For those of us who are part of artist-run organizations, the last decade has been a difficult one. Like everyone else, we have suffered from an economic downturn brought on by a decade of war-spending and greedy banking ventures. More dismaying, though, has been the conservative turn and overall diminishment of artistic energy in ‘the art world.’ A recent article by Holland Cotter in the New York Times (1/19/14) summarized my own feelings of helplessness brought on by what he called ‘the gallery industrial complex.’ He bemoans the fact that in this “caste-system,” attitude is often mistaken for ideas, art writing has become ‘describe-the-strokes’ advertising, and museums have forgotten their “role as public institutions that change our habits of thinking and seeing.” He wonders why even art schools seem content to accommodate the general art economy that leaves their students indentured to creditors and to the art market where they are unable to venture into realms of creative activity that defy classification of art at all – the usual territory of the art world.
Pretty depressing stuff. But Mr. Cotter also knows his art history. There will come a time when “the art industry decides to liquidate its overvalued assets and leave.” And what then?
Artists, the first and last stakeholders, will have themselves to fall back on. They’ll learn to organize and agitate for what they need, to let City Hall know, in no uncertain terms, that they’re there. They’ll learn to organize, not just on special occasions, but all the time. They’ll learn that art and politics are inseparable, and both can be anything and everything. They’ll learn to bring art back from the brink of inconsequence.
As someone long on questions and short on answers, let me ask: Why not start now?
So, as another year begins, I’ve traded in my depression for my dusty combat boots. I know what I have to do.
To all the hundreds of artists I’ve had the great pleasure to meet and work with over the years, I hope you’ll join me in the fight…
…to bring art back from the brink of inconsequence.