Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More bitching about the local art scene...

I'm begining to think i need to stop paying attention to the intractable problems of Miwlaukee's art scene. I've rode a couple times through the mutually reinforcing cycle of ineffectual organizations that ignore artists and a defeatist artist community that complains about their entitlement to support and their beleif that the work they do feeds our society's soul. I know i've got better things to do with my time.

But, i've always been drawn to apparently impossible challenges. The more intractable the problem seems the more excited i get about confronting it! Unfortunately, this enthusiasm for challenges has created a distraction from the work i've got to do (and there's lots of that: booking a tour, rehearsing for tour, workshopping King Lear, promoting the CCC show, writing essays, printing new merch, editing Ulysses Crewmen, etc etc).

Anyway, i've already followed the current manifestation (or infestation) of art world whinery (an especially infantile discussion started here, about this seemingly irrelevant blog and written the following response, so i might as well say it out loud.

I really really don't think Emily Thomas should be brought into the art community's airing of public greivances. I do appreciate Mike's using her blog post as an example, but i see it more as an example MAM's failure in it's role as a gateway to get the millions of people like her and her children invovled in art. Should our focus now be on this one individual art-viewer, or would our time be better spent looking at the art curator who has many many interactions of this kind daily? Sure, she's much easier to attack than MAM (who are probably either ignoring this conversation or fretting about how to make it go away, depending on how paranoid they are. At any rate, i highly doubt we're going to hear from them) but what good does attacking her do?

Seems to me what Mike's post illustrates is that we're in the present situation (underfunded arts and art-education programs) because MAM and others have failed in their responsibility as gateway to the art world. This failure happened in the past. Perhaps MAM and other orgs coulda done more and better (probably) but perhaps even if if they had, this kind of failure was unavoidable (probably).

I don't care all that much about that, i'm concerned with the present situation: the gateway is broken, from the perspective of the millions of Emily Thomas's, the art world is an insular cluster of increasingly irrelevant and inexplicable artists and curators, doing offensive pornography. The questions we should be asking are not: who is this one individual woman, how did she come to her views on art, how can we change her mind. If we spend ten minutes thinking about it, take an honest look at the art world, it's not hard to infer the answers, and to even sympathize with Thomas. Oh, and liscensing parentage is not only an absurd joke, it's also offensive and stupid because it focuses on regulating and controlling "them" rather than on what "we" can do to change things.

Yes, the questions should be directed at us, at artists. MAM etc failed in the past and now we're in a situation that MAM and the NEA and the CA and the GMC and the great HOPE we just elected president CANNOT fix, even if they tried (and i'm sure they are trying, however muddleheadedly). Now we can either bitch at them while it remains broken, or WE can try to fix it.

Seems to me the question we ought to be asking is: we are YOU doing as an artist to connect with the non-art community, or accross artistic disciplines? If each individual artist can answer that question with a few successful projects, then the ineffectuality of the CA, GMC, MAM, NEA etc etc etc becomes irrelevant.

Or maybe not... maybe i'm a naive optimist. Maybe groups like hotcakes, Theatre X, etc etc did successfully reach accross disciplines and to a non-art audience for a couple years (or decades) and then failed anyway due to lack of community and institutional support. Well, actually... that is what happened. Looks like my efforts are really just repeating their failures. Then, I am a naive optimist, but I guess i'd rather be optimistic about my and my neighbors' ability to change things than pin false hopes on organizations and institutions that i know ain't ever gonna change.


Deborah said...

The arts are vital and we must behave as if the vitality of human existence is at stake. Unfortunately we are buying into the commodity playbook. But artists have to live and we follow the money like everyone else. Theatre X existed for many years on the largess of a Dutch theater producer, his vision and encouragement of the work. That carried Theatre X through all the hard times. Of course, the money from the Dutch government was pretty good and the Dutch philosophy that fueled arts funding (i.e. arts are vital)opened our eyes to another way of thinking. Read Jon Baitz proposal for the NEA on Huffington Post. He has a great idea and I want to follow his lead

Rex Winsome, AKA Ben Turk said...

Baitz has some good ideas, better than most NEA plans, but they seem unrealistic and it also begs the question: what happens when the administration the left is currently gushing over either proves to be a LOT more moderate than everyone thinks (which is to say, as moderate as he openly admits he is) or even worse is replaced by a conservative government?

Do we really want an administration in the style of Bush hand picking pet art projects about the relationship between religion, culture and politics from their perspective?

Do we really want to get used to a supportive government that makes our lives really really easy, gets us super comfortable and complacent and then suddenly pulls the rug out from under us?

I'd rather follow the example set by the indie music scene, who don't need shit from the government and who are currently steadily running corporations out of the music industry.

Deborah said...

You've bought into the Republican ideal of self-sufficiency or every man, woman and child for themselves. I say think in terms of the "common good". If we agree we have a finite planet and we are all in this together than we should insist our government be the conduit of the common good and make the arts and everything to do with the arts a way of life. I believe the American people will get used to it and then it will be a dreaded habit that the politicians will be loathed to repeal.

Rex Winsome, AKA Ben Turk said...

I like to think of it as more of an anarchist acknowledgment of facts than a republican ideal, but, you say tomato i say tomato. (that doesn't really work in text does it...)

The anarchist position is that you can't count on anyone having your interests at heart but your own self or others who directly share your interests. Also, that the "common good" is best achieved by a level playing field, a situation in which no individual is given power over another individual.

You're defining "the common good" according to your subjectively determined self-interest and then advocating that the government (which is, by definition, a coercive body with power over individuals) enforce those preferences unto a population who (quite clearly) does not share them. If i condoned or agreed with that position, I'd also have to agree (in principle) with the position of faith-based initiatives and other conservative projects that do the same thing from the other side of the aisle.

The other anarchist position (and the reason Baitz is unrealistic) is that the government serves the ruling class and will always serve the ruling class. Therefore art sponsored by the government (or by the government in participation with the ruling class, ie the business community Baitz mentions) will also need to serve the ruling class, or won't likely be sponsored for long.

I produce art with the intention of disrupting current class arrangements, and therefore find government support inherently counterproductive.