Art is NOT Dead

By John Stillmunks in Misc > Art Opinion

I read another post today with the same message I’ve been hearing and reading lately—that art is dead.

It was written by another artist frustrated with the current state of art shows and buyers. I’ve heard the same message in different voices and permutations for a few years now. Art is dead. Destroyed. Sidelined. An unnecessary extravagance.

Some say art is a “product,” and some say because it’s a product, it’s dead. Some say art has degenerated into cheap, kitschy imported garbage that people surround at the fairs. It’s probably all true, but it still does not translate into the demise of art.

“Art is dead?” By no means.

Art was happening in the caves in France when hairy armpits were all the rage simply by default and French fashion depended on what walked by the cave a couple of days earlier. Art was happening in the Dark Ages to celebrate religion and lead the masses to a better afterlife. Art was happening in Europe when tuberculosis and syphilis were more common than even knowing someone over the age of 45.

And not in just Europe. . . art has been happening in every continent and in every society that has existed. The Mongols decorated their saddles. The Japanese were unrivaled in ceramics. In North America there were paintings on animal skins. Architecture in South America. Carvings in the arctic. Calligraphy in China. Drawings in India. African sculptures and tools. The American Southwest is full of both Native American and Spanish artistic influences.

In every society throughout history, there has been somebody who saw something to draw or paint or make and did so. More importantly, there was an audience of people who saw the results and were impressed in some manner and either assimilated or ridiculed the art.

There was art in the Soviet Union. There was art in the concentration camps. There was art in the American South before, during, and after the civil rights upheavals in the 1950’s and 60’s. There’s art where the towers used to be. There’s art in that field in Pennsylvania. There’s art in South Africa and Ireland. There is art in the Middle East.

I even remember some amazing homemade tattoos the kids did for each other when I worked in a psychiatric hospital with teens. And there was another kid who was really, really good at making the coolest little bunny and birdie sculptures.

Art is alive in many, many places much worse than where we as festival artists travel, exhibit, and sell. Some art is very good, some very bad. That’s what makes art, art.

So what is the problem? Some people complain that it’s the shows’ fault. People have learned they can make a lot of money putting on shows, so the shows flourish while some of the individual artists suffer.

OK. . . but that’s not the actual problem.

The real problem is that art directors and festival committees are not doing a very good job of picking artists, bringing in buyers, focusing on art, and making their fair share of the profits.

Are all of them doing that? Absolutely not. Not even most of them are.

No, I think it is a distinct minority of people behind a curtain that need to either work more effectively with artists, or just go out of business. Darwin is king in the art world. The fittest survive, not the most connected.

Even the “bad” or “greedy” promoters are just simply doing what they have been getting away with for years and they have no reason to alter a behavior that was not addressed or questioned before. We should have spoken up earlier—we are the artists and the patrons have been telling us what is wrong.

I am against a union for artists, because I do not think there are very many true artists out there and I think a union as a solution to the current issues facing show artists is a situation where the cure would be worse than the disease.

I think most of the people in the art shows are not artists and are worse than the worst promoters—I do not want to unleash them onto our industry. No, the promoters need to do what they do and they need to do it more efficiently, openly, and effectively.

As far as the “artists” are concerned, I think they should either go get “day jobs” if they are simply functioning as merchants, importers, crafters, and posers. The people that matter—the art collectors, patrons and aficionados are the ones who should be weeding out this industry. They have been voting with their dollars for some time now, and need to continue to do so.

Either the shows will improve or they will die. Either the artists will get more savvy or they will be doing something else. But, there will always be artists. We’ll figure something out.

We have the internet, we have an ability to sell our work anywhere we want in this country (because we don’t have unions or guilds) we have galleries, we have impromptu “outlaw” shows, we have free-will and choices and risk.

The shows do not have the power in the long run.

The artists do.

The most responsible thing a true artist can do is two-fold: first, become a better, smarter, more influential artist; and second, encourage the market—the patrons to determine where the art market is going to go.

It’s really no different than the caves in France. No union, no show director, no critic, no chamber of commerce show, no government—nothing—will determine where art will go. The artists will.

Art is not dead, it’s just waiting for the artists to wake up and be artists.

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