The Career Myth

As was the express goal in certain feminist circles of the significance of placing women in higher status among administrative personnel, publicly and privately, and the same with persons of color, it should be seen that such gains towards greater inclusion have yet to move the balance of power or the dominion that male whites and their corporate agendas still prominently retain.  What can also be attested is the degree to which those women and their minority counterparts who achieve higher positions give in or are forced to become complicit with the dominant order. Breaking the glass ceiling by select individuals does nothing for those who do not seek status within the order but rather seek permanent change and more secure welfare for all from the bottom up. Nevertheless, careerism, particularly among educators is promoted as the primary route for anyone seeking any form of social change, for themselves or as representative of a group. Having prominent names appear on a resume is the key to every step of success. Position is equivalent to economic status is equivalent to public visibility is equivalent to leverage. The problem is that those in power rarely cede status to anyone without promise of conformity. (1.) Under the institutionalization and corporatization of western business and the laws of capitalism demand that competition either be subsumed or destroyed – subsequently, just as independent businesses are hijacked or absorbed by corporate interests, independent careers fade more quickly than they appear.  

Yet, careerism remains the de facto motivation for anyone with a talent who wishes to enter into the arts. Where once it was rather clear that being an artist was more of a vocation than a means of support, freshmen students entering art school are solicited with the very idea of achieving a well-paid well-recognized career. All that is required is to compete at every opportunity… never mind having just entered into a lifetime of debt for their tuition (2.)  Four years and three additional loans later the prospective artist receives a certificate, a diploma, signed by someone they’ve never met, and a title to add to their resume; B.F.A., signaling the start of their ‘career’. Well, almost. You see, as tens of thousands of aspiring artists graduate with a bachelor degree in Fine Arts every year its value decreases and alone rarely if ever opens doors or qualifies by itself as a career resume. Even to teach art as a part-time, minimum wage adjunct requires a master’s degree at the very least and previous teaching experience in addition to that. Further career strategies at this point are limited.

The cost of art requires an underlying investment that doesn’t simply appear from a singular talent or from thin air. To begin, a workplace or studio must be maintained, preferably in or near a high-rent metropolitan area close to a viable art market with supportive institutions and active art community. (The alternative here is to be labeled an ‘outsider’, a ‘regionalist’ or ‘folk artist’.) Tools and materials must be readily obtainable. Work hours must be critically optimized, not only for production but for the various grants and solicitations that need be applied for and extended. If an artist’s family cannot provide support, then a secondary income must be found that doesn’t compete profoundly with the requirements of an art career, such as working for an art institution, teaching art at a lower level, or working with a socially acceptable non-profit organization that allows for a variable schedule or from home. Budgeting time and income will be critical, especially since hundreds of other career-seeking artists will be in active competition for the very same opportunities.

The other option, and the most common, will be continuing education for two more years, and two more loans with the goal of an M.F.A. degree to add to the resume and open the possibility of finding a teaching position. It’s a step upwards, but once again, not uncommon. A master’s program offered at a State-run public institution is easier to qualify for and generally less expensive, though a Masters in Fine Arts from a dedicated art school or Ivy League school is far more prestigious, but also the most competitive and arguably the most expensive.  An M.F.A. degree from Yale ($45,700. /yr.) or Rhode Island School of Design ($57,726. /yr.), for instance, will certainly make an artist competitive in the college teaching profession. While that doesn’t necessarily qualify as a full professorship, it’s a foot in the door, an income with perks – and the ability to begin paying school loans without having to fear bankruptcy. The tradeoff here however is committing oneself to be a career educator rather than an independent artist.

There’s another problem with the choice of teaching art to supplement income and support a working studio; it’s a problem inherent to the teaching profession as a whole. That is one of the value and relevancy of recycled knowledge. It’s fair to say that anyone having spent six years of their formative years as a student will have only limited experience with the current condition on the subject outside of academia. Moreover, that person on becoming a teacher will be more likely to repeat information that they received from their teachers along with their own choice of career alternatives as advice to their students, without critical inquiry or relevant information, who will then become teachers in a never-ending cycle, the alternatives being realistically few and far between. It must also be mentioned that with the rapid growth of M.F.A. programs in colleges and universities in the last several decades and the numbers of M.F.A graduates comes both its devaluation as a noteworthy achievement and loss of competitive edge. Never mind, currently one can apply for yet another level of academic and career status; The Doctorate of Fine Arts; a D.F.A. (3.)

