Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Speaking out about selling out

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Anyone in a creative professional has been faced with this question: How do I make ends meet while still making sure I'm doing what I'm called to do? In the tug of war between self-expression and self-preservation, it is often the latter that wins out.

A recent speech at Institutions by Artists, a three-day conference on contemporary artist-run centers and intiatives, delivered by scholar Julia Bryan-Wilson, however, re-frames that age-old question. Perhaps informed by her own research on the intersection of art and labor markets in the Vietnam era, Bryan-Wilson makes clear that business isn't a disembodied concept defined by an external market. It is a participatory thing, where artists (or any other creative professional) can and do make a difference. It defines us, if we let it, or we can define it in turn.

"Instead of being forced to say yes or no to this false binary, let's reframe the question," Bryan-Wilson concludes in crescendo, "Should artists and critics profess what they believe in, be more transparent about the stakes of their making and how they support themselves? Yes. Should artists and critics be self-aware within frameworks of power, of their own implication in larger systems of financialization and self-management? Yes. Should artists advocate for themselves more broadly with an understanding that their fights might have some surprising resonance with other questions of inequity? Yes. Should artists also organize with an awareness that they have certain class privileges due to cultural capital, even if that cultural capital doesn't always easily translate into actual political power or long term financial security? Yes. Should artists fictionalize rather than financialize, make shit up, falsify, infiltrate? Yes. Should artists with art school educations be aware that just because they are underpaid does not mean they are not underclassed? Yes. Should art historians and critics acknowledge our profound privilege as tastemakers? Yes. Should we all take risks, but all the time acknowledge that the risks we take are not equivalent to many other peoples and the risks they live? Yes."

Here's the whole video. The rest of the conference can be viewed online here.

UPDATE: Some added inspiration thanks to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson's 1990 Kenyon College commencement speech and Zen Pencils. I think it totally applies. Full screen version here.


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