Money and Art World Success by Chris Hall

"A career can be yours!"  If you are making art with the purpose of making money, you are probably not making art.

In the art world, as in any world, it takes money to make money.  Materials, time, travel, promotion, all of this takes money.  The cold fact remains:  there are not too many successful artists who come from a poor and humble background.  I would love to have the time and money (often there is an application fee) to apply to all of the things that would get my art seen . . . I would love to properly promote my work.  But when you are concerned that the $20 app fee will take away from your rent, the rent wins.  

CAA (College Arts Association) cold called me today asking if I would renew my membership with them.  CAA is an association whose main purpose is to provide a professional community for college art professors on a national level.  If you want to get a good job teaching at a University, it will behoove you to be a CAA member.  It also helps if you can afford to go to their annual meeting, which is usually held in New York or Los Angeles.  Once you are there, I suspect there must be a lot of cool and informative lectures and such, but there must also be a good amount of playing the politician, shaking babies, kissing hands (and asses), etc.

I told the CAA rep that I would like very much to renew my membership and go their annual meeting, but that I had to worry more about how I will be getting the gas to go across town than the plane ticket to New York.  Although I was polite, the CAA rep cut the conversation short.  Usually when people want money from me (alumni associations and such), they will try a little bit harder:  "perhaps you can donate only $5 today?"  I wonder, should I be relieved or insulted by our short conversation?  I am on their level, professionally (the same degree, the same knowledge), but my lack of resources often prevents me from catching a break . . . and from being taken seriously.  These are my peers.  I am equal to them in my knowledge and ability in my chosen field.  But it is as if the CAA is some exclusive club to me, with a secret handshake, a ring, and code-words.

In other news, I received an email telling me that my application to teach at Atlanta Metropolitan College has been rejected.  I can not help but feel that money could have potentially given me better connections, CAA connections, and if I had connections, maybe my application would not have been so quickly dismissed.  At least Atlanta Metropolitan College sent me an email.  Most of the time it seems you are not even given that courtesy.

An Awkward Conversation by Chris Hall

"I'd rather a man promote his intelligence than promote materialistic, replaceable items."  -  Unknown.

"I'd rather a man promote his intelligence than promote materialistic, replaceable items."  -  Unknown.

Recently I had a conversation with an artist who I occasionally run into at my day job.  He explained his art practice in such a way that made me feel very uncomfortable.  To him, it seems, art is mostly a product, a commodity to be sold in a business.  But art can, and perhaps should, aspire to so much more - the personal (universal), the spiritual, and the political!  Art is more than just a consumer good, something to be plucked off a wall, put on a t-shirt, painted on a shoe, or incorporated into an interior design scheme, more than a product, whose sole point of existence is to sell itself in a vulgar economic scheme.  Art should provoke, inspire, and transcend!  It should provide solace, question authority, express emotion, demand change!

Money is very important.  I've learned in my 22 years of struggle as a practicing adult artist, that when you don't have money, this can effect how and where you live (I've lost count of how many forced relocations I've had to endure), your relationships (many will not date a person with financial woes), and your health (both physical and mental).  But despite this, there is still one thing that trumps money every time:  artistic integrity.  

Perhaps the artist I was conversing with will enjoy nicer clothing, better food, and the occasional cigar, all the trappings of bourgeois success, but I will be the richer in spirit at the end of the day.

Time is Money, Bastard! by Chris Hall

Today I had one of those moments when I thought about all the things I want to paint and all the things I want to write about.  This is not an abstract concept . . . these are real ideas that I have in my head, noted down on paper, or on my computer, bare bones skeleton one or two sentence notes or quick sketches.  More preciously, I'm referencing the multiple sketchbooks that have piled up and the 46 pages of typed notes with over 100 topics I want to write about.  And when the ideas keep flooding in, I fear I will never catch up, never reach my full potential.  Damn poverty!  If I could only do what I love full-time . . . dare I say, all the great things I just might accomplish.  I've suffered from a lack of time and I've suffered from a lack of money, but this is the first time in a long while where I've suffered from a lack of both.

