Poets, Artists and the Market

A long must read from John Perreault’s diary about his recent experiences in Denver.
Click here.

Perreault is part of an exhibit that opened this past weekend at The LAB of art and ideas at Belmar. In Plain Sight: Street Works and Performances 1968-1971. Check out the BLAB for photos from the opening.

Perreault is a poet, art critic and artist.

He writes in this blog post:

“I should note that Street Works were originally in part a response to Earth Works, which some of us considered elitist. It would take and still does take a considerable amount of cash to visit Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Smithson was a friend and verbal sparring partner, so I couldn’t help answering his own sarcasm with some of my own. I certainly didn’t have the money to visit Utah.”

He also points out his own perspective and definition of what makes an artist:

“At a time when commerce rules the arts, we need to be reminded that one can make art without a MFA and with little or no cash-outlay — hors de commerce, as it were. One creates ones own venue; the arts do not have to be controlled by money interests. In Artopia, the definition of an artist is not ‘an art-school graduate who makes his (yes, still usually his) living by selling art products.’ An artist is someone who makes us see.”

What Perreault calls elitism, I define as another level or form of art making. Yes, anyone can make art and use their creativity to make us see. When an artist or writer is in the studio and working alone with only their inspiration and their thoughts, that is pure and ephemeral and all about just creating because we have to. On the other hand, we have to live and it takes money in our society to do that. And most people want to earn a living by doing what they love.

Perreault says artist’s should look to poets for an example.

“Was William Carlos Williams (Robert Smithson’s baby doctor!) any less of a poet because he made his living by practicing medicine? Or T. S. Eliot less a poet because he was a banker? Was Hart Crane less a poet because he once worked in a bookstore? Am I any less an artist because I am a poet who has made his living as an art critic? Are there not clerical and factory-worker artists? Was Marcel Duchamp less an artist because he was in some ways Brancusi’s New York art dealer?

Sure, and how many actors have waited tables and how many artists teach?

Can one earn a living doing what they love without selling out the marketplace? And how exactly are the arts not controlled by a money interest? Perhaps if we return to an aboriginal society model where art was a part of everyday life–from the water jugs, to the baskets to the cooking pots, all decorated and designed for aesthetic pleasure as well as function. It seems the options are to create a factory and have others help you make your art (Warhol, Hirst, Koons, Thomas Kinkade, Dale Chihuly, most well known Navajo jewelery artists); get a job and make art on the side, the two always battling for your attention (teachers like , radio announcers like Ron Fundingsland, doctors, poets who become art critics); or do the hard work of going into the studio, or sitting at your writing desk, day after day after day and working working working, creating, drawing, painting, making art and then working equally hard to enter juried exhibits, create websites, contact galleries, find dealers and release your work into the world where it may or may not be displayed as you like.

My favorite story is from the Donald Judd symposium I attended in May. Judd was hypercritical about his art and the way he wanted it displayed. He believed that displaying the art was just as important as the creation of the art and therefore he started the Chinati foundation where he installed his work and the work of his peers in the way he felt it deserved to be displayed. At the symposium, a participant told the story of visiting a collectors home and finding a Judd aluminum box and on top of the sculpture (or specific object as Judd defined his work) was a Deborah Butterfield horse. Sacrilegious.

So, either you have enough money already to just do whatever the hell you want or you are left to create a lifetime of work and hope someone discovers it upon your death (Van Gogh).

Market is a reality that we cannot ignore. The challenge is to create work that is true to the artists aesthetic and purpose and not just pandering to a market.

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