I LITERALLY HATE THE ART WORLD
all day I’ve been thinkin about what job I’d do if I left the art world. Like, I loved learning Spanish and Japanese so much, n I could have gone into translation / interpretation / teaching. what stability that might have brought me! Could hav made my life in a different country, could have had a pension. Not that those fields are without their own issues but, jesus christ, instead I’m knee-deep in a mudslide of art bullshit and trying to walk uphill through it all. At the top of the mountain are all the middle class white people holding onto their director and executive position jobs so tightly their knuckles are as white as their faces n PUBES tbh. The art that surrounds them up there is uncreative, repetitive, and often harmful. most of the art is, really, all the way down the pay scale - with the impactful / emotional / aesthetic experience of art made by some marginalised people few and far between, kept rare. Below the directors, middle ground gallery curators seem largely boring, and below them the artist-led activity is precarious, white, and mediocre. I’m 24 and i am over it. I thought it would be so much better than this. n now I’m sitting down to write that wow I don’t want to inherit this bullshit, and also wtf does it say about the people in (all positions of) power that they’re okay working like this, that this is the state they support?
The arts are able to Be Political(!) in a way other industries aren’t, and they’re not making the most of that philosophical freedom. Instead, they are mirroring and reproducing the same systemic racism and ableism and all the isms that constitute the working and social worlds. In this way, they are tbh no different to the Tate; they’re all just high on performing their own pseudo-radicalism (like ~DIY culture as a whole is a substitute for a personality, opinions or a system of Belief) (Like ~DIY culture in fact constitutes a whole-ass culture, rather than j a mode of working/operating...) n when that’s broken down n put under ANY ounce of inspection, it’s obvious every single art scene has the same dickhead problems. Yep, underrepresented artists remain pushed out of mainstream platforms, can’t exhibit anywhere, don’t feel comfortable in cliquey studio groups made up of cis white bolshy graduates, so they can’t develop their practice and aren’t able to build up a CV to get funding n start something up of their own where they might be on a level playing field for once. loooong sentence. Critics are like 95% white cis men who wont and cant do justice in their understanding and writing of art made by those marginalised groups - there just needs to be more specific diversity in who is writing about exhibitions so that artists are allowed 2 receive critique n education. Artist-led galleries stay trying to become white cube institutions and are shit at making any effort towards engagement so audiences remain the same thirty people coming down to instagram a flower in a shoe at an angle in front of a pink neon light. Everyone else is scared to join in, uninterested bc obviously, and wont walk through the doors because of the weird space the white cube demands of its visitors’ behaviour and academic prowess. The stuff IN galleries is RARELY of any value; exhibitions go in one ear n out the other, forgettable zzzzzzz. Unpaid labour is the norm, no one knows how much people who DO get paid are earning, and when you make the switch from voluntary work to making a bit of money the agony it takes to ask if there is a budget is too much. Galleries of artist-led operational scale move from building to building once their presence has gentrified the area enough for the developers’ satisfaction, and that might STOP if anyone ever owned their building but they dont. the arts aren’t business-minded enough or realistic imo, leaving themselves open to the whims of the market instead of fighting to become self-sustainable - n tbh I think it’s because adding any venture besides an exhibition programme into a space breaks the seal of the white cube’s aesthetic sanctity and people are scared of that (kill the white cube tho!!! survive!!!). There’s also nowhere to complain about how these systems operate because no scene ever invites criticism, only arts journalism. ; the same people keep their seats at the top, play musical chairs, fail upwards - and no space opens up for anybody else and nothing changes.
plus: if you aren’t based in London, arts workers are expected to be nimble enough to travel across the country (either urself, or u post ur work and that travels round as proxy for ur actual presence) to do tiny bits of sometimes paid work bc the local art economy of the region(s) is never good enough to feed us all 4eva. Big organisations with giant budgets programme more than they can afford to do well, instead of a few good quality things with staff being paid properly n looked after. Arts outsource HR departments or don’t bother with one at all - even tho we’re all expected to be healthy and massively social 10000% of the time in order to network our way into a scene that is supposed to offer us opportunities based on social clout alone. And then no offence but everyone shits themselves when people like us are casual in our criticisms of their mediocrity. there’s some hyperbole there but ygm. Artists are too in the mind of ‘isn’t it good this is happening’ instead of asking whether it should be happening at all, or evaluating it in any way. art doesn’t hav inherent value, it’s always worth prodding.
pleeeease. WHY AM I TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING IN THIS SENSITIVE AND MONIED MESS ????? WHY IS IT LIKE THIS ???? IT’S 2018 YOU’VE ALL HAD YEARS TO GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, TO PRODUCE AND SHARE MODELS THAT ACTUALLY FUNCTION IN A HEALTHY AND MEANINGFUL WAY. sorry to go on about it but it just kills me off that the art in amongst all of this is hardly ever worth what we put ourselves through to facilitate it. salt in the wound that racist sexist dicks are running the show and getting all the opportunities.