My ideal work day: breakfast, two hours reading, two hours writing, lunch, four plus hours painting, dinner, more painting, and then a little more reading or writing before bed.  If I had this schedule, I just might make small dent into making/writing everything that I have stuck in my head.  Time is such a luxury.

A Boycott of Beauty by Chris Hall

Sisyphus with his boulder.

Sisyphus with his boulder.

"His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”  Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  Those words were written by the Romantic poet John Keats.  I used to be a Romantic.  Today I am not.  Today I am feeling decidedly like a Punk Anarchist.  Fuck Beauty.  I've tried Beauty and it betrayed me.  I do not recommend it.  Beauty is a lie.  At times I want to strangle the stars for all they've promised me.  If truth is reality and reality is ugliness, it would follow, then, that truth is ugliness.  There are times when I want to be ugly in return, to exact revenge, to give back what has been given to me, only amplified.  Feedback fed back.  Today I feel the angst in me like I haven't felt since 1994.  Teenaged angst at 39, how strange is that?!  

Why?  I found out recently the real reason why I am being paid $? dollars an hour at my job.  I was told by my unnamed employer (unnamed because even in these circumstances I value my job) that the reason I am being paid $? dollars an hour selling art supplies is because it is essentially easy to find artists who would work for that wage.  So the teen angst is fitting, maybe, in that I am being paid like a teenager.  To put this in perspective, consider the following.  At my work we also sell other products, like furniture.  Furniture people make more an hour because it is harder to find people who will/can sell furniture.  What the Hell kind of economics is that?!  $? an hour!  We do the same job, but sell different products.  And I perform skilled labor.  I use the knowledge that I acquired in six years of college everyday.  Some might say not to take that sort of thing personal, that it is just business, supply and demand (of people, no less), but to the people whom it effects, it is really hard not to take that sort of thing personal.  People are not a commodity.  To put it bluntly, I work for an art supply store that discriminates against artists.  And this is but one more instance of the world discriminating against artists, as if artists don't have enough trouble surviving in society.  But just because this is “business as usual,” it doesn't mean that it is right, that I have to accept it and internalize it as inevitable.

We artists are shit upon so frequently by society, is it any wonder that we are so radical?  That we sometimes produce works that many in bourgeois society would consider ugly?  Yes, today I want to be ugly.  I wonder what would happen if all artists would unilaterally decide to boycott beauty, to produce only ugly works of art.  What, then, would become of society?  Would it rot and fall apart at the seams?  Every generation gets the art it deserves, and this generation is no exception.  We need more ugly art, not just art devoid of aesthetics (that might be considered coolly conceptual), but genuinely ugly art, and lots of it fast.  We need to bury this world in it, until they can't breathe anymore and they scream for mercy, rub its nose in it, like a bad dog who shits in the house, while yelling “you did this!”  We should do this until the world comes to its senses and realizes its mistakes.   

I get knocked down so many times, over and over again, and I still fight.  Sometimes, though, I get so tired of fighting and I wonder why I am still here.  It is a miracle, really.  I've thought about “it” a lot over the years . . . and maybe you know what I mean by “it.”  Art prejudice has effected all aspects of my life, from my income, to my health, to my love life.  Too often I am an angry pessimist, and when people tell me to cheer up and look at the bright side of life, I snarl like a wild wolf on the inside, wanting to lash out at them for their good fortune and their pampered sunshiny life.  I've worked so hard – and yet I'm told to be patient.  But when you are verging on middle age, it is really hard to be patient.  I feel like I have long since paid my dues.  It is so tempting to give up, to abandon art and find another trade.  But I can't; it is against my very nature.  It is who I am.  If the cycle continues, and it probably will, I will eventually find a new thread of optimism to hesitantly latch onto, and I will try again.  Like Sisyphus, I might be doomed to roll that boulder back up that Hell hill, to almost reach the top, and to be achingly hopeful, once again, of a final success . . .  I can not bring myself to write the words completing this myth . . . maybe one day I will find peace, I will find rest.  Maybe one day I will find all the answers to my questions, which usually start with . . . Why?  

