As an artist there are many aspects of the ‘art world’ that baffle and irritate me: the press releases from art galleries send out to publicise shows that are so opaque, nonsensical and pretentious that they could have been written by George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth; the Turner Prize organisers’ inability to select artists that don’t send you to sleep in 5 seconds flat with the banality of their work ; people who bring push chairs to private views and park them in front of the exhibits; why it took so long for Phyllida Barlow to be recognised as an important artist; hiring people who are not practicing artists to teach in major art schools …and so on.
But nothing infuriates more than the blatant, accepted nepotism in many part of the art world and the current trend for asking artists to pay increasingly ridiculous fees for the privilege of showing their work or enter an art competition.
It is all about who you know… why art prizes and competitions should not be hijacked to reward the judging panel’s friends
I have a confession to make, my decision to start this blog was not born solely of my unbridled desire to feature new, interesting artists, review amazing shows, get free drinks and to satisfy my overall love of visual art. Nope. It was a realisation that I needed to have a voice and to give other artists a voice and to indulge in the odd 'art rant'. In fact what started it all was when I recently came across a blatant example of good old fashioned nepotism.
I, like any other ‘emerging’ artist (don't you love the word 'emerging'? when faced with this much-used bit of artspeak, I always ask myself what I keep ‘emerging’ from, the gutter seem to be the most adequate reply) regularly enter my work into various art competitions and open submissions shows.
Don’t get me wrong, many of these competitions and opportunities are genuine and are a fantastic ways to increase your profile and make sales. Hence why when I saw a few weeks ago that a new prize had been created to celebrate and champion new painting talents in Britain, I was more than happy to submit my work. That is until I saw the names of the handful of artists selected a few weeks later and smelled a large rat.
One of them just happened to be the long-term collaborator of one of the judges, a gallery owner and artists themselves. Oh, I thought, so you went in search of new talent and lo and behold you suddenly realised that the person you had exhibited/collaborated with for many years was it…Really?
Again it is perfectly normal for gallerists to promote the work of their buddies in their own galleries/shows but not to do it using the format of an independent art prize which artists enter in good faith, having spent their art cash on the fee and believing that they have as good a chance as anyone else to be picked. The reason why I was so sanguine about this is that it is not the first time either that I had seen that particular person being on a judging panel and picking their mates…
So please prize and competition organisers make sure you choose judges who are ethical enough not to use this as an opportunity to indulge in some good old nepotism.
Pay to show - I am not a cash cow...
‘Pay to play’ is not an unknown issue for bands, especially in the USA where they are asked to fork out a fee before getting a gig in a venue. This also seems to be increasing in the art world.
Artists in the UK are often tempted to enter their work in group shows that have an open submission process and are asked to pay an ‘admin’ fee for the privilege. Again, this is fair if the fee is reasonable and it is made clear up front.
I recently submitted my work to a group show because I was interested in the theme chosen and the venue where the event would take place. A few weeks later I was happy to see that my work had been selected but much less so when the acceptance email I was sent told me that the venue had been changed to a much more obscure one and that I was now asked to fork out almost £60 to be part of a show that would last all of 4 days…No thank you.
I know that times might be hard and that the art funding is getting cut but I think we need to stop seeing artists as cash cows. Shows can be organised through sponsorship and other methods and don’t have to depend solely on the artists’ purse. I am thinking of the recent Hackney Wicked event which simply ask of artists submitting their work that they are based in the area, no submission fee needed. So it is indeed possible to put shows together that don’t exploit artists.
And can we please make sure that all costs are highlighted from the start so that people don’t waste their time applying for things that offer very little return in term of exposure.