In terms of like, a solution, fuck. I think I am optimistic, bc i see people doing Good Out There. Sometimes it is small (the intimacy and tenderness of CREAM’s invite-only crits for artists of colour), sometimes it’s a whole fucking mission of good (12ø collective being determined to change, introspect, and demand better as they go forward with their Backend events to write policy for better accountability in the artist-led; and Transmission being an entirely poc-led org that makes time and room for care, for themselves). Sometimes it’s as simple as having a good practical definition of what public value is - like OOMK offering something tangibly valuable to the public that interacts w them. And I do think, if they can do it, why can’t all of youse?? and now it becomes a bit of a sticky one, because I think with all the problems ^above^ = the artist-led KNOWS all of this. When they posture at you, arms-folded performing-sincerity, asking, ‘but what can we do to make it better?’ ‘How can we affect change?’ THEY KNOW THE ANSWER. instead of doing anything about it tho, people just feel absolved by organising a panel talk about the problem and standing round pointing at it. THAT IS Q FRANKLY MASTURBATORY when the problem of too many white ppl in power can be simply solved by them putting activism where their mouth is and giving up their boring ass jobs. They know this, except they wont do shit.
But now we would like to offer u, in PLAIN AND UNPLAIN TERMS some solutions n ideas targeted at artist-led, by which we don’t literally mean activity that is masterminded by artists but we see it in terms of scale: the layer of the art world crust that is above education and individual outsider things, that is somewhat organised, and sits beneath NPO / institutional / biennial festival shit. we say the word shit so many times in this it’s funny. anyway
1 - be more responsive.
the art world suffers exclusivity bc it speaks inwards; the same group rotates at artist-led-space-openings n no surprise bc that’s who they’re responding to with their public-facing programme. Speak wider, look beyond those who use the same vocabulary as you. React to things happening nearby; be it organising a resistance to literal immigration policy, food bank donation drop-offs, support for people on universal credit now it’s landing all around us, carers too. make sure it’s the Real World and not solely the Art World ur keeping tabs on. Idk how much aesthetics matter right now when the world is going to shit. The only way to push back against the insular is to ground urself in the world of the living. honestly i feel like i need to tell youse all this bc u are in such positions of privilege you’ve forgotten to care for the people around you / or maybe you never learnt how.
2 - address the idea of locality more enthusiastically.
Stop seeing ‘local people’ as plebs, idk y people are so disrespectful. In your definition of diversity, cast your eye to the postcode you’re literally in. What does the local population literally look like n is that reflected in ur visitor numbers/exhibitions program/staff/board/trustees? if not - time 2 change. Do a hunger games style elimination process or eenie meanie to decide which white men you keep, n get rid of the rest, they’re over-represented. And understand that diversity doesn’t mean more white women. Also, why do local residents feel some type a way about even coming into ur gallery in the first place? knock on doors n chat to ppl, post invites to things thru their doors, let on when u see em at the shop down the road. Be better at being open, don’t pretend to be,,, that shifts the onus from u and onto them, when rly the problem is what u represent. Also, address the idea of locality ~politically~ too. what are you doing FOR the local population? you’ve moved into a postcode that’s been a bit run-down, but it’s getting trendy now; what are you as a space doing to resist your complicity in gentrification? organise! with ur locals! even if it’s just providing space, snacks and facilitation skills. the arts can be a fertile ground to manifest the collective action needed to hold truth to power but I have literally never seen an arts org do this successfully, well, or even sincerely.
3 - art often means working with people a lot so educate yourself n keep on educating. Make sure your activity is trans inclusive, that u respect pronouns, sexuality and how people present themselves. pray you follow Shape Art’s guide on how to make exhibitions and events accessible. ‘Pay what you can’ throws me off perssssonally, and i think it’s better to put a guide in place like free if unemployed, £2 if part-time, £4 if full, £10 if rich etc. free is always best tho. If ur the type of space that loves events, can you offer a creche? also might as well add to all the hetero men in power: support women you’re not attracted to.
