Here is an unsolicited email I received this week from someone who “likes” my work and wants me to submit to her art publication. By “submit” she means send images of my artwork for the International Contemporary Masters to consider for inclusion. Upon further research I have found her organization is in the business of charging artists into submission. How much you ask? Try nearly $1000 for a single page. Have plenty of money laying around? You can purchase six pages for almost $3500, or the front cover for $9800!!! Here’s the email:
From: email@example.com Subject: International Contemporary Masters Volume 6 Date: October 5, 2011 3:09:52 PM EDT Dear Owen I visited your portfolio and I liked your work, so I would like to invite you to submit art for inclusion in Volume VI of "International Contemporary Masters”, a leading juried annual art publication presenting noteworthy artists from all over the world. Please note that this is not a free inclusion and we encourage artists to seek sponsors. If you are interested I will send you more information or you can visit the link: http://wwab.us/index.php/Masters-Application/ To get an idea of the quality of our publications you can view our previous books at the link above. With Best Regards Ornella Martin - Assistant Curator World Wide Art Books,INC 1907 State Street 93101 Santa Barbara CA Tel / fax +1 805 845 3869 www.wwab.us World Wide Art Books was established in 1997 and has to date pub- lished and represented over 6,000 artists from all over the world.
Unfortunately this kind of “pay-to-play” scenario is not unusual in the art world. The more my name gets out there the more contacts I receive asking me to pay money to be included in a publication, exhibition, or other so-called opportunity.
The illusion of “making it” as a visual artist today is not unlike the often unrealistic goals shared by young musicians. And, like the music business, the economically disparate art world reflects the failures of free market principles by rewarding only a few lucky or well-connected individuals and ignoring everyone else.
Elizabeth Warren’s critique of corporations and billionaires who believe they shouldn’t pay their fair share of taxes accurately critiques the focus on art stardom that pay-to-play organizations promote. There are thousands of artists, designers, and creators out there who exhibit their work publicly and contribute to the visual dialog. Like the industrialists who use publicly-funded roads to move their goods to market, the 1% of artists who reach international fame do so because they have been inspired by everyone else that came before them. Everyone else that is, who are targeted by rhetoric such as this from the World Wide Art Books website:
An invaluable tool for every artist who wants to help himself or herself to succeed, to get the best value for his or her art, to establish relationships with art galleries, and also as a reference for clients.
Every artist knows how important it is to be included in juried exhibitions, festivals, books and publications. To create an important record that will open a path to success and also to show his or her creations in every possible way and to get one’s art out of the studio and before the public eye.
I like to think that artists are more savvy than to fall prey to this marketing-speak. I also like to think they are inspired to respond to the world for reasons beyond getting “the best value” for their art. Sadly, the truth is there is little support in the United States for the cultural, social, and aesthetic contributions artists make, so many find themselves taking risks like this in order to get their work seen. Other risks include applying to shows that charge entry fees and provide no shipping expenses (to or from) or insurance. See this post with details about entry fees for artists: What it costs to be an artist.
In this post-Jesse Helms era, the echo of his “letting the market decide” tirade has only made matters worse. Artists have reduced themselves to craft production, creating unique, one-off works, with the hope of selling them to collectors. Instead of reflecting and affecting society, the market has given us a numb and spectacle-driven object factory akin more to stamp collecting than a valid mode of cultural production.
In his short book, Behind the Times: The Decline and Fall of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Gardes, Eric Hobsbawm points to the greater problem of a “collectable” art practice—that it suffers from lack of reproducibility, relevance to those outside of the art world, and actually obscures real political realities.
Hobsbawm says that, unlike film or literature, “an ideal work of art is deemed to be completely uncopiable, since its uniqueness is authenticated by signature and provenance.” Citing Benjamin’s famous “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” he says this “spiritualization” of the object conflicts with the ability to reproduce a work for as many patrons as possible and throws art into a technological obsolescence. (Hobsbawm, 16) Put another way, 99% of the public doesn’t encounter art because it is regulated to museums and private collections.
Also, unlike movies or books, due to better technological methods for making images (namely photography) painting and other media have “abandoned the traditional language of representation” making it practically incomprehensible to a general public without an art historical training. (Hobsbawm, 24)
Finally, Hobsbawm argues that art has rendered itself impotent in terms of it’s impact by willfully turned its back on society. Unlike, film which had to communicate with a mass market or face economic failure, art has sought some grander idea that is intentionally exclusive of the masses. It pretends to critique society but rarely does it communicate anything at all to most of them because it has been regulated physically and philosophically to an irrelevant niche.