A less expensive career strategy that doesn’t incur endless debt is to secure an income that would help support one’s vocation as well as oneself by sacrificing leisure time; in essence, keeping two careers, one supporting the other. Again, budgeting time and expenditures is critical – and in both cases in direct competition with those who can afford to focus solely on one or the other and maintain a normal life and potentially a family. For women who choose this path invariably means the decision to forego having children. (It must also be noted that much talk of career goals in the arts rarely if ever addresses the basic long-term essentials and rarely if ever speaks of the requirements for health care, disability and retirement programs offered under normal employment.) For those who choose both having a job as well as an art career the possibilities for employment depends on additional skills one can cite that apply to a given position. For those with a degree in studio arts, finding employment at an arts institution such as a museum or arts foundation is ideal, however, most clerical and research positions are generally given to people with degrees in art history, museum studies and arts management. Otherwise, the options are limited to part-time and minimum-wage support staff such as maintenance, security guard, front desk or shop clerk. Being an artist, or having an art degree is rarely considered a skill despite one’s level of education.

Whereas once an artist gained esteem for the level of independence and individuality they had achieved, conformity and complicity are now standard procedure for a successful art career:

Conforming to the belief that a successful career is measured in marketing and public recognition.

Conforming to career values as held by educators and educational institutions that promote their corporate interests.

Conforming to and advancing the model of entrepreneurial values and prerogatives.

Conforming to a public view of art and the status of artists as given by unqualified “experts”.

Complicit in tacitly participating with and advancing narratives, programs and motives that routinely exploit artists’ labor for profit and gain in exchange for vague benefits.

Complicit with the broad view that western culture is a universal given and that non-metropolitan, regional and local culture is somehow of less or limited value.

Complicit with the view that art is a competitive activity.

Complicit with the Institutional and corporatized management of culture and cultural artifacts and as such is the prime beneficiary of ‘support for the arts’.

Complicit in the marginalization, stratification and compartmentalizing of artists in groups such as; ‘emerging artists’, ‘women artists’, ‘artists of color’, ‘indigenous’, etc  

Complicit in the tacit acknowledgment that artist’s welfare is contingent on select prizes, awards, charitable and philanthropic gestures.

Complicit in the exploitation of properties and gentrification of long-standing neighborhood community cultures.

1. agreement

2. Women hold an average of $31,276 in student debt not including interest or penalties, leaving them with a monthly loan payment of $307 the year, or 8.5 plus years after graduation for the principal only.

3. of Fine Arts



Rather than creating an individualized and select culture of “Support for the Arts” in service to wealth and global marketplace values, we should be relentlessly challenging the institutionalized direct and indirect economic exploitation of artists and Their Immediate Communities.

The effective difference between support for the arts and support for artists universally mirrors precisely the economic difference between the most impoverished and the super-wealthy.

As most aspects of capitalism are found to be ultimately unsustainable so is the relative stability of artists or any group that perceives its existence dedicated to the line-item budget of government largesse. Free universal college and trade-school tuition and healthcare aren’t merely giveaways in a Socialist agenda, it is an address to poverty, a vital investment towards a stable workplace economy and the permanence of indigenous and self-sustaining communities rich in their own defined cultural values.

We live in a world tipped in a precarious balance. If the earth were to wobble off-course or alter its gravitational pull for one moment we’d fall flat on our faces in the dirt. If the average worldwide temperature were to rise permanently 10 or 20 degrees most of the landmasses we live on would soon be underwater. When CO2 emissions exceed the amount that the remaining forests can absorb efficiently, we will have poisoned the air we breathe. When we have sufficiently polluted the water table there’ll be nothing to drink but acid rain. The medical effects of contaminated food supply are already being felt.

We live in a culture of self-destruction and unsustainable consumption in which that what we refer to as “cultured” or culture such as the arts do not reconcile. We create not to grow or to pass along valuable information to subsequent generations, but to market. Values are reduced to their immediate profitable economic viability – a standard to which many artists in current society are fully complicit with no concept for an alternative.

Those multitudes of both large and microscopic cultures within our wholistic natural environment are reconciled with one another intrinsically. The various cultures with the living world outside of humanity are vitally interdependent. Sadly, and tragically, much of human culture believes itself to be dominant and independent of everything else. In the natural world, there is no dominant culture or culture that is independent of any other living organism. Likewise, socially in the human spectrum there is no community that is dominant or independent of any other community. We depend on one another whether we like it or not.