It seems so strange to me, that those who most pursue life with passion - that is artists - are the ones most likely to be punished by it.

For Part Two of this blog, click here:  A Boycott of Beauty Part Two

Expensive Art Materials and Creative Blocks by Chris Hall

Sometimes using high quality materials can produce a creative block.  Too much reverence for your art materials can cause you to hesitate.  You may pause for fear of fucking up and wasting money.  Maybe it is just as well, then, that I can't afford the 50 dollar 37 ml tube of Cobalt Violet Light Williamsburg oil paint.  But then again, if I had that paint, I just might paint the hell out that painting.

The Real Cost of Being an Artist by Chris Hall

Recently I got a job in an art supply store.  I am thankful for the work, and my employers and coworkers are great people, but I can not help but to feel a little ill compensated for my expertise and knowledge.  I spend the bulk of my day consulting other artists on all sorts of materials.  Specialized knowledge in arts should be properly compensated, just as lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, doctors, and engineers are compensated for their expertise.  I invested $75,000 and six years of my life for a formal education to get to where I am today.  It seems only fitting that this knowledge should be properly compensated.  But I would like to keep my job right now, despite the low wage, so I will not mention the employer.  Still, this situation has got me to thinking about the real cost of being an artist.

Artists should do their art out of love, yes, but this does not mean we should be open to exploitation.  Too often we are asked to do things for free, for exposure, or for promotion.  How about the next time I host a large party at my place, I ask a caterer to supply the food for free, for “the exposure.”  Do you see the double standard?  The only time I have ever done anything for free was for charity.  It is a habit I intend to keep, as I do not want to devalue my work or the work of others in my field.  This notion that artists produce their work out of some benevolent gift-giving gesture is false.  We work hard for our craft, and we desire to be properly compensated.  Artists are the same as everybody else; as humans, we have the same biological and psychological needs.  We do not live on air alone, or magic manna falling from the sky, and we do not live in trees.  We expect our sacrifices to be rewarded.

It is not just the outside world who are exploiting artists.  Those within the field are also exploiting each other, and they should know better.  I am sure that performance artist Marina Abramovic once struggled to get by (a reasonable assumption), yet she recently put out an advertisement in NYFA seeking four unpaid, skilled interns.  And this was after her “collaboration” with Adidas and her receiving over $660,000 in a Kickstarter campaign for her Marina Abramovic Institute.  The unpaid intern system of free labor should be abolished.  It is a form of slavery.  We also should not forget that many people can not afford the time to work for free.  The unpaid intern institution is a glass ceiling, as it promotes only those who can already afford it financially. 

According to artist and activist Coco Fusco, the cost of a college education has skyrocketed 1,000% since 1978.  This is not in step with median income adjusted for inflation, as more and more people are making less and less every year.  All the profits are staying at the top of the food chain.  And don't even get me started on minimum wage. . . Incidentally, where does all this tuition money go?  It certainly doesn't go to the professors.  In 1990, 75% of college professors were tenured or at least full-time with benefits.  Today, only 25% are tenured or full-time with benefits.  To cut costs, universities are relying more and more on underpaid part-time adjunct professors, without benefits or job security.  This is bad news for those of us artists who want to teach.  It seems that this, too, is becoming a not so viable employment option.

