Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you an essay on artistic projects that use strategies of self-empowerment and local control. Author Abigail Satinsky notes, “There is no definite solution for a more just and democratic art world—not everyone wants that, anyway—yet critically examining these projects offers possibilities for the way that many kinds of art worlds can create models of survival and perhaps even form an argument for why art matters.” This article was originally published on April 3, 2014.
Artists and other creative people who organize their lives around the arts have long dealt with the problem of the lack of money by utilizing the same resourcefulness they apply to making art. They have formed cooperative living and studio arrangements; started their own businesses; become grant-writing virtuosi; begged, stolen, borrowed, and even invented currencies. This situation is nothing new, and yet the conditions of today’s art world have prompted a new existential crisis for artists.
For an aspiring artist, thinking about one’s artistic practice as an entrepreneurial venture to be branded and marketed is becoming the default professional mode. The art market—in which large amounts of capital circulate in the constellation of mega-galleries, swanky art fairs, and high-powered collectors and investors—has grown to an unprecedented degree yet is inaccessible to most artists. There is little public support for governmental (i.e., tax-based) funding for the arts on a mass scale. Individual giving largely happens through websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo that operate on a transactional basis, in which the projects with the most attractive rewards receive the most funding. While it’s natural for artists to try to figure out how to make a living from their art—which includes turning toward entrepreneurial strategies—it is frustrating that these new professional paradigms are becoming accepted as unquestioned truths, with any alternative deemed unrealistic. The many different kinds of art careers, art worlds, and art lives aren’t being considered, especially as models with which to debate, challenge, and improve the current state of affairs.