If artists are tasked with any tangible or constructive purpose it is to underscore this; to represent our chosen community in moral and life-sustaining cultural relationships to other communities within our complex growing environment. Creativity is only one aspect of human accomplishment. Preservation is all.

– BR

Against Extravagant Monumentalism, Art Spectacle and the Cult of Billionaires.

“Billionaires shouldn’t exist.” – Bernie Sanders

Until the 1960’s a painter generally might attempt three or four wall-sized paintings in their lifetime and the limits for a large sculpture were roughly the length of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais” or height of his “Balzac”; the sculptor David Smith’s oeuvre comes to mind. And it wasn’t simple modesty on the part of artists that kept the dimensions of artwork from becoming grossly inflated, it was an economic practicality. Unless a patron came forward with the funds to commission a large work prior to its creation most artists simply couldn’t afford the cost of materials, storage and handling.

Since then, however, and particularly at present there appears to be no limit to the space that the average artwork is entitled to consume. Promoted largely by museums, biennales and art fairs in search of greater spectacle and record-breaking attendance numbers from the public, monumentalism in art has taken on the aspect and funding of a minor NASA space project.

Who pays for such ostentation? Answer; you the public in the increased cost of individual ticket sales and attendance fees, in the corporatization of art institutions towards a culture that both reflects and promotes the lifestyle that only a 100 acre estate with a 50 room mansion full of expensive artwork could support, tax laws that favor wealthy collectors and corporations with prominent board members who “donate” to large short-term vanity projects in return for advertisement, and the same laws that permit the same large corporate-driven intuitions to operate tax-free under a “non-profit” umbrella while still largely supporting a record profit-making art market with your tax dollars.

Who are the artists who gain from large museum-size works? The list grows every year after every new exhibition season from a pool of cherry-picked artist celebrities with “factories” of low-paid or volunteer “helpers” and the ability to hedge the costs of large projects towards a return in profit for anyone willing to underwrite their fabrication, insurance fees, installation and ultimate storage or wasteful demolition – and certainly not the average artist living on a less-than-average budget filing the allowed tax loss on the sales against their self-employed business every two or three years.

How to reign this absurd trend and put a final end to it? As the bulk of these incursions on public property can safely be categorized as oversize art-school assignments it might also be safe to conclude that the ‘bigger is better’ phenomenon can and should be abolished as a standard in art school curriculum as frankly, unsustainable, not only in environmental terms, but as the cost in materials, space, and individual manpower is far beyond the scope that all but the wealthiest or wealthiest-connected artists could ever afford economically. As publicly-funded billboards for the moneyed-class in an urban environment that otherwise regulates the size and placement of visual and traffic obstructive commercial promotions, such ‘art in public places’ should be included. And, just as a border wall or the redundant Civil-war general on a pedestal in the public square is seen to be both obsolete and more often offensive, so are many of the monstrosities currently replacing those.



“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 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?










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Opinion: A Radical Change 02/2019

A radical change in politics is here. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposals for a truer democracy, more stringent accountability and a socio-progressive standard in government is only the beginning. Those of us in the arts must likewise find solutions that will secure our cultural heritage and allow it to be shared not only among the entitled and the privileged but equally for and equitably by everyone. Tax-free institutions like museums, universities and arts councils will not be free from responsibility simply on account of their seeming long-enjoyed “liberal” status on blanket social attitudes while ignoring current real-life critical issues such as pay equity, union-busting, financial accountability, contributing to the culturally devastating effects of gentrification in collusion with property developers, their investments in the pharmaceutical, oil, and arms manufacturing industries, management and board representation by the millionaire and billionaire class and collusion with moneyed interests in laundering their wealth to avoid paying taxes.
Recently rolled-out announcements such as short-term token improvements towards “a greater inclusivity” of select representation of artists with regard to blanket gender and racial profiles (that should have been standard policy decades before this) do not substitute for more effective policy-making decisions IN ACTIVE PARTICIPATION WITH those same groups and the general public alike.
These are PUBLIC institutions built TO SERVE THE PUBLIC. They are not semi-private organizations with the discretion and privilege of defining cultural values only if and when it is convenient or profitable for them to do so.
Artists do not serve the institution. The public does not serve the institution. LIKE GOVERNMENT, THE INSTITUTION SERVES YOU. It’s time to hold them accountable or take away their pass.

