Thursday, August 20, 2009
PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS' CAREERS
A "professional" artist is defined as spending the greater amount of their time doing some aspect of their art, including teaching, writing and marketing their art. Other sources of income may supplement the artist's copyright income but it isn't the major focus of their time. For analysis purposes, I've devised a profit-legacy continuum model along which professional artists' careers can be located, considering the unique Canadian legal and economic context, and political evolution of cultural policy.
At all points along this profit-legacy continuum model, professional artists must be able to demonstrate "intent to profit" from their art, if they claim expenses on their Revenue Canada income tax return. Regardless of the fact that Canada has a three-sector system where each of the commercial, non profit and public sectors is equally weighted, the overiding ethos is economic profit. Taxes collected for the "public good", depending on politics of the day, may be allocated to the non profit visual arts sector through public arts funding instititutions such as the Canada Council for the Art. The municipal, provincial and federal government levels within the visual arts each have complimentary mandates...and political agendas. The commercial galleries, collections and foundations are interconnected through the web of players across all three visual arts economic sectors. Not all commercial galleries are equal with this cross-over communications, for example in sharing collections for exhibition purposes, happening at the upper echlons of arts administration, curators, gallery directors and owners.
The professional independent visual artists career would typically be located closer to the legacy end of the profit-legacy continuum model. Their creative practice is concerned with contributing something new to the historically documented and ongoing discussion of what is art, how we see, contemporary issues, etc. and challenges the established aesthetics. There is a whole industry in Canada, and in Western art history, that is created around this. These are the kinds of art careers that include a Venice Biennal exhibition, a Governor Generals Award in the Visual Arts, representation in the National Gallery collection..the cultural face we give to the world, and therefore establishing a legacy long after the artist is deceased. One of the major controversies within an officially multi cultural society such as Canada is that not all artist's aesthetic fits into this institutionally sanctioned "Western visual art aesthetic discussion". Its a challenge facing not only Canada, but the international art world. Special programs to include new categories termed "other art" and/or "outsider art" are a scrambled attempt by art institutions to respond. There is so much documented history and theory around which the visual arts industry presumes a "Western art history aesthetic discussion", and within which excellence is judged and juried. Contemporary visually driven electronic technology, its availability and speed is changing ideas about art, collections, marketing....and, and "the business of art". I just love being part of these times in the contemporary visual art world because everything is up for questioning and discussion.
Whether their practice is closer to the legacy end of the continuum assuming delayed economic gratification, or commercially driven, both types of professional artists have longer term artist career aspirations than does the leisure or hobbiest "doing" art (see paragraph on this below). Professional artist status allows claiming Revenue Canada's eligible art expenses against art income, and against total income from all sources. Only 43% of visual artists made any money at all from their studio practice, and after expenses the median loss, based on Statistic's Canada numbers is reported as $556.
There are deep attitudes that creating the art should be gratification enough for the visual artist. This is reflected in the fact that we buy a ticket to hear a concert but not to see an art exhibition. When we do pay at the National Gallery, its for a "Special Exhibitions" to pay the extra costs of staging. Even within the culture of professional independent artists in Canada there are those who make fun of the idea the "career artist". However, Canada Council for the Arts and other public arts institutions specify their programs in relation to the categories of "emerging artist", "mid-career" and "established". Definitions of each are provided according to the institution's policies and mandate. So there is a formal acknowledgement that there are Professional Artist Careers. One of the key requirments for success, regardless of types of professional artist career, is recognition. The who of that recognition is important.
In my observations, recognized artists didn't just suddenly appear and were offered the Governor Generals Award in Visual Arts, or the Ontario Premier's Award in Visual Arts. Their resume of exhibitions show carefully selected venues which are identified with the intelligentsia of significant names in curating, art critics, publications and academic institutions. Their resume's show significant recognition by Canada Council for the Arts in their funding grants, an agency responsible for the Governor General's Award in Visual Arts. As repeated throughout art history, "successful" art careers gain the attention and support of a powerful patron who will invest in the art, and use their clout to promote that artist, thereby protecting their investment. Jackson Pollack's painting career was invisible to the world until with the help of his wife impress the wealthy arts patron Peggy Guggenheim in New York City. Michelangelo's art career support by the pope has already been mentioned in a previous daily blog. An ambitious curator who decides to discover an artist they can successfully negotiate to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale promotes both the artist's art career, and their own. I've seen a Canadian artist whose art went from the university classroom to international stature in this way. The curator had powerful credentials and national and international connections, and believed in the artist's work. For example, they were able to groom the career of this artist for acceptance by Canada to send this artist to Venice Biennale by negotiating key prerequisite New York City gallery stops along the way, and by finding the corporate funding patrons that would buy the artists work and thereby finance the project. It would probably be more interesting if I named names, but just can't remember as I write.
The leisure artist
The professional independent artist and leisure artist have in common that neither is deliberately creating for the market place. Each may target their market after the fact of creating. Many leisure artists have no interest in selling their art. Others have membership in their community art association and participate in community art exhibition events where their art is sold. Most do not claim to be "artists" but rather refer to themselves as "doing" art, or "painting", etc. Art produced could end up in some very important national collections, but usually is hung in the family home. Generally, there isn't the motivational intent by the hobbiest to go beyond the pleasure of doing the art. While they may understand their medium well and have developed a consistent style, they may not be conscious or interested in their aesthetic location in the ongoing discussion of what is art. Leisure artists often give one another "best-in-show" prizes, are photographed by the media and develop a following for their art. The are by leisure artist should not be dismissed when it come to collecting.