Saturday, October 07, 2017

What's the biggest question facing artists today?

The Guardian ran an article on Thursday called What's the biggest question facing artists today? The article makes for interesting reading - as do the comments

I liked Tacita Dean's intelligent comment and Maria Balshaw also nailed it. However the best one for me came from Touria El Glaoui - and apparently I discerned a key theme of the comments without realising it and before I read them.
It’s a question of security in your career: how to be true to yourself while surviving in a commercial market. 
To which one commenter responded - and got the most "likes"
If you can't earn enough to live on, it's not a career, it's a hobby. Most of us don't expect taxpayers to fund their hobbies, so why should artists?
For those who'd like to make a serious comment - out of the limelight - you can respond via the Guardian's survey form - Calling all artists: what are the biggest issues that concern you?

An analysis of the comments

Leaving aside the comments from "the names" in the article, below you can find my analysis of the comments on the article FROM ARTISTS

Auguste Rodin, Le Penseur,
plaster on wood platform
Musée d'art moderne
et contemporain de Strasbourg
Some points as to how I tackled my summary as a preamble:
  • I've left out most of the grumpiness and whining about why somebody has not made it and have focused on the people who actually attempted to answer the question. 
  • I've also left out the posturing and pseuds' corner stuff
  • Some people were totally incapable of answering this particular question - by providing a question - so I had to paraphrase quite a few. Those people may not agree with how I paraphrased.
  • The comments also provide an insight into the inability of some artists to actually focus on a topic and their total self-obsession with themselves. The ability of some to wax on about the small scale/parochial or global/political - and especially themselves - beggars belief.
I clicked on this article hoping to read something about their ideas. Most talked about how to get paid.
I think as a result of reading through all the comments, my question might be "When are artists going to get their act together?

Or the same point from another perspective - another person put it like this
The biggest 'problem' facing those who (generally) self-define at 'artists' is relevance to the rest of humanity. Not 'what's in it for me?', but 'what's in it for everyone else?'.

 What's the biggest question facing artists today?

I've tried to categorise the comments - literal and paraphrased - in order to try and highlight what are the major concerns of artists.

Without a doubt the main concerns that occupies many artists are

  • how to get paid for their art so they can go on being an artist
  • how to produce art that is authentic and persuade people that what they are doing is good - and should be supported.
  • how to break into the circle of elite artists/galleries/funders
What appeared to concern some of those who are maybe not artists is.....
  • why should artists assume the world owes them a living?

The oldies are the goodies

  • "What is art?" is a perennial (but didn't get asked a lot)
  • As is "What the hell is that meant to be?"
  • The biggest question for any artist - after the obvious ones of how do I pay the rent and feed myself etc. - is " Am I being true to myself?"
  • How to have enough money if (your) art is not immediately popular?
  • How to be true to yourself and produce authentic art at the same time as being able to eat and have a roof over your head?
  • How can we use our work to help create a new economy for the common good?'
  • Will my art last?
  • The biggest question facing artists today is the same as it ever was - what is my work worth, and will the buyers who snapped it up yesterday still do so tomorrow.

Being an Artist

  • How much more would this world be enriched if those that are starving have enough to eat, and to produce art for everyone to enjoy?
  • How do you reconcile the statement "everyone is an artist" and the purported push from the left for democracy, inclusivity and diversity, with the special social (and funding) designation for 'artist' and 'art'? How do reconcile the lack of any real parameters around art (aesthetics, content, skill) and your assertion that artists are 'special' and think in a different way? What would you be measuring this 'difference' against, given that the doors to 'anything goes' have been open for fifty years? 
  • Why are only the rich making art, filling art institutions, becoming musicians, acting?
  • For most artists, it's 'How on earth you scrape together any kind of living?'
  • What is wrong with supporting your art with the work that real people must do?
  • How to keep getting away with it?

Art Patrons / Collectors

  • If everybody can quite readily declare themselves an artist (which they can and do), who are the patrons? 
  • Why does it seem the audience for art is getting smaller?

Art Education

  • Why is art education is being neglected by universities?

Art Funding

  • Why does funding for the arts flow to the chosen few?
  • Why not ask the 99% of artists that are shut out of the "art market", shut out from funding, shut out from galleries, both private and public?

Marketing Art

  • When are artists other than the exalted and chosen few that dominate the market going to get access to the limelight?
  • Why have we lost faith in the current art gallery system?
  • How not to be robbed by the art world? (the answer to that is, keep them guessing).
  • Why has "craving attention at all costs" replaced appreciation of aesthetic beauty?
  • When you're "on the outside looking in" what's the best way to get your art seen?
  • "Which dumb brainteaser am I going to sell as art this year to people who wouldn't know real art if it bit them on the ass but have impressive collections of modern money?"

The best comment? Well this one in my opinion is worth a reread.
All the anguish seems to be about squaring the circle between 'authenticity' and commercial necessity as an artist. But you don't need to be an Artist to do art. You can be a plumber, a pediatrician, a park ranger, and do art. Plenty of people always have and still do. But they are 'amateur' - one of the most corrupted words in the lexicon - and do not count. 
and this is also the reality for some people
Show me an artist who isn't concerned about getting paid, and I'll show you a hobbyist with a private pension.

For those artists wanting to get their act together and sell some art so they can keep on making art can I refer you to my website Art Business Info for Artists. It certainly does NOT have all the answers (for one thing I'm still building it!) - however I've now been told by a number of both professional and aspiring artists that it does provide some very useful insights into the process of moving from creating art to creating an art career.


  1. Thanks for posting, ... shared it!

  2. Thank you for trawling through all the comments and coming up with such a down to earth analysis. I didn't see the original article until you pointed it out, but I had been gently pondering on the questioning nature of art. Do we seek to ask questions in art, or to answer them?

  3. The categories of amateur vs professional may work in many cases, but often the separation is not clear or obscured with purpose.
    Latest statistics based on a survey on fine artists in Berlin say that only 8% of all artists have firm representation by a gallery, ca.17% have “loose” gallery representations. The most important sales channel is direct sales from artist’s studio with 37%. Only 11% of all artists In Berlin make more than € 30000 (slightly below average gross income in Germany) by selling their art, 31% make more than € 13000. Only 13% make more than 50% of their income by selling art. (
    On your next visit in a Berlin gallery chances are good to see amateur works.

  4. Excellent statistics!

    I must see if I can out the equivalent for other countries

  5. hello Katherine,
    I forgot to say clearly that the stats are based on a survey. The answers of 456 artists living in Berlin were used for the stats. There are however about 9400 Artists registered in Berlin as members of the public healthcare and pensionfunds for artists, these include graphic designers too.
    But in general the results are consistent with the yearly nation wide reports that the so called "Künstlersozialkasse" is publishing.

    There is certainly a "grey zone" as to income of artists who need to make a living before or after tax.


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