After visiting last week’s Future Map 10 exhibition* at London’s Zabludowicz Collection, with it’s boastful bi-line: ‘showcasing the finest talent from the University of the Arts’, I have been thinking:
Why are we churning out so many artists?
Because we seem to have created a culture of art-school factories: get-em-in and churn-them-out, resulting in an unsustainable number of artist-graduates, for whom an actual career as artist, curator or administrator is unlikely.
Why do so many people want to go to art school?
One theory points to the past two decades where the YBA’s, and the likes of Banksy etc have become cultural celebrities, resulting in the media-led idea that art can deliver culture, status and money. But only for the fortunate ones: the so-called successfully emerged artist?
Making a living from art is difficult. The value placed upon the idea of emerging, and taking part in activities that may help you to emerge is a double-edged sword – sometimes beneficial but always costly – in both the artists own time and/or money.
Most internships are voluntary and, while providing useful contacts and experience, rarely lead to a paid job within the organisation. This is precisely because few organisations can actually afford to pay for staff, unless they are free. Another example of artists being used for their skills but exploited or undervalued in terms of remuneration.
Due to cuts, few galleries, public or otherwise, are able to offer artists an exhibition fee. Rather one is expected to exhibit for free, not just for the glory, but in exchange for the esteemed value this may or may not have in enhancing one’s career or CV value – that slow accumulation of competitive tick-box experiences.
There are more open art competitions than ever before, but often artists pay the gallery a fee – £8 to £50 – for the chance of having their work selected. However, research shows that many of these competitions attract hundreds or thousands of aspiring entrants, so chances are limited. Administering these opportunities can’t be cheap [even with the hardworking unpaid interns ] so that the competition proceeds provide some sort of life-line for less commercial galleries. Yet, galleries would cease to exist without artists. However, it seems doubtful many artists feel this sense of power.
Yet we live in hope – Why?
Because of the advent of a whole new generation of purpose-built, modern art galleries – Tate Modern, Baltic, Towner, and the soon-to-be-finished Turner, Margate and Jerwood, Hastings.
Art is the new religion – quite literally, as churches and chapels become art galleries. These art-venue success stories, said to be across all classes, have sold us a new and successful image of art in our culture. Art being valued, artists seen as heroes, cultural leaders and people to look up to. It used to be film stars and pop stars, and now it is [a few] artists.
No wonder young people want to grow-up to be artists, it equates to the celebrity culture of the past two decades, but with a middle-class culturally- aspiring twist.
What is the point of making art?
I can’t speak for a twenty-something. However, for those who choose to study in their forties or fifties, a second [mostly unpaid] career in fine art, obviously isn’t about money and success. It is fundamentally a more philosophical pursuit, in search of trying to make sense of: how we live now?
I believe work is made, in the hope of asking: how to be? and how to live?
Not: how to emerge?
However, in the end, whatever age, stage or experience we are at, we all seek to be valued – to have our large, insatiable art-egos stroked – and be told that our work is good. And for that, most artists give their time free, give their art free, and [happily?] continue to pay-up for the poor odds of gaining an exhibition opportunity.
So remind me, why do we do it? What is it all for?
And, what real alternatives are there?
* To read ‘Art without a Heart’ a review
of the Future Map 10 exhibition follow this link: www.a-n.co.uk/p/984463