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June 18, 2008

Art in America

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I struggled to come up with a apt, succinct title to this note, but had to leave to catch the preview showing of an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. So I simply used Art in America, the name of an art magazine where "Art & Politics" is the theme of its current issue. Its puny web site includes the following contents list for the issue.

In Times of Trouble – some recent films and videos provide a wide-angled look at a world of violence.

Collateral Damage – in a gripping new monument, Siah Armajani traces parallels between the attacks on Fallujah and on Guernica.

Global Warnings – the icecaps are melting, storms are increasing, species are dwindling. Several exhibitions ask, how can art help?

Talking Politics 2008 – six artists whose work courts controversy exchange ideas about the common ground between politics and art.

Rules of Engagement – a number of artists reexamine the evidence on documentary photography’s truth value.

Written in Stone – using salvaged blocks, Michal Rovner assembled an imposing testament to the possibility of cooperation in the Mideast.

Handforth’s Fallen Angels – Milton’s Paradise Lost, along with recent malfeasance and loss, frames Mark Handforth’s new work.

Sticking It – a 40-year survey of Judith Bernstein’s drawings showcased her signature image: a phallus that’s also a very big screw.

Front Page – the latest news and notes from around the art world.

Based on this evidence, I suspect a fall issue will be devoted to Barak Obama campaign posters designed by artists ranging from students to jet-setters.

Art in America claims to be "The World's Premier Art Magazine" (see link).

Wait a minute. Art in America as The World's Premier Art Magazine?

Filthy imperialists.



posted by Donald at June 18, 2008


I supposed you could say it's just Seattle, but it isn't. That's the world of the arts.

Why is that world so one dimensional?

I've previously offered my explanation: Artists want a benevolent government to bail them out of their decision to become artists. They want the state to pay them for work that the market will not pay for.

If you read my discussion with Chris re Dylan, you'll notice another remarkable fact. Artists know exactly how to fix the entire world, with the exception of the arts.

Artists bitterly criticize the pay of corporate CEOs, but the winner take all world of the arts doesn't seem to bother them at all. Artists condemn corporate America for failing to provide lavish benefits to all, but they have nothing to say about an arts universe that commonly impoverishes and destroys people.

So, Chris (for example) knows how to fix the inequities of corporate pay. CEOs and executives should just be forced to share and share alike. But, in the music world, he's entirely comfortable with a few stars taking virtually all the money while paying their subordinates impoverished salaries and no job security. That's just the way it goes. CEOs don't need to be "geniuses," but musicians do, apparently. So, the employees of CEOs must be well compensated and secured, but musicians should just starve if they aren't stars.

Chris' answer to why anybody would complain about the vicious dog-eat-dog world of the arts is: "You're just jealous because you aren't a star."

Well, how would he respond to a critic of union organizing who said: "You bastards are just jealous of the CEO for being such a star. If you want the kind of money and stature he's got, quit bitching and become a CEO."

I don't have the answers to any of these questions, and I generally accept the world as it is. But I am constantly perplexed by how eager artists are to change the world, and how little interest they have in changing the exploitive, destructive world of the arts.

Can anybody say "projection?"

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on June 19, 2008 10:47 AM

I have thought of modelling penises using human faecal matter. I thought I'd call it Turdogeniture. May I have a prize, please?

Posted by: dearieme on June 19, 2008 3:40 PM

Ah, Shouting Thomas is at it again. Putting some words in my mouth while misinterpreting other words that I did offer.

I can, and have, engaged in plenty of discussions about some of the inequities in the art world. Although I will admit that those bitch sessions are more likely to be about the way certain collectors will buy up an artist's work cheap, then flip them to fellow collectors, ratcheting the price up without the artist ever getting any of the benefit.

I know a lot of artists and virtually none worthy of the name "want the state to pay them for work that the market will not pay for." This is a tired and boring stereotype based on a very small handful of artists. Even those artists who do devote a fair amount of energy to seeking grant funding for various projects rarely do better than breaking even if they DO get funded. Most artists are hard working and entrepreneurial. Hey, one of my client artists just shelled out in the low five figures to produce a catalog for an important upcoming show because his gallery didn't want to spend the dough. Similar to the way record labels make musicians pay or "front" the money for recordings that have to be paid back before the musicians see any cash flow from their efforts.

