On Taking AIM! The Business of Being An Artist Today

by Paddy Johnson on April 12, 2011 · 1 comment Opinion

e-flux video rental

Add Marysol Nieves “Taking AIM: The Business of Being An Artist Today” to the list of new resource books aimed at emerging artists. Published by Fordham University Press and The Bronx Museum of The Arts, the book begins with a long discussion of the Bronx Museum’s Artists in The Marketplace (AIM) with Executive Director Holly Block and former Program Facilitator Jackie Battenfield. A well-known and competitive professional training program for emerging artists, the interview reflected on the program, and kicks off a book celebrating AIM's 30th anniversary with a series of interviews, testimonials and commentary. Chapters are titled after profession, institution type, and any other cog in the New York art world’s wheel.

Occasionally stale, albeit informative, the first two chapters are particularly slow. A low point was reached when Kate Gilmore offered “make good work” as sage advice to emerging artists. I'm sure this will solve all sorts of problems in studios across New York.

I’m not going to review the book in its entirety, as each essay and interview is significantly different than the next, but Anton Vidokle’s “Art Without Market” clearly stands out as worthy of reflection. A co-founder of e-flux and Art-Agenda (a publication I contribute reviews to on a monthly basis) Vidokle discusses e-flux and the specialization economy. In particular, he addresses circulation and the multiple projects and dimensions of e-flux.

At the center of e-flux as a project is a concern with circulation and distribution. The dramatic image of the production of art is often embodied in such cinematic cliches as the agony and ecstasy of a genius creating in his studio, or the spectacle of consumption that instantly brings to mind lives of the rich and the powerful, auctions, fairs, high prices, deals, bargains, fortunes, crimes and so forth. Most of the time these two parts of the classical economic equation displace and hid the third crucial element that brings art and its discourse in contact with people: Circulation. While circulation is nearly invisible (in the way that street cleaning sometimes is), we can argue that the ethics and aesthetic of circulation largely determine what is produced, how it is consumed and who consumes it.

In this sense, most of the projects and activities have to do with thinking of different and, we hope, less unfair and alienated ways to circulate and distribute art and the ideas it generates. One of the peculiar things about e-flux is that after working on it for more than a decade, we (e-flux is currently developed jointly with artist Julieta Aranda and writer Brian Kuan Wood) still do not have a clear definition of what it is. It’s not an art space, a publisher or a website because e-flux as an art project has many different dimensions and evolving interests: artistic, organizational, educational, critical, collective, and so forth.

Given the reference to street cleaning, I interprete the “aesthetic of circulation” to be its results. To use a different metaphor, while the front end of a blog — posts and share buttons everyone sees — constitute the aesthetic of circulation, the blog dashboard may represent its ethics. After all, the backend is where the “making” takes place.

But Vidokle’s words above mostly underscore the collective’s resistance to a singularly defined practice. The rationale behind this is primarily a push back against the market.

…It seems to me that this division of labor is more or less what produces the market in the first place: If I know only how to paint and have no idea how to repair things, cook, mend clothes and so forth, this [specialization] results in a lot of urgent needs for goods and services necessary just to keep myself alive — all of which I have to get elsewhere and immediately a market is created through my own alienation. The more narrowly professionalized and specialized life becomes, the more dependent we become on the market and the more naturalized the market becomes as the ultimate arbiter of values. I suspect that this may be one of the ways in which market system, as an institution, perpetuates itself.

In my opinion, one viable way to resist this tendency in art is through developing a more sustainable economy. The original meaning of the work economy had to do with managing a household, as well as with a certain sense of thrift or conservation necessary for a long-term well being. For me the key notion here is long term: The field of art urgently needs an economy capable of creating conditions enabling one to reclaim one’s time from the demands of the market, from narrow professionalization and the kind of alienation it brings. I think it is possible to develop such an economy and share it with others, as we have tried to do with e-flux through focusing on redistribution. There are probably many other ways to do this: through collective approaches, through looking at other historical and social models and so forth. What is of utmost importance is not just to take the current state of things for granted and assume that once can produce new or different culture while trying to fit into a market economy rooted in inequity and alienation.

It’s worth mentioning that the argument that specialization (alienation) is bad for artists requires the presupposition that artists need to be active participants in their society as a whole to produce works relevant or valuable to that society. In other words, according to the logic of Vidokle’s essay, an art world sectioned off by the alienation of the marketplace can’t achieve it’s social purpose.

As for artists and other like minded folk, I’ve noticed a distinct swing towards market embrace (likely as a means of survival more than anything else). Of course, as one of many who bear the brunt of market inequity Vidokle’s call is one I can get behind.

*As a blogger I was also naturally I’m interested in the Web 2.0 conversation organized by Kianga Ellis which includes dealer Edward Winkleman, Manish Vora of ArtLog, James Wagner and Barry Hoggard, the well-known collectors, publishers and web entrepreneurs and Hrag Vartanian editor in chief of Hyperallergic. This is the standard roster of New York onliners and a good resource of names for that alone. I particularly enjoyed Barry Hoggard’s practical take on the web.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I discover a gigantic amount of artists on the Web these days because [seeing it] on the Web isn’t really the way I want to look at art. I want to look at it in person. But it is one of my methods for getting recommendations from friends without actually seeing them in person or talking to them at an opening. Someone often recommends something to me via Twitter or email. Brett Burkett’s really good about that, sending me emails such as “This artist’s show closes in a week. I think you really would like to see it.” I also notice what other art bloggers, whether I know them or not are excited about.

As someone who spends most of the day bathing in the warm glow of a computer screen, I’m glad to make the occasional foray out to the wilderness dubbed “Chelsea”. Activity is good for a blogger.

{ 1 comment }

Orangepalanquin April 14, 2011 at 5:16 am

I would say that Kate Gilmore isn’t following her own advice.

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