History, economics, political science, and art history show that it is the hated “market” that liberated society, that freed artists from the tyranny of state dictation
Selling Out: An Artist Says @#!! Occupy, More Commodify!
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I was deeply disappointed to see several farcical “artist” offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement such as Occupy Museums and Occupy Art. As an artist, and a person on the lower rungs of the class ladder, I am furious at the audacity of these self-serving freeloaders who spew viciousness, ignorance, and hatred and pretend it’s all about community. I am NOT the 99%- I am an individual human being. You cannot lump me in with the lowest common denominator clamouring for a return to the destructive systems of socialism or communism. You do not speak for me.
“The game is up,” reads the OM manifesto. “We see through the pyramid schemes of the temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%... artists and art lovers have been the victims of the intense commercialization and co-optation or art. We recognize that art is for everyone, across all classes and cultures and communities…the creativity and power of the people has awoken! The OWS will bring forth an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market. Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone!”
Artists and art lovers- victims of commercialization? Wow. Capitalism is the only system that has ever made art widely affordable and given artists the freedom to pursue their passion. Capitalism has made all luxury, including art, cheaper and available to more people than was ever possible in any other system. Today even welfare recipients can afford art supplies, art reproductions, and even some original art.
“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Andy Warhol said that America was great because the poor could have what the rich have. And they do. More poor people have cars, air conditioners, televisions and food than ever before. Warhol celebrated the commodification of art. His paintings of soup cans and superstars weren’t a statement about the hollow soul of commercialism; rather, he was embracing the boon to artists and their wider audience. Warhol had no time for sanctimonious ideals about “selling out.” Money did not “dirty” art- this was a bombastic bit of lunacy that could only be dreamed up by those basking in the lap of luxury and freedom and prosperity. “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art,” Warhol said, freezing out his detractors. “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Sure, an original Warhol today sells for millions: but a postcard sells for 99 cents. Not long ago, few artists had opportunities or freedom to sell their work. Those who loathe commercialization can pack up their easels and head to North Korea or Cuba. Bon voyage.
The OM profess a mandate to “reclaim the commons of art and culture from the narrow confines” of a market that caters, apparently, to the whim and fancy of the rich. Perhaps they should occupy themselves within the narrow confines of expression in Iran or Pakistan, where people are put to death if they colour outside the state-sanctioned lines.
In addition to recently disrupting the peace after an opera at the Lincoln Center, OM treated anyone unlucky enough to be at the American Museum of Natural History to a medium channeling “voices of dinosaurs past” during “an interpretive dance with a crystal ball.” They also protested “the stranglehold that the wealthiest have on our arts and culture” and the “cultural poverty” of mass media.
Publishing isn’t free, and wherever The State pays, propaganda soon follows
OWS fails to notice that our mass media is the freest and most varied and vibrant in the world precisely because it is capitalist. This allows many voices as opposed to the voice of the state or church alone. Advertising has democratized the flow of information and there exist no freer alternatives. Publishing isn’t free, and wherever The State pays, propaganda soon follows. Most certainly the free press can also pump propaganda- but it allows for free rebuttal and competing points of view.
OM also protests volunteer internship and labour in galleries and museums, “anticommunist paranoia,” and “the potential menaces of philanthropy.” Though they elatedly accept the bankrolling of OWS by billionaire communist sympathizer George Soros, they decry “right wing think tanks” that dare donate to “the Tea Party” –another grassroots movement- or to scientist skeptics of anthropogenic climate change. They protest “restricting freedom of speech and of the press” in the freest media in the world, but don’t think free speech applies to those who disagree with them. Even Noam Chomsky, loather of liberty, concedes that if “we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
There is plenty of honest criticism to make about museums, but most of it would be from taxpayers who would prefer private purchases and donations, not enforced participation in funding multimillion-dollar purchases of art they don’t care for. Less government, less communism, not more. Despite the ups and downs and absurdities of the art market, never before in history have so many had so much access to such a variety of art. The blindness of OM and all the offshoots is astounding- posters calling for the return of Maoism? Yeah, that’ll be good for art. Even the most cursory knowledge of art history shows clearly that the “commons of art” never existed. There is nothing to “reclaim.” There were no happy meadows filled with leaping artists. This is leftist fantasy, kind of like worshipping Che Guevara, who executed longhairs, rock singers, and poets just like them.
