The Auction Houses, now privatized, are setting record-breaking sales and profits on artwork from the last century however well beyond the likelihood that will have any effect on your immediate future.

The museums and galleries, once the only foot-in-the-door for emerging artists are closed, their revenue is dwindling, and laying off employees many of whom are artists dependent on a bi-weekly income. The museums remaining budgets are earmarked for management salaries, collections and building maintenance. Most of the commercial galleries are facing the same predicament, paying rent on premium storefront properties, also closed to public while the average collector is forced to limit their spending on necessities.

Sadly, it doesn’t appear that on-line exhibits and sales are making up the difference as artist collectives and cooperatives are likewise facing an uncertain economic crunch due to Covid-19 restrictions and a generally poor economy overall. (Who wants to attend a virtual art opening when the dominant activity wasn’t looking but being seen?)

Art Schools and University Art Departments are laying off teachers and adjuncts while the remaining teachers have yet to renew their contracts – the consequence being a loss of academic credentials, a loss of subsidized studio spaces within the institution, and a loss of income for those artist/teachers who would use a portion of that income for studio rent, materials and labor for large projects, if and when those opportunities might resume.

Arts Agencies and Foundations responsible for disbursing monies for public arts projects and individual merit are also likely to be facing the same staff and budget cuts.

So… what are individual artists to do without the promise of an income from their work or exposure to potential collectors? (A promise that never held any potential for a sustained income for all but a handful of artists even in the most lucrative years of art market sales.)

Can artists expect to see emergency government subsidies for the arts? Again, not likely.  Governmental funding for the arts rarely goes directly to artists. And even if there were a push to fund artists in such an emergency that is certain to go to commercial artists with a proven business record (or academic credentials), not to everyone who claims to be an artist with a minor record of exhibitions.

One scenario will be that many artists will simply throw in the towel; give up art making and look to other less demanding, more stable means of income. Fine Arts departments will drop studio classes for lack of enrollment and replace them with those who seek careers in arts management, curatorial studies, art therapy and cultural history.

Another more positive scenario dependent more on the artists own initiatives could be as simple and cost effective as actual solidarity; foregoing the competition for individual success for the joy of mutual accomplishment, sharing resources and materials, building community within existing communities for active long-term support opposed to pandering to outside agencies for one-time awards or to anonymous collectors for a token sale. – making art to actively spite false hopes, fantasies of artworld success, and unrealistic expectations never intended or offered for sustained fruition.



“If only we could make this kind of short and extremely simple argument for art. I value art because its existence has had more positive impact than negative in our world. I value art because it helps guide us through life. I value art just cuz. Of course this would all be easier if artists were seen more as working people than wizards who dwell in the mystical.” –  Victoria Ward [1]

…To begin with, it is simply absurd to speak of the ‘art-world’ as though it represents a common truth about anything primary to the production of art. Apart from a world of images that artists depict, it’s a catch-all term coined during the 1960’s to account for the rapid growing number of personalities who began prospering and making news in various arts-related businesses. In other segments of the economy the equivalent is better known as an industry, such as ‘the music industry’ or ‘the fashion industry’.  Those personalities included art collectors, art dealers, art critics, philanthropists, art historians, art professors, museum curators, and museum directors, as well as the select artists with whom they were connected. So, to infer that any current problem within the art industry is unique to an isolated segment of the industry, such as ” it’s all about the art market”, “it’s all about the state of art criticism”…”the incorporation of culture by institutions”, “the power of the collector class”, “the relevance of arts education”, “gender and race”, “politics”,” technology”, “the artist as celebrity entrepreneur”, etc. is mostly a failure to recognize where this trail of misleading priorities begins.  Art is not generated by the art-world, nor does art engender itself from nature to be extracted like a plant or mineral resource, or is it there to be colonized like a newly discovered continent. Artists make art and the idea that someone is said to be an artist is in no way contingent to the myths and vicissitudes of the “art-world”.

