. That said, I do not see the role of the artist and activist as essentially synonymous or that it is the artist’s inherent role to change the society at large through socio-political intervention or similarly themed artistic output. Just as there are artists who are, and may want to be, great activists trumpeting the call for social intervention while exploiting the cracks in our dysfunctional capitalist system, there are great artists who position themselves firmly in opposition to such activist policies. Although these individuals may not fit into the social class that bears the most significant hardship of our broken economies, they are still the “we” that the author presumes should be sympathetic to the perspective presented. What immediately comes to mind is Ezra Pound’s “fascist activism” of the 1930s. Pound clearly doesn’t possess the character traits of the “we” the author had in mind. As a citizen, I am in Sholette’s camp as he promotes the concept the artist entrepreneur who is also resourceful enough to find a way to “exploit the exploiter” while embracing the reality that the historical mechanisms that created the social and government arts funding of the past have been trounced by the negative residual effects of the rise in global capitalism. This resonates more with me than the positions presented in This Is Our Real Job. Sholette describes what is needed rather than mandating how I as an artist should specifically address the issue.
Watch Where you are Putting that Pencil by Anthony Elms
Writers are just as vulnerable in this economy as the practioners of other creative disciplines and in some ways have it worse. Elm describes the work of today’s writer as under funded at best that often amounts to volunteer work. Noting the pay structure and employment policies of such publications as Time Out – Chicago, he provides a perspective to just how bad it can be— apparently so bad that working noting that working for free can be more beneficial in the sense that at least “I don’t collect the check and realize how little my input it valued”. After mentioning how he finds writing about artists whose work he likes and those who he has a mutually beneficial relationship with, he continues to discuss the concept of “quality control” as it relates to the problem of this lack of appreciation extending to the role of the editor in writing.. As Elms rightfully points out, the underpaid, undereducated editor creates an issue for the factual integrity of the work published. If an editor does not have the experience or an investment in the subject at hand, the factual accuracy of a written work can suffer. Sometimes a small error can cause a statement to mean the exact opposite of what was intended, He exemplifies how editorial errors can have very serious consequences for an artist written about as well as well as the author and publisher responsible for what is written. Elms speculates that this is, and the highly specialized aspect of art writing, to be the reason that the artist has difficulty entrusting the writer to accurately convey his or her words.
Having friends who are professional editors, I certainly understand the job of editors to be essential to any published work. When Elms mentions that “you get exactly what you pay for” it seems that the stakes of getting it wrong and then sending it to print are simply to high to underpay those responsible for guarding the final integrity of the written work.
Destroying Public Harmony
How to Reclaim the Common by Doina Petrescu
In brief reference to the previous article, either Petrescu badly needs an editor or the publisher in under funding the editorial process. Some of the meaning in this article becomes lost in insufficient translation.
Petrescu discusses the loss of public property and space that has occurred in Eastern Europe over the past decade. Focusing on the theft of the commons that has occurred in Romania beginning in the communist era, Petrescu comments on how such a pervasive societal issue of theft of common goods, services, and institutional values has resulted in deep social apathy and a broad devaluing of the larger community structure. With the development of a transitional government, the socialist oligarchs supported privatization of the public property largely because they were well positioned to purchase it upon its reclassification. With the elements of a recognizable community disappearing around them, Romanian citizens entrusted only the immediate community of the family.
The issue proliferated through the cities resulting the transition of public rivers, parks, and buildings to private property. Bucharest experienced the destruction of Historical common spaces, with the “systematic planning” of the dictatorial Ceausescu regime, which this non-dissenting communist society passively accepted. With the disappearance of the “public”, ownership of private property became the normal goal for the average citizen.
Sadly, this eerily seems like a desperate grasp at same ideal that embodied the now mythic “American Dream” . The social development and satisfaction that results from a connection to fair and functional social system has given way to an embrace of comodification as the norm.
So what can or should we do about it? While also quoting Jacques Rancièr, Petrescu presents her view, that although the politician will fail to implement true reform, the artist is uniquely positioned to help with the process of reclaiming the commons:
“The political creativity is not politicien’s field, they are at the best concerned with creative politics. Political creativity consists in ways of enlarging the scope of political possibility, to use Jacques Rancière’s term. According to him, this political possibility is situated in the realm of aesthetics. Political artworks ‘suspend the ordinary coordinates of sensory experience and reframe the network of relationships between spaces and times, subjects and objects, the common and the singular” in order to transform “the landscape of the possible.”
With her eloquently put statement that “artists should be the keepers of the sensible memory of the past and the holders of the radical imagination of the future”, Petrescu presents a logical premise for why artists of these effected regions should be at the forefront of initiating such social redevelopment.
It should be obvious at this point that I dislike the rhetoric of the ethical position that seems to call for a reassignment of the artist’s role to something “better” or “more” -- a perspective that seems to also suggest that being an artist simply produces work (work that may have no socio-activist premise) is insufficient or outdated, or is simply a recipe for failure considering our present socio-economic reality, Despite my taking exception with this notion, I completely agree with Petrescu that creatively minded individuals such as an artists likely possess the historical sensitivity and creative vision to restore the public commons in a manner that, through its development, would exemplify what is possible. The products of this process could provide an apathetic society with something worth fighting for.
Use a Bicycle – Apprentice in the Sun by Rainer Ganahl
Ganahl describes how his introduction to the bicycle changed his view on freedom of mobility, romance, sex, politics and art. He discusses the effect of DuChamp’s Apprentice in the Sun on his work, describing his reproduction of the original work into the form of a neon sign. Ganahl also discusses the use of the bicycle bomb as a weapon in warfare, the creation of the “Don’t steal my Mercedes-Benz” Bicycle, complete with both Kryptonite and bronze locks, and the bike as the vehicle of a sustainable culture.
Ganahl is clearly obsessed with biking. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, I like biking too. In fact, I like it a lot, albeit not to the point of obsession. His obsession seems to have lead him down the path of creating bad art while publicly professing his love affair with the vehicle. Having watched his video Bicycling Flann O’Brien, On Housing http://www.ganahl.info/videos/onhousing_OK.mov I understand the reference to The third Policeman’s DeSelby and find his presentation to be quite uninteresting.
I do however find this observation on bike theft to be interesting:
“Apart from the fact that most bicycles are today produced in China, reports about the theft of European infrastructures – stolen by the tons - for their raw material value ending up in China add yet another twist to the fear of loss inherent to the material world, but also to love, live and death”
In thinking about his observation I recall being in Amsterdam and being struck by it as a city dominated by bikes— bikes that looked very homogeneic in their generic style. I assume this was to prevent the individual bike being targeted for theft.