I just finished reading an article about cronyism in art and culture. It provided rare admission on a subject that many unfunded artists know in their hearts to be all too true. The business of art is anti-art. The “good ole boys” club. Paid administrators (curators, gallerists, art faculty) seeking non-paid visual artists who, by virtue of “poverty in the arts”, are forced to either request admission into the club or schlepp a scam they hope will convince the right paid people. Art is defeated on a mass scale. It has become another corporate model, open to collectivism and always in danger of cronyism. No snake-oil salesman ever fell in love with snake oil first and then sought distribution of, not just an imperfection, but also a worthless placebo that only the ignorant believed had merit. On the contrary, the salesman was always a desperate working man seeking pride with a job while struggling with a family in a muck-stagnant economy. It was the snake-oil company that placed adds in farmland newspapers enticing the poor to hawk to the poor a product said to improve health and wellness. The company knew what it was up to. Likewise, the art industry plays the same game claiming to have a soothing syrup for the people’s mental health. The museum, established gallery, Ph.D., multimillion dollar “auction” house, and the billionaire all claiming to possess gnostic insight to the mysteries of art. They have no freaking idea what art is any more than I do, or the article’s author, or kangaroos in Australia.
Picasso and Dali were once household names while they lived. And then Pollock and de Kooning, to name a few. The corporate model had not yet fully “metastasized” into the art world. These artists and others were cherry-picked by influential people and so big media (already well-established) latched on to their individual stories because big media schmoozed at big weekend parties with the influential people. Still, the corporate cancer persisted, as it always will. Kellog’s Corn Flakes added more sugar to the same wet, chewed-like mush twice-baked, added a playful type, and a tiger for a mascot. Voila! Frosted Flakes. The corporate paradigm of the 1960’s and beyond. “The Depression generation brought you Picasso. We give you Warhol. Next, to cement our complete control of an industry, we printed the word “organic” on our cereals, and, to certify the illusion of self-liberation, here is the shiny new pervert Jeff Koons hosting a company of college grads in a Manhattan factory to sculpt many replicas of his penis for you!”
Picasso was a household name because big business, in all of its post-war glory, via the voices of politicians and media, needed to pretend instant sophistication to match its multinational approach to schlepping snake oil around the globe. In one famous experiment, Stanley Milgram proved to the powers that be that control is a breeze. Just give someone a title and a white coat, and kids will follow orders to shoot and kill other kids half a world away. Likewise, starving artists will enter a lottery their whole lives and hope to be authenticated. The new economy spewed more and more lower and middle class kids with art degrees, but lacking the courage to pursue an actual career in expression. Hence the lackeys of art business. The snake oil salespeople. The army of art history professionals getting tenured jobs in corporate universities. They were not to blame. They were folks with families in need of love and care. No criticism would ever be allowed in to undermine their careers as long as there was a living to be had. To them, by virtue of economic survival, art became money. Powerful art administrators not only peddled the snake oil, but controlled the ranks of its production and distribution. But it was never their art to become money in the first place.
There are solutions to cronyism. They can be found wherever art is alive and needs to be nurtured.
Eliminate the middle man. Boycott all third party galleries and museums. From the dinosaur downtown to the humble subsidized gallery at the state college. Take away the eyes and judgment of the third party. Make art for the patron once again. Let them create personal hobbies looking for their own concept of “the diamond in the rough”. Have a show in your living room. Pool monies with artist friends and rent an abandoned gallery for a month. Get back the time you lost trying to impress the gallerist or curator who judged your snake oil by its packaging, its reviews on Amazon, or the accolades on a CV (Latin for “current viability”).
Find the coffee house in your hometown to meet and socialize with other artists to talk about everything. This is a top priority. The business of art fears the merger of artists. Their congruence is its downfall.
To stress how unlocal artists are in my tiny town, I give you the example of our state university art department. The combined art education of the faculty is over 200 years. According to the industrial system, they are recognized, real, credentialed, and of course, paid living artists. They disseminate the knowledge and skills acquired, and are successful in that young people still graduate knowing how to draw a chair and place historical artists into their proper movement. That is their day job. But at night the professors return home, the full timers to the suburbs, the adjuncts to a second job, and then finally to a rented apartment in town. If one ever has a show, a piece or two gets entered in the annual faculty exhibition, or representation is sought in his off time anywhere outside of our small city. At the university, the adjunct suffers second class citizenship, even if his pencil drawing of a tree looks a spark better than the same tree drawn by the full professor. The oneupmanship begets avarice. Avarice begets competition. And competition in art breeds pettiness. So my small city becomes just another “Hey Spike” to the Great bulldogs New York and Los Angeles who have practically eliminated all that was ever good about art, that is, its expressive communication to known human beings. Art in America is the NFL, and no longer a touch football game in the park with Howard, the art history professor, Rita, the painter, and Robert the sculptor, to name a few of the creatives who get together after work for team sports and then later, a beer. To make matters worse, visiting artists are brought in from around the country to “inspire” the students. Yet the students never see the corporate business model which delivered the talented anomaly from New York City—The secret art agent, nor the international C.V. which puts in writing how amazing this guy’s psychedelic paper mache paper wasp’s nests truly are. Believe it. The MoMA said so. Buy him.
We all must share our criticisms and solutions to replace the corporate paradigm with plans better suited to the career happiness of the individual man and woman as artist. No matter where we live, we all are local. The minions running the business of art would prefer we all be loco, separated, howling at the moon, and crushing the fingers of potential friends and colleagues on the ladder of success, always brought to you by a lower humanity seeking your work to bring them to the top.