What does that mean “to be an artist “? Does it mean that he or she is a rebel of sorts, unsuited for any other occupation? No. Does it mean that the person has some exceptional talent that will insure their success? No. Does it mean that an artist is a person who is given wider parameters with which to seek their own terms of success?  No. Does it mean that the potential artist, like any other career or occupation-seeking individual might possibly also contribute something significant to the growth of a long-term viable example of his or her native community? Perhaps.

What the notion of being an artist does mean is, that unless someone decides they will be ‘self-taught’ or that they have other means of supporting their hobby, they will begin like everyone else training for their chosen career at a college, university, or private institution. And they will most likely enter into a legal contract that places them first and foremost deeply into financial debt. [2]  After completion of a BFA, MFA, or PhD. providing they can afford it or secure additional loans, they will begin to look for work to pay those loans. [3]  While they were training to become artists the student artist will have been given skills and techniques that would supposedly prepare them to earn a living and begin repaying the debt they incurred. On rare occasions the art student might have encountered a solitary course of study on the business of art or how best to approach the art industry. More often, and more informally, the typical art student will be exposed to the language of art academia also known as ‘art speak’ (or International Art English ) [4] the common language of critiques and subsequent self-promotion and grant writing.  It should be noted that those from whom the student receives advice on the business of art or the vagaries of the market for art are mostly professional academics with little expert knowledge of business or market economics. What the artist student will never have received is the suggestion that they may have entered a fool’s errand – that they will spend [5] more money in the course of their career as an artist than they could ever hope to earn. Nevertheless art students are encouraged daily to continue to invest in this false assumption not to theirs but to the benefit of art galleries, art dealers, art consultants, arts administrators, arts non-profits organizations, art therapists, arts publications and the whole gamut of arts-related businesses and non-profits, there ostensibly to assist artists, however, dependent on the cheapest labor [6] infinitely and unquestioningly provided by artists.

The entire art-world economy hinges radically on this thought; only those artists who sacrifice themselves to their work within the premise of the evolving tenets of western modernism and without promise of material gain can ever hope to attain the posterity of a place on a wall of a museum or in art history books. The making of art is, as we’ve been told, “a priesthood” (it doesn’t occur to anyone that a priest is fed, has a roof over his head, and collect baskets of money every Sunday…). We are led to believe that the making of true art cannot be predicated on the promise of any return value except at which point (the artist is likely deceased) the artwork is assigned a market value by someone other than the artist based on comparative aesthetic and cultural considerations by yet another non-artist. One may argue that this systematically prevents artists from inflating their own worth, and, in fact, it does. Any discussion of the value of art invariably leads either to the unbelievable dollar amount recently paid for a painting at auction (giving the impression that it is the artist who profits) – or to the social benefits of having art in public places, arts in education, or as some manner of economic stimulus to the community – all at the behest of philanthropists, non-profits, educators and wealthy donors  – while artists are left to pointing fingers amongst themselves about which of them has sold out and who is playing the system.

“As defined by Adam Smith, the laws of supply and demand are still a basic framework for understanding how the economic system works. According to Smith’s explanation there is no “supply” of artworks. Looked at from the perspective of this simplified lesson in economics we can see a possible explanation for the peculiar state of the contemporary art world today: The impossible-to-value artwork becomes the object of impossible value.”
–Nicolaus Schafhausen, director/Direktor Kunsthalle Wien [7]

But the valuation of artworks isn’t an abstraction despite its limitless supply. There are accumulated man-hours to be accounted for. There are resources that must be acquired and renewed when they become depleted. There are acquired skill sets, the cost of materials, rental space for manufacture and storage, delivery, those categories that in any normal professional activity would be seen as overhead but as an artist’s responsibility is somehow unaccounted for.

