The Artist Statement
Once and for all, let’s finally dispense with the erroneous notion that an artist is a person of the bourgeois entrepreneur business-class engaged in a continuous exhibit schedule, concerned primarily with sales, critical reviews, receives numerous grants and wins awards – at the same time dedicated in servitude with none or the minimum of guaranteed compensation to those persons and institutions of greater power and wealth.
These have nothing to do with making art or the purpose of being an artist. Though such notions are widely accepted, they are also more precisely akin to the hegemonic academic practices of 18th and 19th c. America, France, England and Germany that so many of the artists we now admire for their modernist and progressive foresight stridently abhorred, boycotted and rejected. One only has to read the responses throughout history of so many artists to the attempts at manipulation and competition perpetrated upon them. Accolades and awards are not art, nor do an artist make.
While many current name-artists presumably display their political direction as liberal or progressive, their activity within the predominant art-market reveals instead highly conservative, capitalist and self-serving intent. There are few alternative models; the art schools offer none. Neo-classical idealism of the 19th c. is replaced in the 21st c. with the neoliberal dogma of the art institution and otherwise nothing has progressed. Where non-artist administrative and curatorial professionals are employed to define the bare parameters of art and culture no differently than the ministers and courts of King Louis XIV or to the stifling prescriptions of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, now exhibitions of contemporary artists have replaced the official Salon and token grants are awarded to replace shiny medals and useless titles. We produce generation after generation trained sycophants as artists in name only.
Yet here we are well into the 21st c. and no one is even remotely aware that the modern Art Museum and the Arts Commission are as irrelevant to art and artists as the 18th and 19th c. Académie was at the turn of the 20th c.
Even if the most current trend in arts grants and exhibition proposals, ‘Art as social commentary’ proves to be no more than that, another short-lived art-world trend, at least it will have closed the coffin door on subsequent reactionary isms. And while art still suffers from the stigma of every other ism prior to it, namely individualism, or the celebrity status of its proponents, the move towards content with tangible, common and relevant cultural origins – and away from the ridiculous, occult formalism and its subsequent reactionary response and resurgence that dominated 20th c. art practice, is likely the final turning point at least in this century.
The real artist is not anointed by any such officialdom or consensus and pandering to the like will be seen for the curse it is and the equivalent of no other innate or meaningful talent whatsoever beyond that relevant to sales promotion or membership in the circus.
What is relevant to the highest degree in taking the title of artist isn’t the production of objects, the proposal of projects or the participation in performances and events – but the active awareness that any bona-fide, long-term collective culture and our role in its preservation against the contaminating effects of commercial exploitation – as with our disappearing natural environment – is, in fact, vitally more critical to sustenance of the quality of human life than petty claims to the myth of evolutionary aesthetic progression or temporal politics.
In 1964, the Danish artist, Asger Jorn, co-founder of the CoBrA movement and member of the Situationist Group was awarded a Guggenheim Award including a generous cash prize, by an international jury assembled by art critic, Lawrence Alloway. The following day Jorn sent this telegram to the president of the Guggenheim, Harry F. Guggenheim :
GO TO HELL BASTARD—STOP—REFUSE PRIZE—STOP—NEVER ASKED FOR IT—STOP—AGAINST ALL DECENCY MIX ARTIST AGAINST HIS WILL IN YOUR PUBLICITY—STOP—I WANT PUBLIC CONFIRMATION NOT TO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN YOUR RIDICULOUS GAME.
That telegram, mostly ignored by the art establishment, and which I personally view as one of the most important documents of 20th century art, signals for the first time in centuries the right of artists to free themselves of the unsolicited opinions and their success or failure as defined by a selection process by any other than their peers. What followed shortly thereafter was a resurgence of this ideal and the formation of groups that advocated for the expansion of artist’s rights; in 1969, the Art Workers’ Coalition, the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, The Guerrilla Art Action Group, The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer And Sale Agreement in 1971, the Boston Visual Artists’ Union and the International Wages for Housework Campaign in 1972; the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act in 1974, The Second American Artists Congress in 1975 among others. Most recent examples of advocacy for artists include the founding of Working Artists And The Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) in 2008 and in November 2017 four young women nominated for Germany’s preeminent art prize, the Preis der Nationalgalerie, refused the awards (as Jorn did in 1964) and published their statement denouncing the prize’s emphasis on their gender, nationalities, sponsors—and the lack of artist fees.
– Bill Roseberry 2018.