Building Be My Medici – An Open Letter to Artists

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Dear Artists,

You may be wondering what we have been up to lately. And if you are one of the artists who applied to our Artist Call earlier this year, you may particularly want to know where things stand on the selection of artists for the platform.

As you may know, our Artist Call ended with success. We received nearly 700 applications from all over the world and more than 450 artists took our Artist Survey. A great number of messages of support were sent by artists, many as comments in our Artist Survey (you can find a sampling of these messages in our latest newsletter). This warm reception by the artist community gave us the final go-ahead we needed to charge ahead.

Having the artists’ enthusiastic support, we addressed the curator community with our Open Call to Curators. Talented and devoted professionals from different parts of the world applied, showing interest in the patronage model we propose and in joining the Be My Medici Curator Team that stands behind it.

Right now we are in the middle of a productive exchange with the prospective Be My Medici curators. Their contribution as to how we can make this model achieve its maximum potential is both necessary and valuable. Our Curator Team will soon be in place. Once it is, the curators will review the applications and select artists to join the platform, which is expected to launch in Q4 2016 / Q1 2017.

We are also in the process of building the Be My Medici website. The focus of the project is on creating an experience that is pleasurable for both art lovers/collectors and the artists who use the site.

Our primary objective is to create an effective tool for artists to support their practice in a sustainable way, by drawing on the noble tradition of art patronage and bringing it into the digital era.

If you applied to our Artist Call and want to know what is happening with your application, we ask for your patience. We promise that the groundwork we are putting in now will worth the wait. Successful applicants will be contacted by email this fall, at which time we will also announce through our newsletter that the artists for the platform have been selected. If at that point you are not among the artists selected, please know that our portfolio of artists, severely limited initially, will be expanded to keep pace with the growing patron base.

The small, focused portfolio of artists is just one of the aspects by which Be My Medici aspires to set itself apart from the other online art platforms out there: We want to provide discoverability and secure patrons for all participating artists, and not for the lucky few. We are interested in pioneering a new online patronage model for the visual arts that supports quality rather than quantity, for the sake of patrons and artists alike.

If you share this vision with us, here is something you can do to help make it a reality: You can introduce art lovers and collectors in your circle to Be My Medici and invite them to join the Be My Medici Patron Mailing List. On launch, they will be the first to know, and will receive a discount code as thanks for their early adoption. By helping Be My Medici get off the ground, not only may you benefit your own practice, but you will have a hand in the emergence of a new artist-focused model of patronage that can grow and go on to great things.

More exciting news coming soon.

 

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Building our own structures: 48 hours to the (first) finish line

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Artists cannot afford to wait or look for someone to save them. They have to do that for themselves. I thought I was doing just that when I started applying to artist calls in January 2014, but I was not quite there. We have to defend our right to exist and to do that by applying to “opportunities” is not nearly enough. We have to go further. We have to build our own structures.

– From Back with a new idea and a call to action, The Artist’s Predicament

This passage is from an article written back in February recapitulating my effort over the past two years trying to get my work as an artist out there, and reviewing the course of this blog that was in a way the culmination of this effort. The Artist’s Predicament started when I felt I had some lessons from this venture worth sharing.

And, as I concluded in that same article, what seems to have been the greatest lesson learned is this: We artists have to build our own structures.

If we don’t like the way art is presented by the predominant channels in charge of bringing it to the public…

If we believe that rather than a commodity, art is a cultural product of high social value and as such should be presented outside the current commodity-oriented models, fit for all that is bought and sold but art…

If we believe that a portion of art lovers and aspiring patrons find the existing ways of connecting with artists too vulgar to engage in, and remain inactive in terms of supporting artists because of that..

­… then surely there is no time to waste.

We owe it to ourselves and to the part of us that is still the “dreamer” we started out as, having so far managed to resist to the cynicism threatening to take over even this last citadel of art, to defend this dream and create space for it in the real world.