4 - Resist your mean girl cliques.
Too much of being in the art scene means exercising ur own ego, sucking up to people you think are cool or can give u opportunities, and excluding anyone that doesn’t make work that fits ur aesthetic. This is so cringey and harmful. The whole world right now is just a reputation economy and it means quality goes out the window. i want quality 2 come back inside, and to do this i think the idea of the Social needs to change. As a artist-led space, who do you count as being in your network? Tbh I hope you don’t have one, because if you do it means ppl are on the outside of it n thats not fair. Think about how can you hold open days or art socials for people that are just literally nervous, or ppl who’ve had a bad experience of it so far. I’m wary of spaces that use their social media to brag about their tight knit friendship group and don’t ever open their arms 2 more people. a big part of this is attached to coolness; Artistic activity should never be cool otherwise it’s just exclusionary.
5 - proactively invite criticism.
this is a long one but right. it’s no good being in tune and inviting new visitors into ur lil gallery if ur gonna do little to nothing to actually listen to them when they tell you the neon jelly concrete post-modern sculpture your mate made is shit. that does nothing to build trust or make the relationship between u n locals sustainable. they’re also probably right. what aba a good old painting show, or an OPEN. Criticism should be encouraged, whether it comes internally or externally; do ur best to facilitate a good culture of honest, sincere criticism and embed it in ur structure.
But HOW! how can we normalise criticism within the artist-led i hear u CRY? Embed it it in ur programme: exhibitions, workshops, events, e t c. I dare you to hold a literal event that invites input from your local art scene,,, open the doors n see what happens. Consider a critic in residence; a local advisory board; a comments box by the gallery door; one on ur website too. Budget for diverse writers to come and review individual shows - it’s healthy to inject outsider-perspectives as well (Lou Macnamara from 12ø told us about RISD Museum’s ‘Look at art, get paid,’ which gives $$$ to guest critics who don’t go to art museums. excellent imo). What about public forums also: imagine like the kind of public forums Leslie Knope held in parks and rec? now imagine that but art, and productive. i think this’d be an interesting idea. and I double dare the Liverpool Biennial to give it a go, also ask toxteth town hall to host loool.
Consider a horizontal structure in the staff makeup too, where everyone from the cleaner, techs, gallery assistant/invigilator’s perspective is weighted evenly to the steering committee members/directors n curators. consider reflecting that in payment terms too - put everyone on the same hourly £s. make sure people within ur 4 walls feel safe disagreeing with the people in charge. criticism is not a personal affront, don’t be a wuss. consider making it part of internal policy!
If you’re outside the institution but want to INTERJECT, other approaches might be an open letter: often softens the blow bc u can have 100 sign-ees and displace the weight of those words from an individual to a collective mass. Doesn’t always work (see Hannah Black’s Open letter to Whitney Biennial on Dana Schultz’s painting) but can still be a powerful way to make ur criticism public without the formal structure of complicated publishing/informal structure of tweeting into the void. What about podcasts too, which can b more accessible for ur thinking; consider chatting n making that convo public. Some people think they’re shit at writing so say it instead. Not all reviews have to be written to be valid. art makes a good n fertile conversation topic. i wish there were more good art podcasts tbh!
Instagram!: like i know we, here @ TWP, always say anonymity is for cowards, but sometimes i can see why ppl choose anon. in serious and heavy problems like sexual harassment & abuse, the instagram account @heardsceneand is doing good work exposing predators in the Indian arts scene. it’s urgent and necessary work, considering there are so many examples of abuse of power in the artist-led scene here in the UK, and there feels like there is little to nothing people can do about it, despite trying. this could be a powerfully public way to centrally organise without shifting focus onto the individuals organising.
Imagine also if an artist-led space invited external thinkers to their programme meetings. invite urself lmao, offer it as ~much needed external perspective~, a la dramaturg. assertiveness is the look for 2019.
And finally, i think in offering criticism back, peer forums & crit groups are worth mentioning : bc you should be providing actual artistic development for the artists in ur scene who are operating outside of institutions and education, or just outside of social groups tbh. Artist-led spaces have the potential to act as facilitators and supporters in this sense. the need is especially urgent if the space includes studios, bc then it’s at risk of becoming an insular scene.
6 - Don’t run spaces for free.