Artists go to school for the specialized training and for the luxury of being able to make art full-time.  The luxury of spending six years in school is a shortcut.  It would have taken me twice as long, if not longer, to get to where I am today as an artist, had it not been for the time I spent in school.  When you are out of school, time is hard to come by, unless you are rich.  It is becoming harder and harder just to make ends meet.  We have to work long hours and be poorly compensated.  How can we afford to have the time to create?  And sometimes the outside world can be openly hostile to artists.  If they can smell artist on you, prepare yourself to be prejudiced against, and good luck even getting those poor paying jobs without benefits.  One prospective employer even had the balls to tell me, “We saw on your resume that your background is in art.  We almost did not bring you in for an interview.  Artists can be weird people . . .”  

Sadly, it seems, that art is quickly becoming a rich person's occupation, in that you have to be rich to even consider being an artist.  The cost of an education, and the cost of finding the time to work once you graduate, makes it prohibitive.  Real artists are born, irregardless of social class.  It just seems that in today's climate, only the more affluent can actually afford the real cost, that is, the training and the time, to reach their full potential.  What does this say about the future of art?  

Prejudice Against Artists by Chris Hall

Robert Dowd, Pop Art Money.

Why are people prejudiced against artists?  

I think there is a preconception that we are impractical, erratic dreamers, and individualists who do not respond well to authority.  Perhaps it is something deeper.  Perhaps we disgust them.  Perhaps we remind them of the talent they will never possess, or perhaps we remind them that they may have compromised their life and dreams to get to where they are.  

I don't know what it is.  It is only speculation.  I only know that being an artist has not helped me to get employment the many times I have been out of work.  Nor has it helped me get out of the many poor paying entry level part time positions I have had to endure over the years.  In fact, being an artist may have hindered me.

Many people assume that because I chose to be an artist, I chose to accept being poor.  That is not the case at all.  First of all, I did not really choose to be an artist.  I am an artist because I was born this way.  Nor do I accept being poor.  Nothing frustrates me more than people undervaluing my talents and abilities, simply because I happen to have an active imagination.  

Is Photography an Art? by Chris Hall

Peter Lik's 6.5 million dollar photograph, Phantom.

I recently read an article in The Guardian by Jonathan Jones where he says unequivocally, ”Photography is not an art.  It is a technology.”   In the article he bemoans the fact that landscape photographer Peter Lik has sold his photograph, Phantom, for 6.5 million dollars, setting a record for the most expensive photograph ever sold.  Jones’ criticism of the work is specific, saying that the photograph records a naturally occurring phenomenon, that it is something anybody with I-Pad could capture.  He also says that Lik’s photograph is cheaply nostalgic, that it references painting from over 100 years ago.  Despite Jones’ anti-beauty, anti-aesthetic argument, I find somewhat of an accord with what he is saying about photography being too readily accessible.  

I have grappled with similar thoughts myself from time to time.  There is something about the quick, instant nature of photography that, as a painter who has to lovingly labor over a canvas, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  The photographic process, well, it just seems too easy.  Since the advent of the digital camera, it seems everybody is now a photographer, and all the hard work of making a good photograph has been simplified into an automatic point and shoot technique.  You do have to have some creative instinct, such as how to recognize a good composition and what makes something interesting or beautiful, but a lot of the technical input, from lighting and lenses, to old fashioned dark room techniques has been replaced by autocorrect technology within a camera’s or computer’s software program.  This already compounds the problem that a lot of times a person really “takes” a photographic image, and does not “make” a photographic image.  To be sure, some photographers such as Joel Peter Witkin and William Mortensen do go to great pains to arrange subject matter within a composition, and then manipulate the image after the photograph is taken, but often the photographic process and aesthetic is one of being a good documenter of something that already exists.  In the case of Peter Lik, we could argue that the real author is Nature, not Peter Lik.

Below are images from Joel Peter Witkin and William Mortensen, respectively.

All the same, however, I shouldn’t be so hard on photography.  The camera is technology, but so is a saw, and so is a paintbrush, they are all tools.  What matters is the person behind the tools, their talents, and what they are thinking and hope to accomplish.  It requires a good eye and a poetic nature to recognize a good photographic subject when one sees it, so there is that.  Though they do not flock in numbers the way they do toward photography, there are plenty of amateurs who paint and sculpt, too.  Good photography is most certainly possible.  A good photograph can move us in the same way a good painting can move us.  I am inclined to think that despite it all, in the right hands, photography is an art.

