Many crises currently face the world; income disparity, vast social and economic gaps, depletion of natural resources; all consequences of irresponsible Capitalism. Art is not exempt: growing price tags, number of art students, art schools, artworks. All sustained by an education structure designed to benefit a few, widen wealth gaps and consume art’s fertile ground of innovation. Capitalism is a political system with deep roots in inequality. Its snowballing effect, a cancer; an almost unstoppable force that relies on its own growth. As a critical, solution-oriented artist, I intuitively seek to defend the field of Art from its damages.
Uneven distribution of wages is the most predominant and visible detriment of capitalism influencing the art industry. As artists receive less funding their focus shifts toward market-oriented production that consequently stagnates the rate of innovation. Simultaneously, institutions are faced with choosing innovative versus hyped, marketable work to stay relevant in the art world, thus contributing to a decrease of the resources that stimulate innovation- an unsustainable feedback loop. We can slow the cycle by adopting a more responsible practice within the capitalist system, in which legislation and market regulation demand fair earnings for artists, while protecting their work from copyright infringement. Our economies and world views are malleable systems whose function we can refine to achieve increasing sustainability.
The problem of funding has always plagued artists. Victims of most political systems, only saved by the golden ages of civilization. How does an artist commit to a life of creation, a job in itself, while living in the anxiety of paying rent and basic necessities? In today’s world, the vibrant artistic communities that give life to metropolitan areas are vanishing. An ever widening wealth gap is making housing unaffordable and artists are scrambling to make a living more than ever. Compounding the problem, artists must pitch themselves at an ever-increasing volume. Artists with great, novel ideas but underwhelming artists statements go unnoticed in the cacophony of overstimulation. Some are dismissed and invalidated as merely content creators. Inundated with economic anxiety, receiving decreasing funding from institutions, artists’ creative goals are replaced with a drive toward financial security. Sadly many go into irrecuperable debt to obtain higher educational degrees, hoping to learn both the secret formulas for making marketable artworks and the opaque writing techniques required to gain entrance approval of prestigious institutions, into the Art World.
The Art World’s impenetrability and discrimination grant few artists access to the power and formulas that yield success. Aside from its disproportionate distribution of race and gender, its greatest separator is the privilege of higher education, an invisible prerequisite that never necessarily generates better art. At an all time high, master's and PhD degrees are required to enter the field and make use of its market. Consequently, there is a larger population of art students today than ever before, yet contemporary art remains surprisingly homogeneous.
Despite the increasing number of art degrees awarded, very few students actually establish their careers as artists. If higher degrees of education do not contribute to an increase in pioneering artworks, what does? Where is all the great art being created? Many graduates realize their degrees are useless and pursue unrelated fields and employment opportunities. Others enter the Art World as underpaid minions: gallery assistants, secretaries, and long-term unpaid interns. Those with larger networks, enter as administrators higher up in the hierarchy. The few that remain artists, will make work based on the formula they have been taught. Perhaps a different approach to art education is in order.
One of the largest problems with art education is its narrow focus on a predominantly white male canonical history. Art is the discipline of innovation and creativity, and more should have already been done to diversify the study of its history. Studying the traditional "Masters”, obscures the discovery of unknown masters. Even a minimal reconsideration of art history’s masters can reveal a different narrative. In relation to capitalism, the disproportion serves to feed the cycle of value and prestige bestowed upon the white male masters, which drives the investment in master works to higher bids by virtue of attention capital. The scope of Art history must be expanded. It is our job as members of the art world and citizens of our society to equalize by excavating forgotten artists and sharing their silenced perspectives.
