Finding Words

Fall light. The sun sets earlier. I saw these shadows, and remembered photos I took at this time of year, in this style, some time ago. So I took new ones, in the same way.

This week has been disquieting. Anxiety, tears, bewilderment mixed with resolve. Each time I waiver I try to focus on something solid. A good habit. Put one foot in front of the other. Tomorrow is a new day. Oblivion is a temporary solution, only postponing the inevitable reckoning. Not now, but later. Still, later will be now.

I’m reading a slim book of essays about artists who, after achieving some measure of success, chucked it all (“Tell Them I Said No,” by Martin Herbert (2016)). Some of these essays relate to the facts of the contemporary art market. What happens during or after Covid times, though?

Then today I read this article, about how the painter Mark Bradford is doing and what he is making during these times: This quote struck me:

“‘So I just kind of reminded myself that I’ve been in this fight for value, and that more people should have access to contemporary art, to museums, to this thing that we call culture. It’s why I started Art + Practice where I started it — because I felt that more people should have access to this thing on the way to the store, on their way to the bus stop, on their way to wherever they go.
Why is it that we have to get on a bus and travel across town to have access to culture? I think all of it was going through my head at one time. Still is.’”

On my mind, yes, these markets – there’s one for the elite, which ends up being preserved in museums and becomes “history.” What happens to artists who want to make art accessible, not just in some white space across town you have to take a bus to get to (and pay money to see)? How do you take it out of rarified air, and who has the humility to insist that it’s something for everyone to have, not just the rich, who use art for their own social reasons, i.e. on another planet – not Covid Mars, but High White Gate Mars?

The social inequalities revealed by Covid are not new, they’re not a surprise. Art made by a single person without assistants is not new, it’s not a surprise. That people, ALL people, need art for their own reasons is not new, it’s not a surprise.

When this pandemic fades, what will artists have learned about the relationship between what they make, and the inequalities perpetuated by those who buy it, who elevate it, and elevate them? What decisions will they make about these inequalities being made more vocal, more visible, and artist connections to the wealth of the patrons of the art world? Will they continue to accept this patronage as is, in return for status?

Each decision has its consequences. Each person has the right to make their own decisions, own them and live with them. What I am looking for though, is honesty about that, acknowledgment of one’s role in supporting and perpetuating a system which puts gulfs between people of different backgrounds, about something which should be above power plays.

Right? Or is art not really for everyone?

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