Apologies for art

Someone needs to apologize. I mean it. Because its clear that things aren’t going smoothly and someone’s obviously to blame. The works are gummed up and the sheets are soiled. Some miscreant has just tracked mud through the clean kitchen floor. And if we ask the folks who are in charge its quite obvious who the guilty are. Just look at this list of complaints that galleries have about artists. How much inconsiderate behavior are galleries supposed to put up with, really? (From an online e-course designed to straighten artists out)

The 6 Most Common Mistakes Artists Make When Approaching Galleries

Mistake #1: Presenting an inconsistent body of work.

Mistake #2: Producing insufficient work to sustain gallery sales.

Mistake #3: Delivering a portfolio in a format inconvenient for gallery review.

Mistake #4: Lacking confidence and consistency in pricing.

Mistake #5: Approaching the wrong galleries.

Mistake #6: Submitting art through the wrong channels.

Well, well, well…. Isn’t that just horrifying?

Its simply galling what artists try to get away with! Stubborn willful artists simply can’t be trusted to play by the rules. Don’t they know that doing things ‘the right way’ is for their own good? They get it wrong and spoil it for the rest of us. How utterly selfish! Just think of the mind numbing back breaking inconvenience to those kindly angelic gallery owners. Its a wonder most galleries are content to only take 50% of sales and not more, just for the sake of principle.

If artists are responsibly adult enough about it they had better get down on their knees and apologize. Beg forgiveness for the inconvenience they cause. Its simply unconscionable that artists try pulling a fast one and do things the way they want. Without any consideration or sensitivity to the difficulty this causes the galleries! As if artists are entitled to some say. As if what they wanted actually mattered. Preposterous! Oh the temerity of it!

So there’s a system in place. If you want to play the game these are the rules. Is that so hard to understand? There are no other rules. There is no other game. If you don’t want to play you can pack up your toys and run home to your mommy and have a good cry. “Poor me! Nobody understands me!” Boo hoo…….

One of the biggest offenses in recent times has been artists trying to pedal pots as legitimate art. What are they thinking?! Isn’t it obvious that pottery is NOT art? Just look at it. I mean, its three dimensional but its not sculptural. And if its got an interesting surface its still not as important as something like painting. Even if the pots were painted on isn’t it obvious that pots are not paintings? Sure, paint murals on the walls of buildings, scraps of tin, old boards and newsprint. Those are things we properly revere and shine the limelight on. Just don’t think that you can do something ‘interesting’ on the side of a pot and call it “Art”…….

I mean, we can’t sell mugs in Art galleries. Galleries have to pay the bills, don’t they? Selling mugs hardly supports the Art business. You’d have to sell two-hundred and twenty-five $40 mugs just to cover one of these $9,000 sculptures.

Dan McCarthy’s untitled “face pots”, numbers 56 and 78, 2013 and 2014 respectively, at Anton Kern (2.1/J10)

Dan McCarthy’s untitled “face pots”, numbers 56 and 78, 2013 and 2014 respectively, at Anton Kern (2.1/J10)

Thank the heavenly muses that these are not ordinary pots! I mean, they might look like pots, but the price tag alone should tell you that the right people have seen it and determined that this is art and not pottery. If someone stuck some dried flowers in one of these the price would simply plummet. People would be confused. “Is it art? Or am I supposed to use it as an ashtray?” It would be like using the Mona Lisa as a placemat at Wendy’s. You just don’t make art work. Its not supposed to do anything. And for too long ceramic sculpture has been tainted by its associations with sweaty humble usable pots. Thankfully, as Alison Jacques (owner of the Alison Jacques Gallery) says, “Ceramic was once seen as pottery. Now it’s contemporary art.” Praise be! Glad we cleared that up.

Isn’t it obvious why mere pottery is inferior to these magnificent and engaging, erm… sculptures? No collector in their right mind would be willing to get saddled with a few dozen of even the finest mugs (let alone several hundred) if they can get their hands on one of these superlative creations instead. And its the gallery owner’s business to tell them that. For their own good. Sometimes these collectors don’t know what they are looking at so you have to lead them through the different things to care about. Pottery? Blah. Seen it all before. Not interested. There is nothing much about pots to draw the attention of Art galleries. If you could pay them to be interested that would be another matter…..