My idea was to build an online patronage platform where artists and patrons would be able to connect in a way that is sustainable and dignified for the artist and respectful of the art lover’s appreciation of art and sense of taste.

The Be My Medici platform is now in the first stages of becoming a reality thanks also to artists’ enthusiasm and support.

After a fruitful period of connecting with artists and art lovers, in which a great deal of useful feedback was gained through our Artist and Patron Surveys, but also through interesting conversations with friends and colleagues, the first critical phase of this project is almost complete: The Be My Medici Open Call to artists is soon coming to a close. The number of submissions we have received from artists all over the world already allows us to call the call a success. We want to thank the artists who placed their trust in this idea by applying.

And with that, the Be My Medici project advances triumphantly to its next phase: The Open Call to Curators.

To artists who haven’t applied, there are still 48 hours to go before our Open Call to artists closes (deadline is May 15 at midnight EST).

To those who have already applied, please consider making the best of this 48-hour window by spreading the word to other artists in your circle: You will be giving them the chance to participate in something that could shake up the art scene’s stagnant waters.

Featured image: Illustration from the book “Perspective of the Regular Solids” (Perspectiva Corporum Regularium),  Wenzel Jamnitzer, 1568 (via BibliOdyssey)

What makes this platform an opportunity for modern-day patrons of the arts

Lorenzo di Medici

Dear art lovers, collectors and modern-day patrons of the arts,

You may already be acquainted with the patronage model proposed by Be My Medici.

In this post I hope to convince you that the patronage platform we are creating will not only be an innovative mechanism for supporting art and artists, but also a destination that can bring art into your everyday life.

Let’s start with the artist’s perspective. The model of patronage we propose is a response to an increasingly acute phenomenon: More and more artists are unable to make ends meet, regardless of the quality of their work and their productivity. In art, more than in most other professions, an individual can excel in what they do and still be unable to cover their basic needs.

Now let’s try to see things from your perspective, that of the art lover and collector: Even though you find pleasure in art, it’s hard for you to make it an integral part of your day to day. Your fast-paced life makes it difficult to devote the time needed to follow and support artists you like by navigating the gallery system. What’s more, the current gallery model can be rather alienating, and in some cases incompatible with your tastes. This difficulty robs you of the pleasure of acquiring original works, not to mention the satisfaction of creating a collection all your own.

The model we propose aspires to bridge the gap between excellent artists who find it difficult to sustain their practice and art lovers looking for an approachable outlet for their appreciation of original art under the current paradigm.

Be My Medici will make finding and supporting artists easy, simple and fun. This is how:

  • An easily navigated platform will let you browse a curated portfolio of artists. This will not be just another chaotic and incoherent database of artists. Curation will ensure high-quality content and coherence of vision.
  • By using filters you will be able to choose artists whose work matches your tastes.
  • By supporting one or more artists from the platform, you will be able to grow your collection of originals: As a token of thanks for their support, patrons will receive small-scale original artworks in the mail. If you don’t have a collection yet, Be My Medici will be a perfect way to start.
  • This will be an affordable model of patronage.
  • The postal mail you receive will suddenly become interesting: Instead of just bills and promotions, you will start receiving correspondence; Not just any correspondence, but original artworks.
  • The collection you create will be totally unique: The monthly artwork sent by the artist will be a surprise. This will allow you to create an idiosyncratic collection of originals while reviving the excitement of old fashioned correspondence.
  • The platform will add value to your experience as patron in yet another way: You will have the option of making your activity as patron and collector visible on the platform and of sharing your views and comments on the artworks you receive.

If you aren’t yet convinced of how what we are creating can bring art into your everyday life, we leave it to our Patron Survey to finish the job. Completing the survey will give you more details about the platform and will offer you a chance to contribute your own thoughts and ideas. We would love your help in making Be My Medici great.

