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Mat Gleason Headshot

Twelve Art World Habits to Ditch in 2012

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It is 2012, but in the art world it is often still 1966. Some of the "traditions" underlying the business side of the gallery and museum world date back decades. Don't let 'em fool you that they are hip. The art world is a bunch of stubborn ninnies who learn to do things one way and insist that things never be done a different way. Everyone has great career advice for you that is current for 1979, or 1985 or 1994, whatever year they broke into the art world -- that is the master plan they insist everyone must follow; they assert you will not succeed unless you, too, do things like they did back then. Understand two things: The art world doesn't replace its dinosaurs, it gives them retrospectives, and two, the first caveman who left the cave was the first performance artist and nobody has topped him since. Here are 12 things about the art world that need to disappear for good.

Consignment
Painter Mark Kostabi's slogan sums it up "Ending Lending is Beginning Winning". Artists have traditionally consigned artwork to galleries. When the artwork sells, the gallery and the artist splits the sale 50/50. When the work does not sell, the artist gets the art back. This is the way the game is played and it is ludicrous. In this scenario, the artist literally loans the gallery collateral at no risk to the gallery and with no interest on the loan. An alternate way of doing things might be to imitate, oh I dunno, how about... the way every other business on earth operates: The gallery should just buy the art from the artist. How hard is that? If the gallery cannot afford it, either they should find an artist who will sell them work for what they can afford or they should get out of the gallery business, which they are not in if they cannot afford to purchase inventory. Of course, this works in the benefit of the gallery too -- you can mark up the work 200 percent if you like. Buy 10 paintings for $100 each. Sell them for 20 grand each.

Academic Curators
The realm of the visual is inherently non-verbal. Academia is a lecture-based system of auditory and linguistic learning. Pretty much the polar opposite of art. And yet here come the pinheads with their Ph.D. theses (rhymes with feces) getting every damn thing wrong about the art and making sure none of their presentation is enjoyable nor accessible to people outside their peer group. Their ruse is the implication that art is intellectual. Art is sensual. Academics are not. Sleep with a few (your grad school professor is almost always willing) and tell me I am wrong.

Marketers
Who gets paid first in the art world these days? Promotional idiots with tired gimmicks and antiquated postcard mailing lists. The marketers are taking the cream off the top of the art world latte. Marketers are people who know nothing abut the creative process and feel happier watching an episode of Friends than they do looking at new and exciting work or having an interesting gallery space experience. Art is the antidote to culture, not another client of the machine.

Paid Writers
Think about it. A painter struggles in his or her studio with a stack of canvasses, tubes of oil paints and nothing but time. It is a romantic vision we can all accept. It is also pretty much the only way that great painting takes place. But ask an art writer to write about your art and they want $3 a word. Where is the romance and pursuit of pure artistic vision for the writer? Suddenly the slob at your opening is quoting prices like your 401K advisor. Writers have become sharks because, like the academics, people who are good with words either manipulate you with them or exclude you from the discussion. Verbosity is often used as a weapon to seize power in the arts, populated as they are by visual learners and masters of non-verbal expression. Beware of the writer whose desk has blank invoices in the drawer.

Charity Auctions
I ranted about this on the Huffington Post last year. Bottom line is the price your art goes for at a charity event is the golden "what the market will bear" amount. Do you want the world to know that in a roomful of millionaires eager to support a good cause your donated painting could not get a minimum bid of $50? And of course, if your piece did not sell, don't expect the non-art non-profit hacks to know how to handle and return it to you.

China
I can make a lousy painting today of George Bush performing a sexual act with Barack Obama. Nobody is going to like it or buy it but nobody is going to knock on my door tonight and take me away for painting it. Call me when you have two billionaire army general art collectors bid up the price on your painting of Hu Jintao having a threesome with Confucius and Mao Tse Tung. Until then, you can let a thousand sub-par Thomas Kinkades bloom -- it is the only way to stay out of jail.

Diploma Mills
Tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt used to at least get you a diploma that led to a decent job. Those jobs are gone now. Long gone. They are not coming back. No matter how prestigious the school and how fantastic the program, MFA art programs are just a summer camp experience with pretense and attitude. The art they produce is not demonstrably better than art produced outside of academic dialogues. Many people enjoy MFA programs. Cut-throat capitalist bankers at student loan portfolio departments love them more than any student or faculty member would ever realize, until it is too late...

Rules
There are too many of them. You do whatever you want. You can even be so great that you actually achieve a complete and total failure. Then you can make art. But you never have to follow any of the rules and anyone who says you do... well he or she just hasn't failed enough to realize this.

Experts
Art is subjective. There inherently cannot be experts.

Series
Artists are told to work in series. It is one way of doing things. To posit that it is the only way or the best way is as dumb as saying every painting should be 40 percent earth tones. Huh? Yeah, that dumb.

Reading Graffiti Art
Street art is the best abstract painting of the past 60 years. Rationalizing one wall as somehow better because of individual authorship (instead of innovative composition) misses the whole point. Let's not take the people's medium against the power of property and make it into another celebrity manufacturing game. Enjoy abstract vandalism at its most beautiful without obsessing over who authored the specific letters on the wall. And what is closer to the bottom of the barrel: Street art gallerists, street art curators or street art academics? On what sad date did aerosol spray paint become synonymous with cotton candy?

Artists As Their Own Manager
You gotta do this, and you gotta do that, and most of all you have to buy the art advice book on how you can make it on your own as an artist by doing all of this stuff on your own. Advice is now an industry. Just make the art and sell it for whatever it takes to get it out of the studio and make more. Don't buy the book. It is probably rehashed if not flat-out plagiarized from the other books. There is no blueprint for a masterpiece and there is no blueprint for a successful art career. Like Gandhi said, "What you do will not be important but it is important that you do it." he didn't add "...so buy the overpriced book and DVD series on how to succeed at doing that unimportant important thing."

Happy New Year to all the artists and art appreciators. Let's hope 2012 is a masterpiece in which all can exalt the fruit of the creative process and ignore the pretense and hype.