The free market has done more to preserve and promote art than anything else
In free market societies being occupied today, artists have affordable supplies; the church does not dictate what they create; they are not limited to flattering portraits of the rich or of their president in exchange for a crust of bread. Most importantly, artists must remember that once upon a time, one piece of art was all there was. There was no means of reproducing one’s work. No postcards, no jpegs to show friends your “process,” no prints to make work accessible to anyone but the filthiest of wealthy. Every single painting an artist did not sell, and most that he did- and I stress “he”- have been relegated now to obscurity since the lack of “intense commercialization” meant there was no way to preserve paintings that did not survive as originals. The free market has done more to preserve and promote art than anything else.
And “narrow parameters?” This is more pathetic myopia. Once upon a time, the only acceptable subjects for “experimentation” were biblical scenes, portraits, and literary scenes from mythology. You do not browse through Laurie Schneider Adams’ Art Across Time to find a single example for 1544 or 1708 or any time, in fact, before capitalism of “protest art,” “conceptual art,” “performance art,” “video art,” “maximalism,” “cynical realism,” “fibre art,” “mixed media art,” “pop art,” “process art,” “lyrical abstractionism,” “installation art,” “photorealism,” “photography,” “op art,” “pop art,” “minimalism,” “post minimalism,” “surrealism,” “assemblage,” “abstract expressionism,” “graffiti,” “album art,” “transhumanist art,” “anti-art,” “anti-anti-art,” “land art,” “feminist art,” “sound art,” “relational art,” “tactical media art,” “funk art,” “comic art,” “manga art,” “flat art,” “anime,” “art povera,” “mad art,” “folk art,” “outsider art,” or “prison art.” To name a few.
History, economics, political science, and art history show that it is the hated “market” that liberated society, that freed artists from the tyranny of state dictation, from starvation, limited opportunities, and a narrow definition of art or who can make it. Thanks to the free market, we are free. Thanks to the free market, I have countless affordable tubes and sticks and tubs of colour to work with, more than even the richest heir or royal painter could have dreamed of not long ago.
I’m really getting sick of the “hate the rich” shtick and the droning inanity of mantras
I’m really getting sick of the “hate the rich” shtick and the droning inanity of mantras like “unfettered markets” and “corporate greed.” Know-it-alls like the looks-rich-to-me Naomi Klein have convinced those who do not understand economics or history that deregulation is the cause of collapse and of poverty, when it is actually overregulation that contributed the most to both the Great Depression and today’s financial collapse. No rational person wants to “try communism again” when its track record of untold suffering and barbarism has been made overwhelmingly clear- but clearly we aren’t dealing with rational people.
Personally, I’m glad there are people who have extra income that can be spent on my books and art. We have inequality in North America, but the least equal here have so much more than anyone in states bereft of capitalism. As artists, our responsibility is not to gripe and foster resentment of those who have more, but to have gratitude for our freedom and relative prosperity. If we truly care about art and artists here and around the world, we will “occupy” against communist and theocratic regimes that oppress and censor their people’s creativity, systems that guarantee poverty and starvation as we have seen over and over. These places suffer from too much government and too little Wall Street.
Rejecting the west’s heritage of freedom and individuality, which sanctifies the worth of every human being and every artist, fosters rabid fury and selfishness dressing up as peace and love. This is the basest hypocrisy. It’s another tiresome case of biting the hand that feeds you, the same benevolent hand that gave us the platform on which we can freely speak our mind.
It’s time to bite the hand that doesn’t feed us, the hand that takes away the rights and freedoms of our fellow artists in North Korea, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia et al. Of course, that means real risk- risking prison, risking death. None of these protesters have the balls to “occupy” communism or Islamism. Instead, they march to usher in more of the most extreme oppression, suppression and repression in the world. Anything to avoid showing gratitude for capitalism, or at least for the blood that has bought our freedom to paint, to have paints, to pursue a living wage, and to paint any message we see fit.
Any artist in history or in tyranny today would give their painting hand to have what I have here in North America today. I, for one, will not wave placards begging to give it away.