Integrity and the Arts Business

Integrity and the Arts Business
 
            I recently came across a copy of a letter I had sent to a friend in 1989. I wrote to him about the arts business, as lovingly reported by a now-defunct arts magazine that used to be published here in Washington DC, one of the nation’s major cultural treasure troves. For a time, I had contributed to this magazine.
            The source of my discussion (read: rant) to my friend, concerned how this magazine, and indeed, most other arts magazines, waded ankle-deep in hero-worship of what they defined as ‘cutting edge’ artists, out there on the frontiers of the arts world. In order to register on the radar of these name-dropping sycophants, one had to be shockingly controversial, pushing the artistic fabric back to Tuesday.
            I feel the same about this today. The Art History mavens are always falling all over each other to publish academic papers that monitor the latest ‘school of thought’, pushing it all through their analytical filters.
            Most of the artists thus enshrined are located around the world in recognized art centers. Here in the USA, that would be New York or LA. If you’re anybody, if you have something to say, so the fiction goes, that’s where you’d go, right? If you click there, you are accommodated by the big galleries, billionaire corporate collectors, and the cultural leeches we call agents.
            I’ve never aimed, with my art, to be trendy, or cater to the cashbox. I don’t do my art that way. I don’t belong to a club, nor hang out at a salon. I’m no Hockney (in any sense of the word,) and may never make the pages of a prestigious publication. My job has always been to find the art inside myself and get it out to communicate it to others. I don’t answer to anyone else’s drummer but my own. That may relegate me to obscurity, but so be it. My friend and I agree on this; both he and I find our influences from artists who interest us, and we learn from them, reflecting that in our art.
            We’re not alone in this view. Michael Ventura, in his essay “The Corpse of the 80’s”, talks about artists in relatively obscure communities like Lubbock, Texas, who are invisible to art critics. These critics, Ventura says, are “little more than a system of class prejudice,” gate-keepers to the official culture. They share common backgrounds and a “sameness of vision” which they “mistake for culture.”
            The Texan artist is perhaps satisfied to live and work in Lubbock, with no desire to relocate to New York or LA. In this way, uncountable other artists , and whole movements pass by undetected for decades, and “as much art falls through the cracks as ever.”
            In the letter to my friend, I was gratified to see how well I expressed my feelings and values. I realized then, as I still realize, that the important thing is to keep on working, and not be seduced by the big money machines of the art business, for they have not changed or gone away. Sure, it’d be great to be famous and sell everything I make, should the spotlight ever fall on me. But as I told my friend, the cost of pursuing that would have a seriously negative impact on my process of making art. It’s even more true now than it was in 1989. So for the nonce, I’ll simply keep on working.