Burn Museums // Build Co-ops
An engorged pig sits in a stale pond, lapping at the stagnant water while the fish die. Its heavy, muffled breath does nothing to stir the sheet of algae growing on the surface. The fish, analogous for the Working Artist, gasping for sustenance in the poisoned water, once its proud home, now a cursed prison. The Collector, pink skin sweating, balks at the futile attempt. In a time with slashed national funding of arts and cultural disinterest in the fine arts, the relationship between artists, the art world, and the community must change if it intends to push forward and escape the bland grasp of the current power structure.
According to a landmark report done in 2015, the Arts contributed a little over 763 billion dollars to the national GDP, with less than half of those profits going to The Working Artists. There were 1.4 million Art Workers (largely populated by those who never went to college for art) recorded but the majority of public funding goes to the largest museums which also garner the most audience granting more funding which garners more prestige, etc. These primarily focus on historic art and dead men. So, there is an obvious disparity between the profits of the art world and the working artist. This profit is going somewhere and it is not to those doing the bulk of the work in the art world.
Many say that this is how it works. That to be an artist one must struggle and fight and only a few golden gods will emerge from the market place of ideas. But this is fundamentally flawed in favor of those with money. Because in a marketplace, money speaks louder than ideas. This fosters a framework that justifies the exploitation of labor within the arts. You don’t have a large following? Work for free. Work for exposure. But how many great artists died in squalor? How many died with nothing in their pockets, only to have their works make more for someone else than they ever did in their lives? Art Work is Art Labor. Art is just as important to life as anything else. And as such, Working Artists should be able to work and live. But the current patchwork system of arts funding and private donorship does not allow this to become reality.
The insular nature of attaching profits to artwork while lessening public funding of broad art communities in favor of large institutions creates a bubble in which none can enter and none have to leave. The financial back and forth between The Collector (those who have capital in the art world but make nothing) and the museum fosters the use of only what is “donated” by The Collectors who also fund those museums. They then write it off on their taxes and use that money to buy another 3 million dollar Koons. No financial incentive to host local working artists but plenty to host a Monet. They host the next dead painter. The cycle repeats. The Working Artist stomach growls. The Collector grows fatter.
The Working Artist will always be at odds with The Collector. The Working Artist marches forward to what is next, The Collector covets what has been done. The Working Artist puts their art first and foremost, integrating themselves into every line on the canvas. The Collector puts their status first, they are only in relation to what they have. The Collectors create nothing, only house the products, the gallery owners whose main objective is not to push art but push the sale of art. The Artist and The Collector both rely on art to survive but The Collector deals with the remnants of what the artist was, the leftovers of the past. The Collector has real estate or money to barter, the Working Artist lays down their soul.
This is no moral judgment of The Collector but an observation on their role in this current system. The Collector is a relic of a world that moved slower, which bolted art to its place in the gallery (sometimes feeding the works but mostly suckling at its teats), holding art hostage till someone would purchase. One Working Artist cannot defeat a Collector alone. But together the Working Artists have no reason not to succeed. The role of A Collector is a vestigial piece of the community that The Working Artists must evolve past if they are to survive.
The Working Artist cannot rely on building themselves within the current institutions without becoming partners in this exploitation. The current system was built to work within a profits first economy and is entwined with the elite. Those who work within the top inevitably co-opt the behavior of The Collector, a result of alienation from the community as a whole. Marina Abramovic celebrates her commitment to The Working Artists by only employing only volunteers with lengthy duties.
It is inevitable that one would be forced to adopt the attitudes of The Collector in an effort to compete within this framework. Damien Hirst doesn't even do his own work and he’s one of the highest-paid artists alive (worth roughly 300 million). But it’s not right. And it’s not working. Not for most everyone and for another Working Artist to simply replace one of the “successes” does nothing to shake the system. It only reinvigorates the machine, feeding just enough energy to keep it going slowly.
A viable livelihood. Social power and connection within their communities. An emphasis on pushing boundaries and fostering new, experimental works. All of these can be accomplished with revolution. No, not with the national razor, but with a form of Permanent Artistic Revolution. The theory of Permanent Revolution is the two-fold act of autonomous organization of the workers, both in the public and private sphere, and the use of those organizations to demand political programs that run counter to that of the bourgeoisie. In the case of the Working Artist, this means the creation of institutions that rival the current ones and then use that social power to demand political change for the betterment of the Working Artist. This would demand that The Working Artist cast away The Collectors and install the goal of The Working Artist in all capacities.
Every gallery and every art mall should be operated solely by The Working Artists. This may seem to give more work to the artist and yes, it will. But with this work comes the ability to infuse the goals of The Working Artist into everything, giving them much more power in their own lives. With the removal of The Collectors, the profits go only to those performing the labor of art.
This will allow The Working Artist to create a livelihood for themselves, which will free up their time to do this extra work, engaging in every part of the art world as working artists, not outside vultures. Having to do what The Collectors did forces The Working Artist to become integral in the going ons of their community and the people within it. It should be of no surprise that a strong community creates strong local economies that will only benefit The Audience and The Working Artist. This accrued social power could be used to do good things for the community and those struggling the most.
This necessitates that we throw away competition between artists and only concern ourselves with the creation of an environment in which art can thrive. You may hate absurdism but, if you support one art discipline, you must support them all. They can only survive with the help of other disciplines. The world of art is a lincoln log house of history for the Working Artist to build off of and one cannot build a house with only two wood panels.
The Working Artist cannot think of each other as adversaries but comrades in the fight to create something the world has never seen before. This is not to say that we cannot critique or dislike a work or artist. Many artists are awful people and critique is necessary to growth. But regardless of level or preference, they are still Working Artists and should not be exploited. When one Working Artist is being taken advantage off, every Working Artist is being taken advantage of. It only adds to the precedent that art is not labor.
These new galleries and museums must be built with the artist and the audience in mind. To foster thought and growth and beauty. With the Working Artist in full control of their lives, they now have the economic freedom and the time to push boundaries. There is no doubt in my mind that every master could have achieved better works if they had their material needs met. And the New Working Artist will.
The separation from The Collectors also separates us from the works of the past, creating a hole usually filled by antiquities. But now these halls can be filled with work from today, that speaks to the common person. Add this to the community connection to the working-class people, those who need and deserve art in their lives the most, and galleries could once more become not just spaces for paintings to gather dust but as meeting places for philosophy, debate, life, and solidarity.
With this framework created, The Working Artist and their communities taken care of, and art progressing, we must remember that this is a permanent revolution. The Working Artist must continuously refine these institutions, shape them to work for the artist of that time. We must not fall into the trap of recreating the same hierarchy, of obsessive nostalgia, of clinging to past works and exploitative processes. It is necessary to redefine the relationship of The Working Artist to the world as the world redefines its relationship to The Working Artist.
When I stop working, or more likely die, I hope they fill my grave with concrete and use my works as a foundation for the next generation. Its a sad thing for so many to be obsessed with the bedrock when there is so much more for the eye to see. If we are to actually affect the material conditions of The Working Artist, then we must collectivize and create a world that actually works for those making the world.
The fish feast on the pig carcass,
the water clears,
the pond prospers.