Featured image: Girolamo Macchietti’s painting of Lorenzo (the Magnificent) de’ Medici (1449-1492)

 

Open letter to artists: Make our venture your own

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Fellow artists,

Thank you for the enthusiasm with which you have so far embraced our undertaking to create an art patronage platform especially tailored to the needs of visual artists. I’m writing this to let you in on the venture’s progress and to bring to your attention what is most likely the key factor in determining its success.

As you know, this is essentially an artist-run initiative. Having first-hand experience of what is on offer for artists out there in terms of support for their practice, and having had to reject models that, while claiming to help artists, actually don’t do much more than prey on them, I have come to this conclusion:

New structures need to be put in place that put artists and the sustainability of their practice at the forefront.

What we are attempting here is quite ambitious: To prototype and introduce a new model of support mechanism for artists at odds with the logic of the “online art shop” and that of crowdfunding that taps into the artist’s “fan base”. What we are interested in, instead, is creating a network of support for artists by reviving elements of the traditional, mutually beneficial patron-artist relationship, and uniting them with the power of the Internet. This initiative aims to breathe fresh air into a field at risk of being overtaken by cynicism.

The insights provided so far by our Artist Survey are significant (there is still room for more data, so if you haven’t taken it yet, please do). The message we are getting from artists is quite clear: This is something much needed and long overdue.

The next step before we move onto the design of the platform is to get input from art lovers and collectors as to how we can make this an attractive destination for them, too. For this purpose we have prepared a Patron Survey. We ourselves can only reach out to so many people and the online survey tools available cannot provide us the specific audience we want for our survey: Art lovers and collectors. In order for it to have a broad reach we call for the artists that have supported the initiative so far to actively participate in this stage as well.

You guessed it: Artists, the key factor that will determine this venture’s success is whether you will adopt it as your own.

So, artists, invite the art lovers, collectors and potential patrons in your circle, maybe even your own potential patrons, to take our Patron Survey.

Tip: When the link of the survey is shared publicly on Facebook it is not obvious what it is about because it advertises the Survey service.  Please share the survey link through e-mail or private messaging.

Featured image: “Idea! Why not ? It will work ! “, vintage comic image

Back with a new idea and a call to action

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This blog began in the summer of 2015 mainly as a place to share my ongoing experience of applying to artist calls in an effort to get my work out there. From July to December 2015 nearly every Sunday I would publish an article documenting the good and the bad from this venture. Each post was accompanied by the call I was responding to that week, in the spirit of providing an extra insight into my process and hopefully a resource the reader could immediately act upon.

In a way the blog represented the culmination of a two-year process of unprecedented extroversion on my part in reaching out with my work. This activity was fueled partly by a sense of despair at the obscurity I was feeling my work doomed to as well as the realization that the angel I was waiting for was me: I could not afford to wait to be “discovered”. A belief I still have, only, after this experience, it bears a somewhat different meaning.

As these two years of applications came to a close I couldn’t help feeling drained. I needed to slow down. At the end of 2015 I started applying less and less and in January 2016 I broke my rigid application schedule altogether. The fatigue from the whole process expressed itself in a difficulty maintaining my writing regimen as well. Sometime in November I decided a change of pace was in order. Now that some time has passed, behind this need for a break I can see something more than mere fatigue.

I would say that I am a rather positive person, usually inclined to see the brighter side of things. Over these two years I succeeded in maintaining a “constructive” (for the needs of my effort) outlook, even in a hail of rejections. I felt that even though, as I found out midway, most “opportunities” out there are anything but, it was nevertheless worth it to keep up the application schedule, spend the time I spent weeding out the wrong kind of opportunities, finding what was best for me and applying with a system. It seemed like the handful of “gems” made it worth swimming in a sea of lures cast by the parasites of the art world.

I am tempted to say that, in the end, it’s not. Worth it that is. But I won’t. I will say that it is worth it up to a point and for a limited amount of time. Maybe only for one to reach to this conclusion, perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from this experience: Artists cannot afford to wait or look for someone to save them. They have to do that for themselves. I thought I was doing just that when I started applying to artist calls in January 2014, but I was not quite there. We have to defend our right to exist and to do that by applying to “opportunities” is not nearly enough. We have to go further. We have to build our own structures.

