The Artist as Entrepreneur / by Chris Hall

I recently read an article in The Atlantic called “The Death of the Artist—And the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur,” by William Deresiewicz.  In it he posits that there have been four artist models in history, the artist as craftsman, the artist as solitary genius, the artist as professional, and now, the artist as entrepreneur.  I know I have an old mindset . . . I've always disdained professionalism, viewing myself in the old artist as solitary genius paradigm, which died out sometime in the 1960's to be replaced with the artist as a professional.  Being a professional is compromise enough.  This means building a business resume of professional accomplishments in order to be even considered for a professorship or a gallery.  I can only echo the words of Billy Childish, when he said, “your credentials mean nothing to me.”  No one is willing to trust their gut anymore when looking at another's art, not without a professional resume.  People want to be convinced that you are an art expert or master, and the only way to prove this to people not willing to trust their gut is through referencing the opinions of others.  My approach to art is humble.  I do not view myself as an expert or master.  Art, to me, is an ongoing project or journey, and there is always room for improvement.  This attitude is not exactly marketable.  But now the artist as professional model is dying, only to be replaced by something more troubling:  the artist as entrepreneur.  I can only shake my head.

I've always preferred depth to breadth, and have hated wasting precious creative time trying to be a professional, but being an entrepreneur and networking, reaching out to get 10,000 contacts, that kind of superficiality makes my skin crawl.  If art is a kind of religion (and in my mind it is), then making art for the consumer is morally wrong, a sin.  That kind of compromise, or cultural pandering to an audience or consumer base, is the artistic equivalent of prostitution.  I can not help but to blame the concept of “art in the expanded field,” where everybody becomes an artist.  Everyone and everything wants to attach themselves to the label of artist, artistic, or artisanal, but very few know what it actually means.  Now we even have “artisanal” consumer goods, like shoes, bread, and pickles.  Fine Art should aspire to certain truths; it is not something you wear or eat.  I, for one, will firmly stand my ground and resist this notion of the “art of business.”  My work will never be a consumer good or craft.  I may be doomed to obscurity because of it, but it is not worth compromising my artistic soul.

The artist as a seeker of wisdom and truth has become old fashioned and unmarketable.  Such artists still exist, but they are diluted in the sea of “everybody is an artist” pseudo-democratic conforming vulgarity.  These artists also do little to advertise themselves, as they often do not care to impress others.  Flattering the consumer is beneath them.  This attitude is the true punk rock, the true avante-garde, not the watered down pop crap that a lot of artists aspire to these days.  I believe that the artist as entrepreneur model can only produce safe and uncritical art, and this is not what the world needs. Nevertheless, many artists today want to be pop stars (and pop stars, along with everyone else, want to artists).  This all started with Andy Warhol, but the most recent and blatant example I can think of is the collaboration between Jeff Koons and Lady Gaga.   No doubt they will be successful pandering to the lowest common denominator.  

In response to the Atlantic article: