In Response To The Protest Group In Regard To Racial And Gender Inclusion:
Substituting the token artist member of this selection committee doesn’t change a thing. Nor does it change when token artists of color and gender are selected as recipients among the dominant privileged artists who receive prizes. The real issue will remain deeply embedded within the institution and within the very process of “support” by means of elimination.
In my own fifty years among various artist communities and working artist groups I’ve never known any, not one, to either profess or demonstrate prejudice with regard to gender, language or skin color – but we can be highly complicit and we are all prone to engage with fervent complicity in activities of marginalization such as this – AND that in a nutshell is our biggest challenge.
This is a problem deeply systemic to the institution, its members and in its subsequent programming.
Every time we submit forms and applications to compete with one another in a selection for grants and prizes we become complicit with the institutions that support these prejudices. Every time we congratulate a fellow artist for winning a grant prize or console the overwhelming numbers of other deserving artists who do not, we contribute to the belief that this is both our only hope and our only fate.
Every time we’re asked to serve as the token artist on a jury of our peers we contribute to the divisiveness that keeps us in our place and pitted against one another for the very least we should all expect to receive fairly.
What if funding that is given to select artists is used towards programs and policies benefit all artists without regard to ideals that are complicit with prejudice? Programs such as pensions, emergency funds, health and education programs that include the artist’s immediate families, legal assistance, and policies such as advocacy for permanent low-cost artist studio zoned properties, royalty benefits and inclusion in the decision-making of priorities in local, state, and federal cultural initiatives ? Or as support for basic fair and equal compensation for artist’s time and labor so that we wouldn’t be dependent the marginal charity that institutions can only occasionally provide?
Why don’t we all just simply stop being complicit in our own individual demise and focus on the means that enhance our collective success and that more effectively address our collective needs – NOT dependent on selection or subject to its deeply embedded and systemic prejudices?
Let’s talk about funding to assist ALL artists, not only the ones that are cherry-picked for success.
The rationalization of “social practice art” and promotion for much political art imagery inevitably rests with examples such as Picasso’s “Guernica” or Goya’s “The Shootings of May Third 1808“. This presumes everyone is familiar with western art history and be so moved emotionally or in anger to rise up against their oppressors to demand justice in the face of such violence.
The truth is that few people other than those familiar with Spanish history actually know where city of Guernica is, or what actually happened there, why or when, or why May 3, 1808 is a significant date other than being the title of a painting by Goya?
Were it not for a specific familiarity with western art history could it not be seen that the purpose of these paintings for the actual promotion of violence such as with countless images of victorious battles and crusades, Mayan paintings commemorating the subjugation of their neighbors; the invasion of Troy, perhaps? Who is to say those figures facing the firing squad in Goya’s painting couldn’t be perceived as the enemy itself, members of a vicious drug cartel, gang rapists, or convicted murderers? (Photographs are documents, and though they’re often regarded as art, the context is quite different.)
While it may or not be true, there’s a relevant anecdote about “Guernica”. Apparently when the Germans entered Paris during the WWII occupation, a group of SS officers went to visit Picasso. Upon seeing a photo reproduction of the painting, one of the officers said to Picasso, “Did you do this??” Picasso’s reply was, “No, you did.”
Every artist has a right and an obligation to speak up for social justice or act legally upon their political ideals – the same as ANY citizen. We are NOT privileged more or less than anyone else despite the argument that an artist’s work MUST depict their political beliefs or someone else’s political agenda. We are not messengers and art does more than send a message.