The models offered by those claiming they want to “help” artists or create opportunities for them are 9 times out of 10 not sustainable. At least not for the artist. The only ones who can build or propose models designed with the artist in mind are the artists themselves.

Questions like: How can an artist maintain a sustainable practice? How can society sustain its artists? How can an era sustain its spirit as it can live on in the artist’s work? These need to be answered with the artist and the artwork in mind first and not as part of some predatory venture.

Lately I have been spending the time I used to spend on “artist opportunities” on a new project: A new model of art patronage platform with the artist in mind, one that frames the patron-artist relationship outside of the marketplace and the logic of the artist’s “fan base”.

For this I would like to invite artists to take this Art Patronage Platform Survey and help prototype this platform so that it becomes a tool we can use to help ourselves.

For more on the New Art Patronage Platform initiative, please refer here. And if you wish to remain up to date on this effort and be notified about the platform’s forthcoming artist call, you are invited to Like the initiative’s page.

UPDATE: You can subscribe to our mailing list at this page and be the first to know about our open call to artists interested in joining the platform.

Featured Image: Be My Medici logo

On hold

In order to be able to focus more fully on some aspects having to do with with my own artist’s predicament I am putting this on hold for a while. If you were looking forward to this week’s post though, I don’t intent to let you go empty-handed: Here is the weekly open call I submitted work to, check it out, you may be interested in it as well:  Athens Digital Arts Festival Call for Entries

Good luck!

Application Sunday, Part XVIII: Crafting the triad of essential texts, part I: The artist’s bio

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Every other Sunday I share the weekly open call I submit my work to and the lessons I learned from over a year of following a relentless application regimen!

This week’s open call: This week I applied for a residency at Prám Studio in Prague. Here is where I found out about the residency.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XVIII: Crafting the triad of essential texts, part I: The artist’s bio

We all pretty much know and understand what a CV or Curriculum Vitae is. Along with the artist statement and artist’s bio, it is part of the triad of essential texts an artist should have available at all times and be sure to keep up to date throughout his/her career. This is especially true and of paramount importance if one is interested in taking the necessary steps that will allow his/her work to reach a broader public.

Out of the 4-5 standard elements that are almost always requested when submitting work for an artist opportunity, the CV, the artist statement and the bio are the ones that, if crafted well, have a long shelf life: They can be of use to the artist for a long time without major revisions being necessary. That is why it is important to craft these texts well, “scientifically” so to speak. You don’t want to be going back every month and rewriting your CV and bio, or your artist statement for that matter, from scratch. You need to have 3 solid texts, conceptually as well as in terms of language, which represent you and your practice. Of course there is the possibility of you being reborn at some point as a new man/woman and artist; this is not unlikely, but chances are this will happen 2-3 times in an artist’s lifetime at most. If this happens, yes, you will probably have to write these texts again from scratch, but even then you will most likely want to keep the basic elements of your CV and bio in place.

So if you were thinking that it is about time you sat down and wrote your triad of texts, a chore you have been postponing at the expense of your work for too long, read on: While all three texts have their own special difficulties when being crafted, the bio seems to present the greatest challenges. And this is what we are going to start with. This article aspires to render the process of crafting an artist‘s bio a little easier.

What is an artist’s bio?

An artist‘s bio, sometimes also referred to as a biography, is a running text, as opposed to the bullet form text of the CV, meant to offer a short presentation of the artist and his/her work, a sort of rough sketch’ of what the artist is all about. It should include elements from the artist’s formal education, or mention whether he/she is self-taught, major accomplishments that have marked his/her career (a grant, distinction or award), solo or important group exhibitions his/her work has been presented in, major collections that include his/her work and other possible pivotal elements that provide the outline of one’s career. In short, it should feature the highlights of the artist CV. But an artist’s bio is more than that.