“(Imagine the immediate financial consequences [8] if, even for just one month, no artist purchased art supplies, read online art blog or cultural journals, visited museums, paid fees for lectures or workshops, fabricated somebody’s project, installed a museum exhibition, handled a shipment of paintings, taught an adjunct art class, or even mentioned the word “art.”)” – Gregory Sholette

Of course we’re assuming that the typical artist is only committed to their art and if that doesn’t provide the income to cover costs, what does?  There are grants to be had, but in all but a few cases that requires that the artist has already acquired a history of success as determined by likes of the very institutions that are providing those grants – or, by the galleries which in turn looks to the institutions those artist are applying for grants from as a factor in choosing their stable of artists.

To receive a grant it helps to be connected to a college or university or private school in more ways than one. But now we are back to the original source of the problem. With a degree or two in hand the debt-ridden art student has limited alternatives (1) to provide an income for themselves (2) to provide for the continuation of their work (3) to repay the debt.  The obvious choices are to begin teaching art as a part-time adjunct professor – a dismal prospect [9] –  or to find work to which he or she is qualified in an arts-related field, bearing in mind that most of those positions will pay little more than a volunteer receives working for a non-profit organization.

That so many art professors and those with arts-related incomes aren’t always aware of the stark realities of a life devoted strictly to the artist profession isn’t their fault – they’re teachers and their curriculums focus on the tools, materials and theory of art, not economics.  As Educators, artist academics generally declare teaching as their occupation and primary source of income and often file their art-related expenditures as in income loss or deduction to the IRS. Their academic standing and eligibility for tenure requires that they continue to make art and exhibit as often as possible and that counts as an occupational expense. A full-time artist may deduct similar expenses as a small-business owner but is limited to how often he or she can file at a loss and still qualify as a small business. (I don’t have the numbers and I don’t know if they’ve ever been compiled but my hunch is that the vast majority of art shown in commercial galleries is by artist/educators. While that may not be significant in itself it does give a hint towards the dwindling numbers of artists who are not somehow dependent on colleges and universities to fund their creative work.)

Looking at the larger picture we see that modern culture (and to some extent the complete history of western culture) proposes an unspoken dichotomy as it pertains to artists; art is either an occupation that produces goods and services for which the artist receives nominal compensation as with other workers in other occupations, or,  that art is the singular byproduct of independent individuals for which compensation could be viewed as a liability to its veracity and the independent nature from which it manifests – the accidental or naive genius on the verge of discovery. Art is either a career or a vocation, it cannot be both:

“The seamless screen of bohemian oratory maintained by artists of the New York School in the 1950’s masked the fact that with them originated today’s model of art as a career to be manufactured, in opposition to the older model of it as a vocation to be followed.” Bradford R. Collins, “Life Magazine and The Abstract Expressionists”- The Art Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 2, Jun., 1991, p. 295.

But like all false dichotomies the premises are misleading; before artists began visibly signing their work art wasn’t a ‘calling’ or a ‘vocation’ where acolytes willingly enter a life of bare necessity in search of some abstract accomplishment. It was a trade, a craft, a career, a means of livelihood, work for which one negotiated somewhat standard compensation depending on their proven skill. But that leaves a serious problem when it comes to distinguishing ‘art’ from mere production. The solution: to inflate the value of art to the degree it becomes more important economically and socially than the artists who produce it. Whether art is defined as an object or an act, the primary foundation on which to establish art as a commodity, a business, or an institution is precisely to devalue the artist practitioner in favor of both blanket social theory and the precious object of posterity. What purpose this false dichotomy serves today is to mask the real source of a multibillion dollar industry while endlessly mythologizing [10] its own noble aims.

As with those who once argued the value of sugar and cotton to the southern economy, the very production of which could not exist without the benefit of slave labor, the purpose this dichotomy serves between art as art as industry and art as social meditation is to force any dialogue about the value of art and culture from fact to supposition, from substance to speculation; literally. Perhaps the true value of art is no more than the value of honest and equitable labor, tenacity and qualified skill of artists?  At this present day and age what thought could be more radical, more truthful, more inspiring?













The following is a guest post by Bill Roseberry an artist in Washington, D.C. 

