Get Real Paid

April 1, 2009

Something came up in an email conversation with Michael that I thought I would expand on here.  Michael was lamenting the void left by the absence of things like the Three Day Weekend and I responded in an unclear way what I’ll say more clearly here: artists should be suspicious of the system, but not afraid of it.  Or, in other words, don’t be shy about selling your work.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve trying to (heh) fundraise for a trip to the Fake Iraq in Louisiana and I don’t really need that much money but the bump in the road I’m hitting is as follows: 1) I am not a non-profit entity and therefore contributions to me are not tax-deductible and 2) everybody keeps saying “apply for grants!” but that it is a long-term, low-results process.   The quickest way I can think of to raise money is to sell work.

So here is where I expand.  The whole idea of private benefactors subsidizing the work of artists in any medium without necessairly demanding results has all but disappeared in the last half of the 20th century.  I’m not going to get into the merits of patronage here, but it does cut through a lot of red tape the artist now encounters and sidesteps the meritocracy of CVs and committee reviews and panel judging that is the stock in trade of grant application.

Also, re: grants, the grant process is almost always an annual or biannual process.  For various cost and practical reasons, I want to go to Louisiana this summer, but waiting until 2010 to apply for some money in 2011 that might pay for half the trip is more patience than I have.   It would also be naive to think that grant judging is any less back-room and network-friendly than any other way of making the dough you need to make your work if you do certain kinds of work.

To leap laterally for a moment: the art world appeals to me much more than the literary world specifically because the work of art is a mediating commodity.  It’s really your work as it is, and not your proof of your ability to make work, that gets judged and appraised and bought and sold.  The art world is rapacious and mechanical, but you’re able to maintain a certain distance from the mess that I haven’t found in the literary “community” where the stakes, if anything, are a lot lower.

So what I am getting at is that in a post-studio post-production kind of art world we’re led to believe that actually making money directly off of work is somehow less noble than getting more indirectly rewarded.  But what the recent commissions I’ve done has taught me is that you can’t really untie the art commodity from the financial contract even if you wanted to.  I’ve been told I was both wildly undercharging and wildly overcharging for my commissions, and getting both opinions has been eye-opening into how art and commerce awkwardly embrace. 

What I’m saying, ultimately, is this: the simplest way to make the money to make your work is to actually sell it to people who may then become interested in your work in a broader sense.   This means working within the gallery system, which has its share of frustrations and personal compromises, but it’s also not the end of the world and it’s possible to work both inside and outside the system if your practice doesn’t comfortably sit either way.  The men in suits pics are definitely a gallery/museum project, for example, while the Solcited Advice book is more of a social project between people and the Ed Ruscha goofs are more of an internet-only bit of fun.

Go I guess the message is to put on your pith helmets and go forth and diversify.  Maybe?


One Response to “Get Real Paid”

  1. Will Says:

    I agree with diversifying, or more simply, presenting your stuff in places
    where there’s appetite and reward for it. There’s no “system” you need
    to feel boxed in by when you have a blog, digital publishing, and other
    avenues for projects that may not be gallery friendly (and which gallery,
    after all?)

    I’ve heard the same thing about academic publishing. Professors of mine
    recommended publishing big, major papers in big, serious journals but
    also publishing other work in unofficial web-only journals, for the fact
    that it may not help your resume, but you can make good contacts that
    way and meet people interested in the same micro-topics. Point being,
    there are different rewards in different places, and you should tailor your
    approach to where you think the work is suited, and what you want in return.

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