Another source of imbalance, the impenetrable prestige of Contemporary Art, has made it difficult for artists to pursue a parallel career with design or crafts to financially supplement their artistic practice. If on the other hand, the tools for an artist to market art objects were demystified, the Art world would become accessible. Artists should be encouraged to develop their talents as a marketable craft, without having to rely on the Art World's formulas. Removing the emphasis on artist statements would relieve the pressure to justify their practice without using their medium of expertise, the entirely different skill of writing. Also, a source of insecurity and anxiety for the artist, due to the disproportionate weight it carries in determining the success of their career, and acceptance to the art world by institutions like schools, museums and foundations. Read Gregory Chatonsky’s essay "Exposition of an Exhibition"
Under the current model, only certain artists will become successful enough to fund their practice, while the rest will continue to struggle, hopefully stimulating and accelerating institutional critique. For better or worse, minimalism and the conceptual art of the 60s and 70s introduced the idea of institutional critique. Why for worse? Because institutional critique has come to be associated with the particular aesthetic that, paradoxically, no longer critiques institutional structures. It has been instead assimilated as marketable mannerisms of revolution and portrayed as amended conflicts. Far from resolved, the role of the institution continues to be hindered by a dominant interest in capital. Under pressure from trustees, sponsors and donors, concerned more with fame and celebrity than selfless contribution to art advancement, once reputable Art Institutions have shown increased interest in the monetary assets associated with art as entertainment and attention capital. (Whitney, MoMA, Hauser, Gagosian). We can no longer assume these institutions provide the nurturing ground for art they once did, and we supported them for.
Contemporary Art in the Art market follows a distinct formula, equal parts minimalism and textual defense: meta-critique, vague post-modernist statements and superficial wit. Under these guidelines, the shortage of compelling, inspiring and innovative artworks is beginning to show on the rest of our society. Without a visible dialogue between artists, and its successive progress, art can’t pose a positive, relevant influence on all other fields. We have created too many formulas, too many rules for art. Creativity might not sell the best, because it is humanly flawed—but, this also makes it inspiring and invaluable. It deserves protection and patronage.
Institutions, as social structures of non-elected officials, need to be constantly scrutinized and censured by both creators and consumers alike. Like polarizing political candidates, institution officials are financially sustained by trustees and donors, equally susceptible to corruption and mismanagement. We must reevaluate our current laws and urge our representatives to enact and enforce new laws that regulate the flow of capital within institutions, monitor the source and intention of funding, and hold employed officials accountable. As the audience of museums and places of exhibition, we must be individually critical and proactive of the art supported. It is also the responsibility of the spectator to demand the presentation of broader perspectives and reject sensationalism.
In this capital driven atmosphere, not all artists are victims of the system. Some equally contribute to the abuse of its damaging mechanisms. The financially and socially privileged have the unjustified advantages of building a career out of tropes and sensationalism or unscrupulously sustaining their career with monetary protection against copyright claims. The terms of copyright infringement are often debatable, though more often than not, the poor artist loses, such as the Richard Prince case. Artworks visible enough to be the subject to copyright disputes, are often made by high profile, wealthy artists, whose ability to afford better lawyers than poor artists, affords them stolen credit and a permanent place in art history. Revising and implementing copyrights is imperative.
"It is key for the common spectator to become critical of their consumption, the institution to function responsibly, the artists to challenge themselves, and education to be scrutinized and maintained by all..."
Part of creating a functional, sustainable system is to maintain a fair ground for artists to contribute to an open dialogue. One of the options is to provide legal support for artists wishing to place copyright claims. Another is to place more severe sanctions on the ones infringing copyright. It would, if nothing else, force thieves to challenge their own tactics, thus contributing to a higher level of critical thinking, which is what art making entails. This protection would provide encouragement for artists to make their work more visible, if what they fear is being robbed of their recognition.
The consequences and anxieties of capitalism are felt by all not choosing to abuse their power. Everyone can, however, take the available power to disarm the abuse of others. It is key for the common spectator to become critical of their consumption, the institution to function responsibly, the artists to challenge themselves, and education to be scrutinized and maintained by all. There are others working to resolve these problems by researching and publishing the data that denounces the corruption. Activists actively pushing for legislation, reforming education, exposing contemporary inequalities and unearthing the muted masters. I have outlined some possible methods, though I’m aware not nearly all. I hope to generate disagreement, and consequently a stronger drive against, and in opposition, to the structures limiting progress.