The differential between the CEO and the bottom rung in corporations has expanded dramatically over the past three decades. Have a little fun Googling "CEO worker wage differential" and you'll quickly find tidbits like this from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review site.

No less an authority than billionaire investor Warren Buffett, known for his investment mastery through his investment vehicle, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., calls the current high level of executive compensation "ridiculous."

• In 1960, studies found for every $1 the average worker was paid, the average CEO whose company was among the Standard & Poor's 500 garnered $41.

• Last year, the ratio jumped tenfold: For every dollar the average worker made, the average S&P 500 CEO made $411.

Just for yucks, take a look at the Forbes 400 list. Here's an introduction to this year's ranking from the Forbes web site.

One billion dollars is no longer enough. The price of admission to this, the 25th anniversary edition of the Forbes 400, is $1.3 billion, up $300 million from last year. The collective net worth of the nation's mightiest plutocrats rose $290 billion to $1.54 trillion.

Wall Street led the charge, despite this summer's market jitters. Nearly half of the 45 new members made their fortunes in hedge funds and private equity. Money manager John Paulson joins the list after pocketing more than $1 billion short-selling subprime credit this summer.

Now, the closest you'll find to an artist on this list are George Lucas (#86, $3.9 B based largely on his Star Wars franchise) and Steven Spielberg (#117, $3 B based on his movies). There are the owners of the NE Patriots and Dallas Cowboys, no sign of any players though. And there are a few media players like David Geffen and Roy Disney, but I don't think they count as artists either.

Now, we can play dueling anecdotes. ST works for a CEO who is a great guy who pulled him through a tough time because he cares. And ST knows some star musicians who are nasty and exploitive of their employees and backup musicians. As it happens, so do I. I work for an art collector who owns a company and is much revered by his employees for all the right reasons. He cares and makes sure every worker in the company benefits from the good years and is cushioned from the worst of the bad years. And I know musicians and studio assistants who have horror stories about certain well-known musicians and artists as employers. Just as I've known some exploitive pond scum executives and some well-known artists and musicians who are salt of the earth and treat everyone they deal with well. What's the point?

Posted by: Chris White on June 19, 2008 5:46 PM

Chris, you are more in agreement with me than you think. You carry the traditional animus against business of the leftist, and so you've applied a different standard to the businessman.

The CEO of that firm I worked for managed a business that undoubtedly took in revenues at least 1000 times the revenues of the art businesses you know. I'm just estimating, but I'll bet I'm right. My CEO managed a worldwide conglomerate than employed tens of thousands of people.

Your argument was that Dylan deserves what he makes because of the value he creates, if I understood you correctly.

I held your views about businessmen until I met my friend, the CEO. One part of my story that you missed is that he created enormous value within his business. By turning around the attitude of employees who had seen the company as a milk cow, he dramatically increased the revenues and profitability of that company... and preserved jobs.

He earned every penny he made, in my opinion.

I don't know if every CEO performs in this fashion. But I certainly had my mind changed by witnessing close up just how important to the value of a corporation is the performance of the guy at the top. The skills needed to manage a mammoth international conglomerate are far different than those needed to manage almost any other business.

My remarks about artists who want to feed at the public trough were directed to the examples Donald listed in this posting. I am more sympathetic to artists who accept the judgment of the market. In fact, the music business is capitalism at its rawest. I certainly admire those people who can survive in one of the most brutal jungles you can imagine.

My point is that people who are in those raw capitalist zones of the arts tend to project their circumstances onto the world at large. As I said, when I hear musicians bitching about how awful and brutal the world is, I know that they are really talking about the music business. To repeat, I think that if they want to change the world, they might start at home. Or else, as you say, maybe its all just bullshitting.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on June 19, 2008 6:57 PM

Art In America is a strange mixture of PC crap and some really discerning in depth jargon free articles about individual artists.
Just thought I should say something in its defense. I'm not a regular reader but have, on occasion, read some first rate stuff there.

Posted by: ricpic on June 19, 2008 10:50 PM

You are kidding, aren't you, Donald?


We don't need any barbarian invasions. We grow our own.

Posted by: Rick Darby on June 20, 2008 12:59 PM

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