The Whole Arts World Is Totally Fucked. And Everyone's Talking About Arts Criticism?
Welcome to Canvassing, our weekly look at the conversations that surround the Dallas art world. Pull up a chair. Stay with us for a while. The view's pretty nice from here.
Let me let you in on a little secret. The problem with Dallas art, and the rest of the art world in general, has nothing to do with arts criticism.
In other words? Maybe we don't need to spend so much time worrying about it.
Crazy, I know. But, even though art criticism is a perennially popular topic in these parts, worrying about the state of art criticism is kind of like complaining about the upholstery of a living room chair while your whole house is burning down.
Bear with me here, folks. I'm not saying art criticism isn't important. I literally read it every day. But there are just too many, far more pertinent issues that are transforming the professional art world at the moment. And no amount of arts criticism can fix those.
For instance, a far bigger issue is that, deep down, people just really don't like creativity. This isn't to say that people don't like artists, of course. It's just that they probably don't enjoy the especially creative ones — well, not until they're old or dead, at least. Except, well, people don't really like the old and dead ones either, because young people have largely stopped going to art museums.
In turn, we've got museums trying innovative tactics in vain — like the gamification of the Dallas Museum of Art free admission program or the proliferation of the crowd-sourcing curation of exhibitions, as the Wall Street Journals Ellen Gamerman recently examined.
Glasstire's Christina Rees recently took issue with the idea of the crowd-sourced curating of art shows, worrying, perhaps with only a little bit of hyperbole, that it simply paves the way for museums to host paint-ball tournaments, MMA bouts and public lynchings in their spaces..
Tell you what, though: Those first two things actually sound fairly fun and interesting, and you don't need to go to a museum to witness the last one.
Writes Rees: “It's incredibly insulting to the professionals and artists who have dedicated their entire careers to the study and making and understanding of art that the museums' very exhibitions are fair game to people who have not wasted a moment considering why some art is more interesting and worthwhile than another kind: 'I don't know much about art but I know what I like.' Spare me this self-congratulatory, incredibly dismissive non-take on art.”
I don't necessarily disagree with Rees, but I think her ire misses the mark. Museums have no choice but to experiment or face extinction. Everyone, including our own Dallas Museum of Art, is in on that game.
The sad truth here is that the entire profession of visual artists is being obliterated. And unless we — the directors, curators, writers, artists and everyone else who gives a damn — starts trying to innovate, the market for the visual arts will dissipate. The industry, frankly, is in the middle of a period of creative disruption. And, no, this isn't going to be a very fun thing to come to terms with. Just ask the mapmakers.
The only people unconcerned about this appears to be art school administrators. Just recently, BFAMFAPhD released a study outlining the current state of art school in the United States, and, let me tell you, the results aren't pretty. Basically, the top art schools in the country are raising tuition every year to make more money. In turn, these schools are now among the most expensive in the country, with tuition costing around $40,000 per year for undergraduate programs and some $100,000 for graduate studies.
And yet, rather amazingly, more and more students continue enroll in art school, amassing debts equivalent to people attempting to become doctors and lawyers in the process. Worse, only 10 percent of all undergraduate art majors actually become working artists. And those who do only end up make a median income of $36,000 or so per year. If you're a person of color who gets a BFA, congratulations: You now have a mere eight percent chance of being able to make a living with your art. Four out of the five who manage to make that $36,000 each year are white, go figure.
Making matters worse is the fact that, even though art schools are raking in all kinds of dough, they refuse to hire full-time employees. In turn, adjunct faculty members across the country are being forced to live in poverty. (Granted, this is a problem that exists throughout the world of education, but I digress.)
And yet, just last weekend, Two x Two raised $7 million dollars from an art auction — and right in our own backyard, no less. That money will be split between AIDS research foundation amfAR and the DMA, but how much of it will actualy go back and support the artists working in this city? One percent? Two percent? Any of it? Hey, I only ask because museums and non-profit art spaces often don't pay artists either, which is why Houston's Robert Byrd recently introduced the idea of Texas art spaces adopting the W.A.G.E guidelines.
The dichotomy at play here is truly frightening — and reflection of our American economic story. Because right there, just out of reach at the other end of the spectrum, auction houses and art fairs are routinely selling paintings for millions of dollars, breaking records and earning breathless newspaper headlines across the country. It's enough to make your head spin — and maybe even make you want to try your hand at art school.
Except this is what it looks like when your house is burning. And we in here talking about art criticism. We're not talking about the game or what actually matters.
How silly is that?
Moving on, it's worth noting that today is the deadline for artists who wish to get on the list to be considered for public art commissions from the city in the next two years. Lauren Smart at the Dallas Observer has all the details here.
Also, there are two opportunities this week to help artists further their careers. One is a workshop led by Lily Taylor on how to promote oneself, which wil take place at Midway Gallery on Sunday. The other is a portfolio review with top gallerists and curators at the The University of Texas at Dallas's artists residency CentralTrak on Monday.
• “Light Lite Lte” by Clint Bargers, Tommy Fedele, Michael Furrh and Jennifer Seibert at 500X Gallery from 7 p.m to 10 p.m.
• “Random Art III” at Blow Up Gallery from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
• “Draftsmen of the Apocalypse” curated by Heyd Fontenot at UTD's CentralTrak from 8 p.m to 10 p.m.
Cover image courtesy of The Cliff Gallery.