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"The Independent Artist"
Issue VII, Spring 2010

The Independent Artist

Michael Corbin
2009 Conference
Keynote Address

I'm here to talk about art, but I need to say something here first thats weighing heavily on me. You may also feel the same. Im finding whats happening in this country right now very troubling. The conflict, the fear, the rumors, the meanness, the drama, the political game playing on all sides, the over-arching philosophy of the day that says if I dont agree with you or you dont agree with me, then you must be destroyed. We have got to stop this. Were like a dog chasing its tail. Its like were children hopelessly trapped in the oral phase of our psychological and social development. We have got to evolve past this. We have got to do a better job of looking out for one another. Were all weve got. We have to get on the same page . . . for the sake of history, if no other reason. Im convinced that 200 years from now, historians are going to look back and say, Oh my God! They had everything the needed, they had the knowledge and yes, the resources and they still screwed it up!

I truly want to believe that we live in an enlightened society and the great thing is that ART CAN LEAD THE WAY. I actually wrote a speech for this morning, but I decided, Ugh, if I have to go to one more function and listen to one more speech for one more minute, Im going to croak! Having said that, I threw out the proper speech in favor of cutting to the chase.

Money is tight and people are freaked out and yet here we are trying to figure out how to get people to buy . . . not food or clothing or a computer . . . but ART. Lets face it, being an avid collector myself, when it comes down to paying my bills or buying food or getting new brakes for my car, Im going to do those things BEFORE I buy art of any kind. I think most of you would do the same. Thats called having ones priorities in the right place.

Given that, there are so many overt and covert forces that conspire to keep art at the bottom of the priority chain. What I want to do here simply and briefly is name the forces and the solutions. And so, Im calling this address the . . . Art Stimulus Plan 2009-10: A Guide for Artists, Dealers, Administrators, and Collectors with Very Limited Time and Resources, If Not Inclincation.

There are ten simple tips. The first few are practical and the last few are more conceptual. Ill state the problem followed by the solution. Ill go through them quickly so well have time to chat afterward.

Practical Tips

Problem 1: Elitism, Snobbery. Many of us in the art world are guilty of this. I have experienced this myself many times. Just before my current book, The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collectors Journal came out, I was talking with a book promoter who said she thought that I was really on to something. She said she would not go into an art gallery or even visit an art fair. She said she found the whole thing so intimidating. People often think theyre going to be snubbed or made to feel bad because they dont know much about art. Not helping people feel good about themselves at the point of potential purchase is not a good business move.

Solution 1: I know that selling art and setting up fairs and booths and dealing with uneducated customers can be exhausting and frustrating. But they are customers nonetheless. I recently spent $300.00 that I had no intention of spending at the Gold Coast Art Fair in Chicago. I was on vacation and simply went there looking for things to write about. Do you know what caused me to spend that money? Simple smiles and hellos. Both artists Carl Vogtmann and Roger Disney made me feel welcome when I looked at their booths. All I bought were a few prints, but I think $300.00 is a lot of money to spend when you had no plans to spend any money at all! Smiles and hellos made the difference.

Problem 2: Physical Access. We have got to make our art venues more accessible to people. I cannot tell you how many times Ive visited fairs or galleries or museums and the entire experience felt like Mission Impossible. Where do I park my car? Where is the main entrance? Why are there no tour guides to ask directions? Wheres the mens room? These questions have nothing to do with art, but everything to do with whether or not customers feel comfortable.

Solution 2: Maps and guides and tickets are great, but what we really need are actual people to point out the way and RED FLASHING NEON SIGNS in various locations that literally say . . . Peoria Art FairENTER HERE! or The Armory ShowBUY TICKETS HERE!

Problem 3: Affordability. We have got to price our work to sell . . . especially in this economy. Most of us are extremely aware of when something is intentionally priced too high. Im not saying that you artists should give your work away or let some shyster swindle you . . . or take a hit on a deal. However . . .

Solution 3: Most people who arent experienced art collectors are entry level. If youre interested in reaching those people, why not create a high-end designer line of your work AND a lower end, more CONSUMER-FRIENDLY line of small paintings, drawings and limited edition prints specifically created to sell to this crowd. Most art museum shops sell posters of famous artists paintings. These framed posters often costs hundreds of dollars. Artists should be going after this crowd. Shouldnt that money be spent instead on small, affordable, original works created by living artists?


Problem 4: Not Casting Your Net. For many art fairs, I really think that once-a-year exhibitions are too few and limited. They dont really provide enough exposure for the organization itself or to the mass audience. People today are too scattered. There are too many things fighting for their attention, especially during the warmer months.

Solution 4: This is just an idea that I think would attract more people. Why not use your same resources, scale down your larger fair in the summer, and introduce a satellite fair in early December? Obviously, the satellite fair would be much smaller and indoors, but it would provide you with another opportunity to get your name out there and reach people at a critical buying time. Of course, most communities have their art fairs during spring/summer, but two days just isnt enough time to reach people, many of whom go away on vacation.

Problem 5: Not Going to the People: This is really an extension of problem 4. The days of just sending out invitations and expecting people to come to you are over. Again, I think things have changed so much culturally just within the past few years. People are so much more mobile . . . including people with physical challenges. Things are moving faster not slower.