I understand that if you’re wanting to run a space and put things on, you often have to run a pilot period to be able to go to funders and say look! it worked! give us some money now to continue it! but I do NOT understand why there are committees and directorships across the world bein led by people who agree to do this work for free. i blame it on the people at the beginning of artist-led history who began a bad precedent and what continues to be a horrible initiation for so many arts workers. I think it gives the arts an embarrassing reputation publicly n relative to other industries, excludes working class artists, and makes way for even more problems. the people who can afford to do what is basically a long unpaid internship with vague mentorship, then go on to get the opportunities n social clout. And because all this is done for free, it’s often on a rolling basis of 2/3 years leading the space, where there’s not enough time to implement and affect sustainable or lasting change. ur not being paid to do the work of change forcefully enough. perhaps funding paid roles would go even further to embed a structure of accountability into the role? especially if it was with public money! the formality of making these roles paid would be good not ONLY bc it takes a specific level of economic privilege/sacrifice to take on so many unpaid hours for ~2 years; but also bc it would predicate a formality in the structures around the role. if the person ur paying to do the job is incompetent, it makes it more intolerable, and then u have reason to fire them rather than j let their 2 years play out. it makes writing internal policy & HR more necessary n palatable (that you’d be paid for that labour, that that labour would have a more sustainable afterlife bc of the formality of that paid role n who takes it after you’ve left). the whole art world would be raised up a level if money was granted for ur labour. we’re lagging until it stops.
7 - pay it forward and help more artist-led activity get off the ground, eSPECIALLY when it’s led by marginalised identities.
Do it with in kind + material support; help write funding apps, consult, let them use your space, invite them to curate shows before they have a space of their own so there’s precedent when it comes to securing one. Include them in your funding app before they go on to do their own;; and when that new artist-led space exists, try coordinating openings for shows so you can redirect your own visitors to theirs n help them start their audience development. DIY is kinda empty and we should do it together instead. Neoliberalism is good at convincing us that j bc we’re advancing, it means things are improving; but tbh the conditions of success are so predicated on identity and circumstance. Do better to level the playing field and be a good ally in practice as well as online.
8 - know when it’s time to stop.
Across most artist-led galleries and studio systems, there seems to be a common lack of intentionality. and so in all of this, i wonder if the problem is above our heads? From inception, so many #diy artist-led spaces start by building and modelling themselves to fit neatly into the Art’s Council’s funding requirements. once they get the money again n again, incentive to change diminishes; appetite for overhaul/introspection of their operational methods is shrivelled bc, hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! the problem w that is, it’s not rly broke as in broken systemically, it’s broke as in SKINT. And just because ur getting ££s from ACE, doesn’t mean ur doing good work! for so many, getting publicly funded has always been about jumping through hoops, twisting the figures and the outcomes to suit. The arts council is potentially in a position to demand more from artist-led spaces. They could demand more robust definitions of diversity, and more evidence as to real concrete action towards implementing change towards diversity & inclusion & EQUITY for the most marginalised. They could tighten evaluative processes, bring back their on-the-ground evaluators. omg create a star system like Health code ratings lmaoooo. so at least all of these efforts and measures are publicly known! and in making it all publicly known, it becomes a smidge more transparent! I wonder how we could go about implementing this change? how can we walk up to Nicky Serota and tell him what to do, and have him actually listen? tbh, tell u wot. if ur reading this and you know him, or someone else at the Art’s Council, tell them to read this n email us. . tell them to plop a fiver in our patreon, get gab an open return to London, and we’ll all sit down together and explain what’s missing and what they could do to help fill the gap. Bc dwelling on a Panic report by Create is all well and good, but we can’t let that report become prophecy for the future too, rather than a call to action. We can’t j sit here n be ok with the Art’s council’s 10 year plan being ~more artificial intelligence in visitor services~ i would like ACTION.
Think about what we’ve said. Think about how you could do all of the above. If you hate this text, and want to send a pipe bomb through our letterboxes bc of our words here, think about why that is? why would these suggestions be unpalatable to u? those in power never lobby meaningfully for change, nor do those with the power to affect change ever actually do anything. the world would be a happier, more tolerable place if they did, but inequality & shiteness exists for a reason; reason being, ppl not only perpetuate, but actively enact it. This text is now my yardstick. are u doing any of the 2nd half? if not, ur probably doing the first half, and i’ll roll my eyes when i see u at the private view, and try n figure out a way to gob in ur drink without u noticing. we can all do better. I would like us ALL to TRY.