If there is any argument at all left concerning Peter Lik's Phantom, perhaps we could discuss whether or not an art that can be easily reproduced can ever really be worth 6.5 million dollars.  Does Lik destroy the negative or delete the image file?

You can read Jonathan Jones' article here:

Jeff Koons: King of Kitsch by Chris Hall

Despite being the King of Kitsch (or maybe because of it), Jeff Koons makes a pretty good dime off his work.  He holds the record for the most expensive work ever sold at auction, Balloon Dogs (Orange) sold for $58.4 million dollars.  He has regularly employed assistants for his work, stating in the 80’s with about 30, to the present, where he employs about 120 people, working in a huge 16,000 square foot factory.  Without any underlying critique in his work, Jeff Koons becomes the poster child of American decadence in art.

Jeff Koons began his career in the 80’s by displaying recontextualized everyday items, such as an inflatable rabbit and vacuum cleaners.  Later he would expand his practice by producing a series of basketballs floating in aquariums full of water.  

Perhaps acknowledging his new role in bringing the banal to the art gallery, he began creating porcelain sculptures, starting with Ushering in Banality (1988) and culminating in Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1998).

In 1989 Jeff Koons, with his then wife, the politician and porn star Ilona Staller, began making work for the Made in Heaven series.  Made in Heaven is essentially Koons and Staller making porn and recontextualizing it as art.  The work can get pretty explicit.  Below are some tame examples from the series.

In the mid 90’s Koons began making his giant Balloon Dog sculptures out of polished steel, and a series of plastic sculptures, such as his Lobster and Cat on a Clothesline (1994-2001).  His most recent works include a limited edition label design for Dom Perignon (2004) and a sculpture and cover art for a Lady GaGa album (2013). 

Despite his success in the art world, Koons has his critics.  In an article comparing the contemporary art scene with show business, renowned critic Robert Hughes wrote that Koons is “an extreme and self-satisfied manifestation of the sanctimony that attaches to big bucks. Koons really does think he's Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can't imagine America's singularly depraved culture without him.”

Damien Hirst: an Obsession with Death by Chris Hall

Reportedly the richest artist alive in the UK, Damien Hirst first burst into the art world in the 1990’s with his work A Thousand Years (1990) which consists of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding on a rotting cow's head.  At the time Hirst is reported as saying,"I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say 'f off'. But after a while you can get away with things."  

Damien Hirst,  A Thousand Years , 1990

Damien Hirst, A Thousand Years, 1990

Hirst followed AThousand Years with a series of dead animals suspended in formaldehyde.  Among the most iconic of these is his The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), created with money out of Charles Saatchi’s pocket.  He was nominated for the Turner Prize for the work in 1991, but lost to Grenville Davey (Hirst would win it later in 1995).  

Damien is also known for his Spot paintings. Thousands are known to exist, thanks to Hirst’s army of assistants, who rotate between paintings, but allow Hirst to have the final touch.  These mechanical paintings are purposefully devoid of any human sensibility.  

Damien Hirst, Abalone Acetone Powder, 1991

In 2007 Hirst made For the Love of God, a human skull recreated in platinum and encrusted with 8,601 diamonds and real human teeth.  It sold to consortium for $100,000,000.  Besides making another work obsessed with Death, he also created an object of art as a shameless display of wealth.

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007

Like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst is not opposed to translating his work his work into the language of mass consumption.  Below are examples of Damien Hirst shoes, Damien Hirst pants, and Damien Hirst perfume.

I don’t mind a little Death in my art . . . it is a reality, a part of our human condition, and we need to be reminded of it.  But Death is the enemy, and we need to also remember to celebrate Life as well.    

