Friday, 22 June 2012

Brother, can you…?

This morning the temperature in sweltering Arkansas has dropped a little, after yesterday's occasional rainfall. Sitting next to an open window, under the ceiling fan is pleasantly comfortable. It would truly be a lovely morning, if only I didn't have this awful taste in my mouth. Clearly, I could easily remedy this if I was to brush my teeth, however it is sadly not the only thing that is blemishing my morning. This blog entry is also blemishing my morning, as it has done every day for a week.

Completed this week: Sleeping on planes
Mixed media on board, 12x12" / 30x30cm
© 2012 Megan Chapman & Stewart Bremner.
All rights reserved.
Astute observers may have noticed that I did not post an entry last week. I tried, I really did, but I could not wrestle the damned thing to the floor. It kept beating me. It wouldn't stop writhing around and I could find no way to finish it. There was also the glaring fact that the writing was not very positive, at times even swinging towards not at all positive. To be fair, I have written in a manner that could be taken as negatively in the past, although in those instances it was in the form of art criticism and so entirely justified. This time it was something else entirely.

The badness began with a long, long paragraph…

With the global financial world and the corporate structure surrounding it being proved to be exactly the monstrously immoral, life sucking, poor crushing, baby eating, behind-closed-doors oligarchy many have long believed it to be and our governments actually conspiring to make things worse for the majority while continuing to allow our democracies to be defiled by the viciously greedy few, a few who day by day seem less human and more like parasites incapable of seeing that the body they live on is dying, for most of us life is becoming every day more difficult. Each trip to buy food finds us choosing between cheap and almost certainly health-endangering genetically modified food, or eating healthily but being hungry. At the same time there is the constant dread of the arrival of the next artificially-inflated power bill and the worry about exactly how the rent will get paid this month. News pages are filled with the latest government restrictions and cuts, while bizarre op-ed pieces add fuel to the fire, screaming for even more restrictions and deeper cuts. Facebook feeds fill with petitions, letting us know it is not just one government that is screwing its populace to placate the rich and the powerful and the corporate, but all of them. Pay increments vanish, fixed year on year to effectively produce pay cuts and benefits dry up faster than clear-cut areas of rainforest turn to desert. The environment looks like it will soon be, or even may already be, so badly damaged that there is vanishingly small hope of ever again experiencing something as radical as 'seasons'. And our governments look on and not only do nothing but instead through their actions cause the damage to happen more quickly, in order to speed up the pace of which all of the world's remaining resources are turned over to the control of the rich, the powerful and the corporate. Not only are we all screwed personally, our world is clearly being treated just as brutally and it is hard to see how any future generation is going to deal with the treachery of our 'elected' elite. The flimsy curtains of democracy are falling from the corridors of power, revealing the hard faces of paid security, barring the way to the real power.

In the midst of this, I am an artist. I make art and I love art. A central tenet of art throughout the ages has often been beauty: both through the seeking and the documenting. For many, flowers are the epitome of beauty and yet, as the hardness of winter approaches inside the skirts of autumn, flowers are always the first to drop, petals shrivelled to wind-blown litter and dry stalks bent to the ground. So too when society faces hard times, artists, who are so often on the fringes, are among the first to feel the hurt. For artists, no matter what their media, art is a necessity. For the rest, it is often seen as a luxury. As times get harder and resources diminish, there is a strong chance that soon the majority will have a hard time legitimately having art in their lives. From an artist's viewpoint, that seems a life that is doubly poorer. Without visual arts, without music, without literature or theatre or film or dance of countless other forms, the world would be a harder and darker place.

In a world where I fear art is becoming simply a luxury for the few, I paint. I paint because it is what I am here for. I can imagine no life without painting. Yet reality is brutal and I wonder how much longer I can afford to have such a narrow imagination. I paint today better than I ever have. My work has improved time and again over the years and yet, and yet, this improvement is not matched in sales.

It is depressing to become reduced to looking at nothing but numbers. Nevertheless in a world where those ruling us with iron rods care for little else, it is difficult not to be dragged down to their base level. I paint better than I ever have and I sell less. It is a bitter pill and one that, sadly, I am not alone in having to swallow. Every artist and every gallery I know are feeling the pinch. Sales and special offers are springing up everywhere, sad signs of desperate times as backs are pushed hard against walls.

Around this point, the entry began to fragment, as I tried to conjure up some kind of positivity, or at the very least to tie off the bloody stump. I managed neither. Instead as the days went by and my usual Friday posting day came and went, the entry never got any nearer completion. It was already a difficult week, because in the face of this darkness Megan Chapman and myself had a body of work to complete for our upcoming exhibition. The above worries were exacerbating my own personal demons and then combining with the approaching deadline, a hot and sticky climate that I am still not used to and the subject matter of these new paintings, which from our current viewpoint was simply the feeling of being utterly unsettled. It was a hard week and the entry lost its importance, when painting had to take precedence.

Back here on a Friday, I am once again trying to pull this meandering entry together. After re-reading it, I still have fears about publishing it, fears that arise from the overt negativity.

My blog is my professional face, it personalises who I am as an artist, which helps both my career and my sales. From experience, I know that negativity does not sell, that no one wants to back a loser and that the internet is already full of shrill, self-centred whiners. I also know artists who do little but complain about their lot. This self-defeating tendency helps to give rise to the impression of the arrogant artist, who expects the world to unquestioningly support their needs. This seems a clear way of alienating patrons, who are unlikely to buy from an artist who, rather then being pleasant and thankful, loftily believes that the patron should buy their art purely because it exists. Simply put, moaning does not sell work.

Another fear about publishing this entry is that to publicly write that my art does not sell, will then make the idea a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is without doubt the most scary outcome. I know that artistic success is not one that is supposed to by measured by sales, yet without those sales the ability to create art quickly diminishes. When I sell a painting, the payment buys me more time and more materials to make more art. I do not make a profit by doing this, I make a living (or I try to). In order to keep making art, I need to sell my art.

Completed this week: Distance becomes us
Mixed media on board, 12x12" / 30x30cm
© 2012 Megan Chapman & Stewart Bremner.
All rights reserved.
Then there is the other imagined responses, the Van Gogh theory being the top of that list. This is the idea that one does not need to sell paintings to make great art, that one only needs the proper drive and the inspiration, just like Van Gogh. Of course while Van Gogh's work is stunning and rightly famous, the thing he is perhaps best known for is that he cut a lobe from one of his ears, to send to a lady of ill-repute. This is hardly something to aspire to and neither is his constant penury, his utter commercial failure, or his (resulting) early death by his own hand.

My mind also imagines the 'get a real job' and 'why should my taxes pay for your lifestyle' ranters. These ideas are so prevalent in online comment forms that I am tired of even thinking about my responses, those being that firstly it is one and, secondly, other than they often don't, if one is going to begrudge where taxes are spent, how about starting with the things that destroy the world, rather than make it more beautiful? How many artists could be funded for their entire lifetimes, by the cost of, for example, a weapon of mass murder that has no role in our world, other than to make politicians feel important?

My point, in all of this meandering ramble, is that at a time when everyone is feeling the pinch, artists are likely to get hit harder and sooner. I'm not exactly writing "brother can you spare a dime?" but if you are someone who loves art, no matter what its form, you might want to consider doing something to help an artist. Go and buy a new book or see a play or buy a song directly from the artist or make a payment on a new painting or support a Kickstarter.

If we're all in this together, remember that society is an artist's employer and that we are all part of society. Maybe we can crowd-source our way to a healthier society.

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