But pots don’t sell for much. Why would they? 50% 0f $40 simply isn’t enough for the time it would take to argue a mug’s worth to some collector. Galleries actually lose money selling pots….. One 4′ x 6′ panel on a wall is more profitable with a painting in it than 12,000 square feet of gallery space crammed with pedestals filled with pots. Think about it. What Art gallery in their right mind would show pots when they could slap a few paintings on the wall and a few sculptures on pedestals?

Dead artists, on the other hand, are always a potential for vogue, and even dead potters can take on a relative sheen of glamour. That’s it, potters! Hurry up and die. We’ll make you famous then! Wink wink! Six feet of cold hard earth is just about the only thing that can enhance the reputation of potters in an Art market…..

So either get out your hankies and have a good cry or make something other than pottery. And if you are stuck on making pots just know that your stubborn refusal to bow down to the way the Art game is played is insulting to the folks who are in charge. It questions their authority and pretends they don’t know what they are talking about. If you are a potter or some other misbehaving artist you had better apologize and make things right. Make the right things, in other words…. Don’t you feel better now? You can dust off your knees. Lets hope that didn’t hurt too much.


I hope everyone knows this is a parody of how serious the art industry sometimes genuinely seems to take itself. Some gallerists actually are angelic, and not every gallery scoffs at pots. There is a pervasive mythology, however, and the unwitting can often be easily seduced by it. Galleries themselves often align on either side of the perceived division between ‘Art’ and pottery. Keeping these things distinct in space only perpetuates keeping them distinct in our minds.

But if the world is slowly changing artists and potters in particular need to learn to stick up for themselves. Its too often accepted that we will simply bow down to the browbeatings we receive against our self interest and the interest of our art. We often behave like the victims of kidnappings who develop sympathetic and protective feelings for their captors, a twisted art version of the Stockholm Syndrome. If anyone needs to apologize for the way things stand I’m not so sure its artists.

Its almost like we were involved in a mugging and are being blamed for the inconvenience we give to the muggers…. We’ve got what they want, or if we don’t we’d better get our sh-t together. That’s the way this game seems to work. And artists are often eager to play because they don’t know any better. We can’t see outside the cage that has been constructed for us. And artists see the few examples who have made it, scored the big pay out. Is it any wonder poor artists want the big score too?

But the system is rigged. If reputation is what sells not everyone can be put forth as deserving. Its not and never will be a level playing field as things stand. But artists persist in this wishful thinking. Its almost like poor people voting for tax cuts to the rich because they hold the dream of one day owning the big mansions and fancy cars….. Its this dream that helps struggling artists line up for their institutional beatings and suffer the indignities with hardly a complaint.

That seems worth thinking about: If the system itself is corrupt, unfairly biased, or disadvantageous to all but a few, who exactly is it that needs to apologize? The 99% or the 1%?

Peace all!

Make beauty real! (Only you can)


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Ceramics, Clay, Creative industry, Creativity, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Apologies for art

  1. Meg says:

    Amen, thanks Carter. Have to wonder though whether the price we put on our pots, which is almost universally terribly low relative to the actual value of our work, isn’t just a symptom of our apologetic victim status. This would be self perpetuating of course.

    • Sounds right to me. The complication is also that many artists do sell their work but are uncomfortable thinking about it as a ‘job’. Did you read my post about what makes art entrepreneurial and what doesn’t? The idea that many of us have a similar experience with our art as we do with other intimate expressions of ourselves just muddies the water too much to expect simple solutions. One problem I see is that we accept the model of the art marketplace as the default system of valuation. That’s a habit I am hoping we can break. For society to truly value art we must break the connection of what art is worth in the marketplace to what it can be valued for in a human life. Art’s highest value is not an investment for the super rich…..

  2. This is what things look like when the sharks start to circle and Art becomes an investment plaything of the super rich:

    “So is the estimated £9m value of Doig’s painting justifiable, and on what grounds? Most of us would say that such a large sum of money for a living artist doesn’t make sense, but then again most of us don’t have this amount of money lying around to be spent on art. This year’s Forbes rich list presented 1,645 billionaires with an aggregate net worth of $6.4 trillion (£3.8 trillion), up from $5.4 trillion (£3.1 trillion) a year ago. Many of these billionaires are big art buyers, such as Eli Broad, Steve Cohen, S.I Newhouse, Ronald Lauder and François Pinault, just to mention a handful of names. The prices of contemporary art at the very top end of the market have to be seen as relative to the spending power of the increasing number of ultra-wealthy individuals involved in the art market. It takes only a tiny percentage of this population’s wealth to have a dramatic impact on the art market, i.e. if the world’s billionaires alone decided to spend 0.1 per cent of their wealth on art, this would add $6.4bn to the art market.