A bio is meant to be something more than a summary presentation of an artist’s formal credentials: It should offer an insight into the artist’s practice, into what can be seen as the essence of his/her work as opposed to the formal qualifications gathered along the way. In a way, the artist‘s bio lies closer to the purely creative concerns an artist may have. It can be rich and engaging even when the formal qualifications are few, something that is not the case for the CV: Meant to focus on the formal qualifications and accomplishments, the “strength” of a CV is significantly compromised when these are hard to come by.

Hence many artists’ concern, if not anxiety, to be constantly participating in exhibitions, or other kind of events related to their practice (lectures, workshops, residencies, etc.), or else suffer what they fear to be an irreparable “hole” in their CV, a year with no exhibitions for instance; Something that, in an increasingly competitive landscape and in the framework of a technocratic mindset from which artists are not immune, seems at times purely terrifying.

The artist’s bio on the other hand, a text that marries elements from the artist statement and the CV, is much more forgiving: It is ok if it is very short – as a matter of fact this is often preferred – and a significant part of it can refer to purely artistic concerns and aspirations. That is why it is all the more important not to undermine the value a good bio can provide us with. Craft it with gusto and craft it well!

The correct approach: Step into the reader’s shoes

All great endeavors rely on this: Start with the correct methodological approach. What is the purpose of a bio? To whom is it addressed? Consider the answers to these questions before beginning to compose your bio.

The whole purpose of a bio is to convey a certain body of information regarding the artist and his/her work to the reader. More than that, we want this information to have the desired impact on the reader. We want the reader to be intrigued and become motivated to know more about the artist and his/her work. To do that, we have to meet the reader halfway.

In a way, the reader is at the same time the text’s end, literally and metaphorically. Catering to the reader’s needs and expectations is catering to the effectiveness of our bio: Step into your reader’s shoes.

Stepping into the reader’s shoes means crafting a text that meets the expectations and tastes of your average audience. Usually, especially when referring to bios that are sent along with artist submissions to organizers of artist opportunities (gallerists, curators, etc.), that means people that generally know what is to be expected from an artist‘s bio and have extensive experience reading this kind of text.

But also, stepping into the reader’s shoes means trying to meet any given individual’s usual expectations and tastes, not only the specialist’s: And this is quite simple to trace; Just ask yourself what you are usually annoyed by when reading an artist‘s bio or what it is that you love most, in language, content, as well as style. Nobody likes someone who is full of him/herself and almost everyone likes simple easy-to-understand language.

What to avoid and suggested practices

Once you are convinced that you should strive to meet your readers halfway, maybe I can convince you to look closer into what it is that you should avoid and what practices you would be best advised (according to my personal view and experience) to follow when crafting your bio.

The following list cautions on errors that I myself have made along the way as well as some that I have seen other artists commit. The best practices presented I have chiefly been inspired to suggest after seeing them demonstrated by established or elegantly emerging artists:

