Here’s something someone sent me this week. Natalie Thomas speaks from the hip about the inequities that exist in the arts. Most of my time at Jugglers Art Space Inc is caught up with administration, applying for funding, ticking boxes and hoping we can stay ahead of the red line. A small group of us took a mortgage on our building in 2003 to offer studios and exhibition spaces for emerging mid career artists and we have made a small vision a reality and have seen the arts practice of hundreds of artists and musicians get some traction, at least for a while post graduation. As the co-founder of this small artist run organisation passionately committed to seeing artists grow and flourish, THE one thing that is almost debilitating is the growth in arts administration over the past 5 years. Doing battle at this level does affect vision and creative momentum. It hasn’t destroyed hope or growth or sustainability but neither has it enhanced my own arts practice or desire for a slow down, research and actual art. Natalie makes sense.
What Australian art needs in 2016
by Natalie Thomas | Posted 13 Jan 2016
Australian art needs a total makeover, starting with more artistic and curatorial bravery and less pandering to money and power. We must resist the rapid privatisation of our culture. If culture is open only to those who can afford it, we’ll all be the poorer.
We need fewer sycophants and more punks, less fashion but more dressing up. More nudity, but fewer dressing-downs. More substance and less abuse. We need to identify and nurture artists who take a position in their work because everything is political. Everything.
Australian art needs to be less conservative. We need more experience and less youth. I love optimism too, but it looks as if Australian art is feeding off the young like Brad Pitt fed off Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire.
Australia needs to double its investment in art and halve the managers. There are mutterings that art galleries are over and it’s hard not to concur. Getting an art show is too difficult: there are too many cherries to pick from and the emailing is a killer.
The internet gets more traffic than galleries but without the paint fumes. Artists should produce more online exhibitions and wait until working in galleries is easier again. Either that or start up more artist-run galleries to show in.
There’s a lot of talk going on, but nobody is saying anything. We need fewer conferences and more studio parties. Less networking and more solidarity. Fewer infomercials and more critique. Fewer delegations, forums, sector round tables and leading industry professionals. Saying what you think is not brave – it’s part of any healthy arts discourse.
Australian art needs to do a lot less huffing and puffing about how hard it’s working and put on more risky art shows. There needs to be fewer identifiable examples of curators curating relationships, networks, contacts and alliances rather than art. We need less institutionalisation and more independence. Less stitching up and more wardrobe malfunctions. Let’s see less clean, straight lines in pastel hues and more messy, obtuse peripheries.
The art must come first, then all the other stuff follows along behind. A safe space needs to be left between artists and leading arts industry professionals. No tailgating. No intermarrying – that should be illegal – no “I’m best friends with the big boss and progressing very rapidly up the ladder as a result”. This isn’t another explosive episode of House of Cards: it’s our cultural legacy and it’s important and worth fighting for.
Australian art needs to spend less of its resources importing and more of its resources exporting. We must nurture local content and protect against cultural colonialism. The big, state-funded galleries are sending out very mixed messages. There’s limited money for work from local artists, but when the latest imported circus comes to town the galleries are awash with cash. We need to think less about them and more about us. We need to take a long, hard look at ourselves now – and art is a great lens through which to look.
I want to see less Degas and more Destiny Deacon. Less Leonardo da Vinci and more Vernon Ah Kee. Less David Lynch and more Stuart Ringholt. Less Pablo Picasso and more Danielle Freakley. Less Gilbert and George and more Clark Beaumont. Less Grayson Perry and more Richard Bell. Less Marina Abramović and more Sarah Goffman, more Anastasia Klose, more Sue Dodd. It’s time for strong women to dominate the public discourse.
Artists need to stop doing anything for free. No meetings, no giving ideas away for free, no “You plan the program and propose it to us, and then we’ll talk money’.
Sometimes I go to art events where every single entity in the room has been paid except for the exhibiting artists. All the people who work in the gallery, the caterers, the freight guys, the installers, the wait staff, the cleaners: they all got paid. The artists, the primary producers responsible for the “art” in the word “art show”, got paid in “great exposure”.
Talk money first; everything else can wait. Exposure is not a sustainable payment plan for artists. If a project doesn’t include a budget to pay an exhibition fee to artists, then nobody gets paid. Resources need to be funneled to the bottom of the pyramid, not the top. Why are the people who create the art at the bottom of this pyramid? The top can sort themselves out with their high-end corporate sponsorship deals.
Managers are cutting themselves a larger slice of the pie than they give to the producers of the art. They spend a lot of time talking to artists about how hard it is to work in the arts industry now. Cut us a break and be quiet – you’re messing with our creative spirits. Stop being mean to us and put on more exciting art shows.
Australian art needs to free itself from the grip of universities. Australian artists need to graduate from university, pay off our HECS debts and enter the real world. Do you know how many arts graduates are being churned by our universities each year? A gazillion. And every year all the arts graduates need to have an art show, so will someone please pull their finger out and put on a few hundred more art shows each year?
Australian art needs to double the art shows and halve the fuss. It’s not our fault you’re all dependent on us. Four art exhibitions a year isn’t an arts program, it’s a death march into an abyss of exclusion. Sure, there is an oversupply of artists, but we’ve got to stop allowing our ambition from being exploited.
Australian art needs less earnestness and more laughs. Oops, sorry, I forgot: you guys are all too busy tapping into the revenue streams from our creativity. And middlemen just aren’t that funny.
Natalie Thomas is an Australian artist who was part of collaborative duo nat&ali. She is the creator of nattysolo.com, an ongoing performance project that considers the social side of contemporary art through opinion-based coverage of art openings and public events.