Andy Warhol: Art of Superficiality by Chris Hall

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962

“You’re a killer of art, you’re a killer of beauty, and you’re even a killer of laughter. I can’t bear your work!” 
Willem de Kooning, yelling at Andy Warhol at a Larry Rivers party.

Where artist like Beuys sought to make the world a better place through their art, clearly did Warhol did not.  By mimicking the aesthetic of commerce and advertising, he only added to our cultural clutter.  By celebrating the idea of celebrity, he championed superficiality.  If artists like de Kooning are an ocean in their depth, Warhol is a dirty puddle.

One of Warhol’s first commercial successes was his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962).

Andy Warhol, 32 Campbells Soup Cans, 1962

The soup cans at least could not be confused with the real thing, but Warhol soon remedied that with his Brillo Boxes, (1964).

Andy Warhol, Brillo Boxes, 1964

I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic. Andy Warhol.  By celebrating superficiality and celebrity culture, Andy Warhol became a celebrity himself.  

Soon Warhol puts himself before the work.  In Warhol’s first museum show at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art in 1965, the expected crowd was eager not so much to see the work, but rather the artist.  Warhol obliged them when Sam Green, fearing that the work might be damaged in the crowd, ordered that the work be taken down from the gallery walls.  

Andy Warhol at the Philadelphia ICA show, 1965

With fame came money, and Andy, true to his superficiality, loved money more than anything else in the world.  I'd asked around 10 or 15 people for suggestions... Finally one lady friend asked the right question, "Well, what do you love most?" That's how I started painting money.  Andy Warhol.  Warhol also tells us, Making money is art.  And working is art.  And good business is the best art.  There is nothing wrong with making money from your art, but making money is certainly not art.  

Andy Warhol, 200 One Dollar Bills, 1962

The people gave Andy Warhol wealth and fame, and what does he give us in return?  He purposefully tries to bore us to death.  One film, Empire (1964), is nothing more than slow motion, static footage of the Empire State building, stretched out to eight hours and five minutes.  The video below is a ten minute excerpt, but a poor quality full length version is available on YouTube if you wish to torture yourself.

Excerpt from Empire, 1964

Oh, and here is another video, Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger (1982).  No meaning, no aesthetic, nothing but banal, boring nonsense.  At least with his celebrity portraits there was a formal aesthetic, composition and color, but here the boredom seems calculated and cruel.  There is nothing here, nothing to take away, just Andy Warhol, eating a hamburger.

Andy Warhol Eating a hamburger, 1982

The Middle-Class Artist by Chris Hall

In a 2002 article for New Statesman, former London ICA chairman Ivan Massow described modern concept art as "pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat" and "the product of over-indulged, middle-class [...], bloated egos who patronize real people with fake understanding.”

While all that, arguably, might be true, I would like to focus on one word he included there . . . middle-class.  I don’t know exactly what Massow meant by including middle-class, but I will tell you what questions it raises for me.

Could it be that the reason why a lot of what passes for fine art these days seems so apolitical is because it is the product of a middle-class mentality that has no motivation for change?  Often times an arts education is a luxury.  I was fortunate enough to have supporting parents who allowed me to follow my dreams (or my folly, depending on your point of view) and so I took out massive loans and worked my way through school to finance my education; I took a chance that I hope will one day pay off for me.  But at the risk of sounding classist, I do sometimes wonder about my more financially secure peers.  Do they have any sympathies at all for the working-class?  Can they ever relate or truly understand to what it is like to have to struggle financially?  What is their motivation to create any artwork that challenges societal and political norms when they themselves work from a place of privilege?  While I don’t think it is fair to assume that a struggling artist has a monopoly on making socially valid art, I do think that these are valid questions.

Perhaps, since the middle-class in America is rapidly shrinking, more revolutionary art of substance will be made.  

Eugene Delacroix,  Liberty Leading the People , 1830

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830