The Artist Statement

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 :


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.

For Artists;  a Primer of Poverty and Power.

For Artists;  a Primer of Poverty and Power.

Advocating for fair and tangible compensation for artist’s time and labor isn’t the goal in and of itself, but the first step in empowering artists and artist communities.  Our goal isn’t to secure the means to subsist within the limited resources of the non-profit sector or from their token awards. Even if non-profits had such resources they haven’t the ability to disburse a living yearly income to artists equitably or for any secure amount in the future. Besides that, non-profits were meant to serve the neediest as an adjunct to government social services to the public in exchange for funding from its wealth provided by the public share of taxes – not to enrich individuals or promote institutional dependency.

Wealth isn’t simply the power to purchase goods and services; it’s also the leverage to bargain or negotiate. If a poor person wishes to make a purchase they’re at the mercy of the person who sets the price, whereas when a wealthy person asks the price they’re in a position to bargain towards multiple or future purchases or to make his purchase elsewhere. In fact, the wealthy person needn’t even commit to a purchase to make a bargain offer. They simply make it known that they have the ability to make a larger purchase and advise other wealthy friends to do equally as an investment towards greater profits for themselves and the merchant. This is the power of wealth.

Wealth isn’t just money; it’s also resources such as assets and forces that are the equivalent of wealth. Legal access and political representation are also the equivalent of wealth and power. It’s why corporate entities and the owners spend a significant portion of their wealth on lawyers, lobbyists and donations to political candidates to protect and insure their wealth. When a labor union negotiates a contract with the company as a legal representative of its membership, it does so with the combined wealth as equivalent labor (production) the union holds as promise against the company’s projected profits. (Unions historically bargain first for benefits paid in the long term such as retirement and insurance benefits, safety standards, sick leave and vacation time equal to income and prior to wages the value of which may fluctuate from year to year in the short term.)

While there are a handful of exceptions, by and large artists have been and remain members of the poor or lower middle-class. Apart from occasional sales, whatever dependable income they claim comes largely or exclusively from secondary employment. Whatever wealth artists accumulate is generally spent maintaining themselves or their family’s basic needs. There is no such thing as combined artist’s wealth. One artist’s wealth does not enhance the overall wealth of an artist membership or community. Apart from their secondary occupation artists cannot claim benefits; health costs would be borne directly by the artist from their own pocket. There are no pension funds for artists. As we all know, competition for individual grants and awards are highly competitive as are teaching jobs. Moreover, such jobs, grants and awards pay but a fraction of an average yearly income even when they can be obtained; none of which is ever secure from year to year. Apart from whatever income they can claim, many if not most artists are in debt for their art school education which is a standard prerequisite for all teaching jobs and most other art-related white-collar occupations.

Most artists own no property, at least until well-after the ’emerging’ stage or that isn’t inherited from their or their spouse’s family. Most artists couldn’t afford to be artists without family or spousal support. This is particularly true of women and artists of color. A single artist/mother is almost unheard of. For them choice to be made between family and profession is ever-present.

Artists in the U.S. have no legal protection other than general copyright and no combined political influence. In copyright cases and cases where artists have been defrauded by art dealers most artists are unable to hire a civil lawyer and in rare case where there is litigation it make take years for the artist to receive even partial damages.  While it can be said that most artists support liberal causes and liberal candidates especially where support for the arts is an issue legislation to support artists directly or to protect artist rights in the U.S. is nowhere to be seen. Any such arts legislation is directed to protect the art industry of collectors, dealers, and institutions, not artists, and more often to their detriment.  The benefits of arts legislation to artists may very well be characterized as belief in a “trickle-down” effect. Artist communities are not critical to political endorsement and despite the common notion that art has any influence on political change there is no proof that this is actually the case. If we cannot change our own livelihood or the condition of artists in general then what credibility is it we possess to effect the condition of others?

Like everyone else in the ranks of poverty we have no wealth, no protection, and above all no real leverage to exert change for our own benefit.

Needless to say we are powerless as individuals until we unite. Simply making art or banners for other causes will not substitute.

The first step towards unification comes when we first qualify our presence to demand fair and tangible compensation for our time and labor not just for ourselves but for every artist. This is where real power begins.

In Response To The Protest Group In Regard To Racial And Gender Inclusion:

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.

“Social practice art” – commentary 02.07.2018.

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.

blogcabin by vic



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

Good news !

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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