“Every artist’s work changes when he dies…  Finally no one remembers what his work was like when he was alive … [His work] will have become evidence from the past, instead of being … a possible preparation for something to come.”  John Berger’s essay on Alberto Giacometti

Last summer I had the opportunity to meet with the director and young associates of a well-known University Art Museum about a proposal I intended to make.  Unlike other museums in the area this museum has an extremely good track record for representing local artists both in its regular schedule of shows and events as well as maintaining prominent area devoted to that purpose.  My proposal  seemed perfect and I was optimistic when the director personally made an appointment to meet with me.

The project I outlined was to compile an active history or database of local artists from the present to as far back as information was available. Besides being a participatory and widely inclusive undertaking, it would not impact the museum’s regular schedule, would require no actual space, no curatorial responsibilities, and very little funding beyond what the artists themselves would contribute for the purpose of their own posterity.

Then, as they say, it all went south.  The museum, the director said, was about art, not about artists; “I don’t see the difference between art and artists”, he said, “they’re the same as far as I’m concerned”.

Was he really asking me to explain the difference between a human being  and their representation as an item in his gallery? Was he being sincere or simply testing my sincerity? Then it dawned on me…


It isn’t that he cannot see the difference, but that he and others have made it possible to disregard the artist over their fascination with our produce… picking flowers with the belief they are cultivating a plant.  If there is no distinction between the artist and their work how is it that so many institutions of culture and learning are predicated on the basis of nothing but the search and attainment of just such distinctions?

The difference between art and artists is something that is never taught, at least formally.  To some extent and in that respect we are even inclined to take ourselves for granted – our work and our identity are one and the same. Or are they?  We are all taught the history of art but where do we go to learn the history of artists. Giorgio Vasari compiled his “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects ” in 1550. There are various individual biographies but few modern compendiums.  Where is the Museum of Artists?  The question what is the difference between art and artists may appear rhetorical, but is it?

The difference between myself and my work is something I’ve learned in the process of becoming an artist.  And mostly how much more difficult it is to live as an artist than it is to simply produce another work.  Even my failures stand for something. That is what non-artists do not understand.  Art is not an object that can be displayed, offered for sale, compared to objects like it, but lived on a daily basis for the entirety of our lives.

My latest project will be far less ambitious. That is whenever someone mentions art, wants to talk about art, I will simply ask, “where does the artist enter in this discussion”, and refuse to be taken for granted or disregarded.

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person oriented society.” – Martin Luther King

Bill Roseberry

MPs Push For Artist’s Resale Right In Canada



POSTED: JUNE 24, 2013

The House of Commons adjourned last week for its summer break—but not before seeing certain MPs push for an artist’s resale right in Canada.

On May 29, Scott Simms, a Liberal MP from Newfoundland, working in conjunction with Peter Stoffer, an NDP MP from Nova Scotia, introduced a private member’s bill to bring an artist’s resale right to Canada.

Bill C-516 proposes to amend the Copyright Act so that artists receive a 5 per cent royalty on secondary sales of artworks worth $500 or more.

Though private member’s bills seldom become law, Simms tells Canadian Art that “if every MP has to vote on the bill, then they have to be aware of the issue.” So, in his view, “even if it fails [to become law], it could succeed in raising awareness for policy makers.”

The next day, May 30, Quebec NDP MP Pierre Nantel launched Motion M-445 to create an artist’s resale right for Canadian artists.

Motions are more general than bills, with M-445 seeking to establish a basic principle that the government should implement some kind of right which “provides visual artists with a right to a resale royalty for their artistic works” and that is “developed in consultation with artists.”

“The last few years I’ve been in politics, I’ve learned you should do the most you can as quickly as possible,” says Nantel, who worked for 20-plus years in the Quebec music industry. “The main thing is to agree that artists have a right to have a resale right when things are resold—especially when they get older and are less productive, so that they are better known, but with less income.”