Solution 5: Given that, why not put art in the places WHERE PEOPLE GO? We cannot just show art in galleries, museums and art centers. Weve got to think outside those boxes and safely display art in places that people frequent. Arts councils really need to work on getting ART FOR SALE displayed in places like municipal buildings, DMVs, restaurants, sports arenas, malls, airport gates, hospital emergency rooms. Take art to the people. Have it there when they arrive. I mentioned this the last time I spoke here. Ive seen some change but not enough. Most cities grant permits that allow people to stage organized, peaceful demonstrations in highly travelled parts of town. Why dont art schools take advantage of this and organize rallies and shows for art? Do it at lunchtime right on Wall Street or at Union Square. Take art to the people! I think that one of the reasons why junk food joints and stores like WalMart are so successful is because theyre everywhere. We have to do the same thing with art. The more people SEE art, the more theyll THINK about it, the more they think about it, the more theyll WANT it.


CONCEPTUAL TIPS

Problem 6. The Impressionists. In my current book, I have an essay called Im Impressed Already. It tackles my feelings about the famous Impressionists. Dont get me wrong. I like Monet, Pissarro, and Cassatt just as much as everyone else. We all know they continue to be cash cows for art museums, but can we give them a little break? If you mention art to someone who doesnt know a lot about it, whats the first thing they say??? Oh yeah, I remember going to a Monet exhibit back when I was a kid! Thats IF they even say that!

Solution 6. Why cant art museums take six weeks out of every year and devote that time to LIVING ARTISTS? Six weeks is not a long time, but its long enough to promote an exhibition that might be called for example, ART NOW or CURRENT EVENTS: ATLANTA ARTISTS TODAY AND BEYOND. People today want to be entertained as well as informed, but weve got to make the messages relevant for TODAY. Living artist exhibitions would bring in bigger, more diverse crowds, help living artists, and mak museums seem more hip and with it to visitors. This will only enhance the mission of art museums.

Problem 7. Misinformation. There is so much misinformation out there about art. Most people dont think art is actually available or affordable. They think art is mysterious and mystical and better than they are. They think that only certain people deserve art and that art does not serve a practical purpose in their lives. The media is highly responsible here. Most media people dont know anything about art. They also believe that art is a frill. Lets face it, the only time you TRULY hear about art in the media is when someone is renovating their basement and they stumble upon what turns out to be a $20 million Jackson Pollock behind a forgotten wall. How realistic is that?

Solution 7. One of the simplest reasons why people dont think art is available or affordable is because no one actually says that. Duh! The only people who can change this are art world people. And we have to keep repeating it like a mantra. Lets all say it . . . ART IS AVAILABLE AND AFFORDABLE! People need to hear this over and over again so that theyll be reconditioned. Its not going to happen overnight.

Problem 8. Lack of Arts Education Support
. If you look at the state of this nationand really the worldtoday, so many of the problems we have . . . and all of the conflict can be directly traced to the decline of emotional intelligence. We have become so disconnected from our own humanity and certainly from one another. Our priorities have gone so far out of whack. Im not a sociologist, but as I look back at my own life and times, I can see how the decline in liberal arts education and the humanities have been equally matched by the rise in intolerance, impatience, greed, hatred, you name it. You dont have to have a doctorate in philosophy to recognize this. You always hear medical experts link the lack of physical education classes in schools to childhood obesity. The same can be said for the relationship between the lack of arts education and our bloated state of closed-mindedness and bigotry.

Solution 8. Things have gotten to the point where it is imperative that we fight to get arts education back into schools. I would not be standing here right now, nor would I have written two (and
soon three) books about art, if I hadnt had some exposure to art, literature, and the humanities as a public school kid and on up through college. Art, literature, and the humanities are the hallmark of an enlightened society. We began cutting these things around 30 years ago and, consequently, what did we get? We now have thousands of school districts that still have huge budget gaps and higher dropout rates and cities with soaring crime figures. Reintroducing arts and the humanities in schools is not an overnight solution, but its really the best solution of all. Whats that saying that we hear all the time? If you train a child in the way that he or she should go, then he/she will not depart from it.

Problem 9. Introverted Art World. Artists and creative people tend to be very individualistic
and somewhat introverted. Im a writerso am I. However, the problem here is that if we remain in our own little bubbles all the time, we lose sight of the bigger picture. If all we do is think about art and our own needs, then we become part of the very fragmentation and give rise to the very conflict that we want to avoid. Well find ourselves actually feeding the beasts of elitism.

Solution 9a. We need to break out of our own shells and use art to push society on the path that it should go. What path is that? Its a path that says art is about more than just a lovely painting or sculpture that you can buy at an art fair. Art is about vision, insight, creativity, and finding solutions to problems. Art is about communication, not only monologue, but dialogue. Art is about pushing the boundaries not to make other feel uncomfortable,
but so that we can expand our possibilities in this vast universe. I write about art in three ways: art in my world, the art world, and art and how it functions in the world at large, which is by far the most important. I feel that what Im doing right now is art and how it functions in the world. Today, we have so many tools at our disposal. We have the internet and social networking sites like Facebook. The internet is democratizing art and making the playing field more level in the art world. Its up to us to use it effectively and give art a stronger voice not only in the art world, but the world at large.

Soution 9b. The most effective plan for art is UNITY. Isnt it time that the art world came down to earth and got real? Art is beautiful, ethereal, high-minded and needs to be protected. Art is inherently mysterious. However, we dont need to create artificial walls that only add to that mystery and intimidate people. Its okay to lift ourselves up, but wouldnt it be better if we all got a lift through art? The art world needs to come together, not just to party, but to plan our next renaissance. We should work together and decide that we truly want to make art available to everyday people. Call me crazy, but wouldnt that be a miraculous, WIN-WIN situation for everybody? Art is bigger and broader than everything but life itself. Shouldnt we start acting like it?
Thank you very much.

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