  1. Don’t oversell yourself. Because of the importance of this text as a first contact to an artist’s work, artists tend to oversell themselves. As a result, instead of attracting, they manage to repel the reader because, as mentioned above, nobody likes someone who is full of themselves. And even if you as a person are modest, that won’t make much of a difference in the end if you have written a text that conveys a different message (I have seen it done). Given that most people reading the text won’t know you personally, what is important here is what image of you the text betrays. Read your bio from the viewpoint of a stranger and see if you like its tone. If you find this difficult, give it to a close friend to read who you know will tell you the truth no matter what.
  2. Emphasis on good use of language. Ok, so you have some excuses. Your native tongue is other than English and on top of this, you are an artist, meaning you and words don’t get along that much. Well, guess what: These excuses do not make a difference when the words are read and they shouldn’t either when you are preparing your final draft. If you feel unsure about your English, commission a translator to proofread your text. In the age of the Internet, it is easier than ever to find help on that. The fee is not as high as you might think and this is a one-time expense that will go a long way. Good language will allow the meaning you wish to convey to shine through. Also the opposite: bad language will not only stand in the way of your message, but it will most certainly be seen as sloppy and a lack of professionalism. And many people tend to believe that when one demonstrates this in a given field, they are likely to demonstrate it in other fields as well (and that includes your artistic practice).
  3. Be concise, short is beautiful. Sometimes a bio, especially when it is referred to as a biography, can be relatively long, usually though not longer than one page. When it comes to artist submissions, always be attentive to whether a word limit is provided. Usually, especially when there is no word limit provided, a bio is expected to be short, no longer than 3 paragraphs or half a page. For this reason, you should try to be concise. You do not want to tire the reader, you want to offer basic information and generate interest. Brevity is a good recipe for that. Don’t forget that the bio is meant to offer a first glimpse into your practice. The reader can go to your CV and to the artist statement afterwards for a more in-depth view of your practice (let’s not forget about your portfolio).
  4. Stick to the facts. Instead of using adjectives such as “renowned” to describe yourself, allow the adjective to emerge in the reader’s mind by mentioning distinctions or awards, or other major accomplishments. Otherwise, again, you run the risk of being regarded as pretentious and falling into the boring cliché of the artist who is full of him/herself.
  5. Even in matters of conviction stick to the facts. This is not a manifesto. Yes, you can include elements that would look just as good in your artist statement, but again isn’t it better to allow these elements of artistic convictions to emerge from what you practice? Instead of stating what you “stand for” in art, why not mention something about the body of work you are presently working on, its subject matter and connotations? Talking about your convictions in your bio, or artist statement for that matter, without supporting these statements with references that apply to your practice, can easily be perceived as empty words aimed merely to create an impression.
  6. Watch your style. Do not sound like Augustus Caesar. Try to avoid repeatedly referring to yourself in the third person. Modesty is the best policy.
  7. Use plain English and craft sentences that, ideally, even a small child can grasp. Nobody (but some exceedingly zealous philosophy teachers or some members of the “art crowd” looking to mask their ignorance) likes overly technical language. Stick to terms everyone knows and understands. Using complicated terms and making elaborately long sentences that are hard to grasp don’t make you or your work more interesting. You don’t want the reader to lose interest and jump ship halfway.

These are a few insights I have come to obtain over time on the subject of the artist‘s bio. What has your experience taught you? Would you add any tip of your own that could be helpful when crafting a bio? Has your experience taught you something that opposes one or more of the above suggestions and cautions? Has your experience confirmed one or more of them? An artist’s bio is a complicated matter and a discussion that would stand to benefit from everyone’s experience.

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Composition IV, fabric on fabric, 12 x 6 cm, 2009

Tuesday note: Anodyne verities (truth & power)

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“…..If one wishes successfully to write the truth about evil conditions, one must write it so that its avertible causes can be identified. If the preventable causes can be identified, the evil conditions can be fought.”

Writing the truth, Five difficulties, Bertolt Brecht, 1935

It is not a sense of compassion for refugees that is missing in the current refugee crisis. What is missing is the realization of the cause. This is what is needed in order to address the source of the problem. This kind of truth is what the power is afraid of. Actions that inspire a general sense of compassion and imply nothing about the warmongers (the criminals) behind the victims only achieve to create a generalized sense of guilt in society that is useful for the criminals in power: They keep the people in a  state of confusion, blaming themselves, while keeping the guilty secure and hidden. Only seeing who is responsible, what is the source of a given situation can enable people to react. Such projects are met with great enthusiasm from the mainstream media media because they provide the power with a valuable service.

Featured picture: A photograph from the #orangevest project of G.Lale (source: themanews)

APPLICATION SUNDAY, PART XVII: Artists, defend your right to exist

Rebelle

Every other Sunday I share the weekly open call I submit my work to and the lessons I have learned from over a year of following a relentless application regimen!

