Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Rewards of Art

A response to the article: New Data Reveals Artists Aren’t Gettin’ Paid by Alexis Clements.[1] The article address the economic condition of contemporary artists, but behind that lies a lot of complexity involving history, tradition, sociality and economics. It is tricky to pick apart the relationships between the agents in any so-called art world (especially their more closely-guarded mutualities), but making a few key distinctions can help.

One important distinction is between primary artistic producers and those who create intellectual cultures and publicity-created cultures around artistic production. Another is between public and private art worlds. Making such distinctions can help clarify what passes back and forth through the semi-permeable divisions of a sectorised art world. It's different, of course, at different junctures in the many kinds of transaction around artistic practices and products. There are multiple currencies, suited to different contingencies, including: aesthetic pleasure; real or symbolic knowledge of the world at large; knowledge of and about art; money; payment-in-kind; social status; etc.

As one responder to Clements's article suggests, what is often casually referred to as an art world is usually a diverse field with disciplinary, academic, social, and economic aspects (at least). Artists, especially today, can occupy multiple roles in such a field, and so be implicated in perpetuating as well as resisting its economic inequities. However, it does seem that artists are often disadvantaged primary producers in their own fields. For any advancement they must to appeal to the often contradictory values of a variety of other art-world agents. What unites these - curators, dealers, academics, etc. - is a reliance on the primary products of the artist; and the fact that, as aggregators and mediators of that product, they end up occupying positions more economically or socially assured than that of the typical artist. 


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