Simms and Nantel express support for each other’s initiatives, even as they differ whether certain details—like whether CARFAC should administrate it—need to be laid out at this time.

Actions Inspired by First Nations Artists

Nantel and Simms say they were triggered to take action on Artist’s Resale Right by the plight, in particular, of aboriginal artists in Canada.

“The first trigger for me has been the Idle No More movement,” Nantel says. During that time, he says he got to meet with “various players” in the First Nations art world.

The CBC’s reportage of a $450,000 estimate on a 1959 Cape Dorset print series at Waddington’s on May 6, and related comments by Q host Jian Ghomeshi about the unfairness of the sale to the original Inuit artists, sealed the deal.

“I said, ‘There has got to be something done right away,’” Nantel recalls.

Simms first heard of artist’s resale rights, also known in some nations as droit de suite, a few years ago during Council of Europe trade talks in France.

“Apparently [droit de suite] is one of the things Europe was hoping Canada would adopt,” Simms recalls, “because all countries with artist’s resale rights have reciprocal agreements with other countries.”

Simms then studied resale rights further; like Nantel, he has been a member of the Legislative Committee on Bill C-11, a major amendment to the Copyright Act that passed in June 2012. Both have also been members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

For Simms, an Ottawa Citizen story on Annie Pootoogook, the Sobey Art Award–winning artist who has recently been living on the streets of Ottawa, was the final straw. “It said she was selling drawings on the streets for $25, but her earlier work was selling in a gallery for $2,500.”

Simms notes that Nunavut’s government already supports creation of an Artist’s Resale Right given the large numbers of First Nations artists who live there (in Cape Dorset and elsewhere) and would benefit.

Stoffer, the NDP MP who co-sponsored Bill C-516 with Simms, is married to Andrea Stoffer, who is an artist. Speaking in the House of Commons on May 29, Simms cited her as another inspiration for the bill.

Art Dealers Association Urges Caution

While certain MPs are excited about artist’s resale rights, Jeanette Langmann, president of the Art Dealers Association of Canada and a director at Uno Langmann in Vancouver, says caution is needed when proceeding with the idea.

“I think that it is fair and commendable to improve the economic conditions of Canadian artists, and I think that dealers and artists can and must work together to find a solution that is equitable and benefits everyone,” Langmann says. “But I think this artist’s resale right initiative could have a negative affect on a market that is already fragile.”

Langmann fears that “sales would be driven to the US,” where there is no national resale right, and that “any market there is at the moment for Canadian artists” would suffer as a result.

ADAC is currently putting together a position paper on the artist’s resale right. Langmann argues that the administrative costs are very high for such a right, and that relatively few artists benefit as a result.

“I think it is the most established artists who will benefit the most,” Langmann says. “I think there needs to be more research done as to how much benefit there would be to the average artist.”

Other options, she says, for supporting artists could include “tax cuts for artists, tax cuts for buying Canadian art, or a retirement fund for artists.”

“There are many ways of working around this,” Langmann says, “without a 5 per cent implementation which will be perceived as a tax.”

CARFAC Continues Push for Right

CARFAC, a non-profit corporation billed as “the national voice of Canada’s professional visual artists,” has been pushing for an artist’s resale right for several years and its leaders expressed support for the new bill and motion put forth by MPs.

“They are both a good step in the right direction,” CARFAC national director April Britski says.

Britski confirms that CARFAC met with both Pierre Nantel and Scott Simms in advance of their respective actions in parliament and provided them with information as to how an artist’s resale right might work in Canada.

CARFAC has also presented to the Bill C-11 and other parliamentary committees about artist’s resale rights in recent years, and talked about it with other Ottawa politicians.

Though Britski says it could be months, or even years, before Bill C-516 or Motion M-445 come up the House of Commons docket for further discussion, the policymakers involved remain enthusiastic.

“We know there are about 70 countries doing this [working with an artist’s resale right],” Simms says. “At the very least I could say, ‘Let’s try this; it’s only right.’”

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