This week’s open call: This week I got to apply to more than one artist calls. Here is one addressed to artists internationally: ZARYA Artist Residency, Vladivostok. The deadline is on November 30, so check it out and if you find it to be a good fit send in your submission!

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XVII: Artists, defend your right to exist

Within the province of our ephemeral flesh all of God is imperiled. He cannot be saved unless we save him with our own struggles; nor can we be saved unless he is saved.

The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises, by Nikos Kazantzakis, Translated by Kimon Friar

In a recent conversation I had with an artist friend, we were talking about the difficulty of making any money as artists and agreeing on how frustrating it is to be around the age of 40 and still unable to achieve any kind of financial stability or independence. My friend expressed his frustration and regret that we, as artists, don’t get to participate in social and economic life the way the other “normal” people do, and instead are doomed to live like outcasts, creative but not productive. Our predicament is juxtaposed with the fortune of  “honest working people”, those that do some kind of work for just reward. Such people get to “exist”, both in terms of survival (it really is not financially viable to be an artist) and socially, through the material validation of their activity by society.

Now, I know that my friend spends hours on end in his workshop and is one of the most “honest working people” I know. He is creative and by definition, this also means productive. Or does it?

How does society view productivity?

Being productive in our society and in every society for that matter is perceived primarily as producing something valued (and rewarded for it) by society. Naturally, if one is productive in splitting hairs or in counting grains of rice and keeping a record of this, this isn’t something society can be expected to regard as useful, so this kind of productivity is rather regarded as idiocy. I do not think you can find a society that would defend the value of such work, its usefulness to the whole, and that would be willing to reward the rice counting worker for his/her labor.

The equation in our societies is quite clear: The proof of value is reward and the meaning of reward is value.

What about artists? How does the artist’s labor fit into this equation? How come hard working artists that do meaningful work encounter such difficulty in their work being valued and their labor rewarded? I am not talking here about charlatans who nearly always manage to get rewarded. But then, they perform a valuable service: They provide spectacle. 

The exception for art to society’s equation of productivity and its consequences

If there exists a common understanding that art and artists are performing a valuable task, primarily by keeping society from a spiritual and political regression towards the Dark Ages (a place we are headed back to with increasing speed), why then is there an “exception” from the above mentioned equation?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking here about state protectionism, where the artist, no matter what he/she produces, even when this something is merda d’artista (Manzoni’s work nevertheless could be regarded as meaningful at the time), has a salary rolling in every month from the state.

I am talking about society generating real life opportunities for artists to sell their work or be rewarded for their services by merit. The inexistence of such a policy towards art and artists and the fact that they seem to be condemned to remain outside the financial arena, agonizing to make ends meet, often to the point of deprivation, often makes artists feel inferior even when they compare themselves to the most humble of unskilled laborers.

And this conditioning of artists to feel bad about themselves and about their profession is naturally reinforced by their social environment. Time after time, the artist is told, sometimes in a direct, other times in a more subtle way (I do not know which is worse) that they are an anomaly. It is common knowledge that for better or for worse, man is a social animal and whatever notion a society has about a group or an individual, eventually, if this notion is repeatedly expressed in behavioral patterns (as it usually is) towards the said group or individual, it will most likely be internalized. Eventually the individual’s or group’s idea about themselves will mirror society’s verdict.

With time, almost inescapably, artists are bludgeoned into adhering to society’s verdict: They don’t do real work. And this adherence, conscious or not, contaminates them with self-doubt, guilt, and finally, a general feeling of worthlessness.

Is there an alternative to the artist’s dark basement?

I admit it is naive to ask for an exception to society’s all mighty laws. As is the case for education, in order for a just policy to exist for art and artists, society needs to change as a whole, and steer its objectives towards the betterment of men rather than the augmentation of a minority’s power and bank accounts. If this is too much to ask, or at least something not likely to happen in our lifetimes, one has to inquire whether there is an escape we artists can carve for ourselves regardless. I believe there is.

Below I present the duties we are faced with if we want to see ourselves and our work emerge out of obscurity and marginalization.  

First duty: Liberate your consciousness

The first thing we need to do is disengage ourselves from the socially prevailing notion that what we do is not work. Many of our woes come from the fact that, to a smaller or greater extent, we have internalized society’s dismissal of art’s inherent value and consequently the value of our labor. We need to realize that art and artists, at least the kind that matters, always went against the grain and were seldom acknowledged as something or someone of value (certainly not something to pay good money for) by society at the time the work was produced. That doesn’t have to mean that we must wait until the afterlife for our work to be acknowledged.

Second Duty: Defend your work

It should be common understanding that no one is going to “discover” you out of the blue, without you taking some steps to get your art out into the world. Nevertheless, I am always surprised to see how rare it is to see artists backing this rational fact with actions. If you believe in your work, then it should be a sort of ideological statement of yourself, one that you are committed to defend no matter what the adversities are. Defend your art as if it were your religion or ideology.

That means defending it inside and outside the workshop.

Spending countless hours producing your work should be your primary activity but this doesn’t do much for the work itself (or for you for that matter) in the end if you are avoiding the, admittedly, tedious, task of reaching out.

Third Duty: Defend your work in the face of “authority” and do not despair at “failures”

Again, defend your work! Maybe you have had a series of “failures”, maybe no authority you have reached out to until now seems to give a damn about what you do. If you do though, you have to keep propagating, disseminating that is, your work. You have to act like you are your work’s greatest supporter and believe that, more likely than not, eventually the world will catch up.

Recently a major publication offered to publish my work. This is what the publication’s editor told me when I expressed my appreciation: “This is how it goes, when you reach out you may inspire someone”. And I did. All I had to do was stick by my work and send that submission out.

Fourth Duty: Follow your own value system

Don’t back down on your pivotal values and principles in order to “be accepted” into the “crowd” or out of fear that you will miss out on “an opportunity”.

This shouldn’t have to be backed with a phrase of wisdom but I will mention something that exemplifies this point pretty powerfully to my mind. Patti Smith has stated that one of the most valuable pieces of advice given to her was this one by William S. Burroughs:

Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.

Fifth duty: Pass on the knowledge

Never forget that socially, the artist is not an isolated entity. What happens to artists as a whole, sooner or later, one way or another, will affect you as well. And that artists’ well being depends greatly on the sense of solidarity between themselves within a given society. Now, solidarity is one of the last things that this society propagates and is interested in preserving since it is considered a potential danger to all types of unjust, antisocial policies. When all sorts of authorities practice divide and conquer, it is up to the spiritual world first and foremost to defend solidarity with actions.

Share your knowledge and lessons you’ve learned along the way. This will create community, a condition from which everyone involved stands to benefit and which, at the same time, will weaken the powers that keep us in a state of deprivation. We can actually change our condition. But for that, we have to believe that our work and our world are worth fighting for.

UPDATE: A few months after I wrote this article, a new idea was born, meant to provide artists with a useful tool to sustain their practice. I now see this piece as a prelude to this idea. You can follow the effort of creating a new kind of art patronage platform for artists and art lovers by following this blog. You can also:

And if you wish to know the basic outlines of this new idea, you can start form here: New Art Patronage Model

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Le Rebelle, print, 94 x 110 cm, 2006

Change of pace

17

I hope you had a nice Sunday. I would like to let you know that from now on I will be publishing my Sunday series every second week rather than each Sunday as I have been doing until now. So stay tuned for the next article, coupled with the weekly open call, to be published next Sunday.

But since I am here, in case you were looking forward to this week’s open call, here it is: This week I submitted work for the Arte Laguna Prize. Deadline is November 18th so if you find it to be a good fit, hurry up!

Featured image: Metamorphosis/Montreal, Sequence 2, elements 9 and 10, digital, 2015