    But what attracts these people to the art market in the first place? One aspect is that the art market, particularly contemporary art, has become a glamorous social scene mixing art with the world of celebrity, fashion and luxury goods. It’s a market that can create and enhance your social status, but there are also financial reasons for investing in art, and certain parts of the contemporary art market have done particularly well since the financial crisis in 2008. Although one would expect an influx of art investment funds on the back of the boom, this market remains relatively small, with assets under management worth around $1.62bn (£9m) in 2012 according to the Art & Finance Report 2013 produced by Deloitte and ArtTactic. This suggests that the majority of investments in art are direct and made by individuals, rather than institutional investors. According to the same report, more than 40 per cent of the collectors surveyed said that they were buying art for portfolio diversification purposes, with a clear intention to protect or enhance the value of their overall asset portfolio.

    Although, art as an investment is nothing new, the increasing demand and awareness for the subject has been raised to new levels on the back of growing media interest, increasing transparency and dissemination of art market data and information, as well as an increasing number of conferences and seminars on the topic of art as an investment. If we combine this with an expanding global art infrastructure of museums, art fairs, auctions, galleries and online market places, the result has been a new generation of buyers who are shifting their motivations for purchasing art beyond the decorative, towards art as a possible investment and something that can be resold for a profit.”

    Posted in the Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/culture/barnebys-auctions/10915104/Booming-art-markets.html The art marketplace tail is truly wagging the art/artist dog…….

    • More from that article:

      Is there a concept of “fair” value for a work of art, which is different from the value observed in the market place? Or is the fair value what someone is prepared to pay? Most people would agree that the economic value of an artwork is intrinsically linked to the reputation and importance of the artist, and what role the artist plays in a historical context. So a blue-period Picasso, such as “Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto” (1903), which sold for £34.8m through Christie’s in June 2010, might be considered a “fair” price as it’s intrinsically linked to the rarity of these objects in the market and the importance of Pablo Picasso in terms of defining our modern art history. But can we, with the same certainty, say the same about the value of Doig’s painting coming up for auction later this month? The work was created in 1999, so is only 15 years old, and although considered an important piece by some experts in the market, do we really have enough historical distance to be able to attach such a high valuation to these kinds of contemporary works? Whilst fundamentals in the historical art categories (deceased artists) is largely a function of rarity and historical importance, the fundamentals in the contemporary art market is more linked to fashion, taste, expectations and perception of what certain tastemakers in the market believe is going to be valuable in the future, not far away from the valuations attached to certain technology start-ups that may or may not succeed in the future.

    • So why shouldn’t a Doig painting sell for 9m Euros? Why shouldn’t this great painter get paid for what he does on a scale that doesn’t even come close to what sports stars or movie starts make. And if good art has real intrinsic value and if people are smart enough to want to pay money for that intrinsic value then resale value is part of the deal. Everything else in our world has resale value.
      I get that it’s gaudy and that some buyers don’t really know what they are looking at. But stupidity exists with all kinds of buying, from cars to groceries to even art. And I get that this uber wealthy is hurting art institutions in that the wealthy end up out bidding museums for their collections. But too often this kind of media reporting(and there has been a wave of these types of articles about the big bad 1% art world) ends up picking at the artists and the art itself in derogatory means. That’s not fair and it doesn’t end up helping the plight of anyone who is involved in the arts or crafts.

  3. Carter,
    I think your parody is misleading. First off, if you want to be successful as a artist or a functional potter you have to do you homework. It doesn’t do me any good to take my landscape paintings into a craft gallery. Most good galleries have a particular focus. They have identified a customer base and have developed a program geared toward that group. A bad gallery has a little bit of everything hoping that someone will walk in the door. So I always recommend my students do their homework. Find out what is the program of the gallery and focus on galleries that deal in the type of work you make.

    As to that age old gripe that some clay people have about Art, I suggest to get over it. I have a MFA in clay and I know work in the fine art world. Fine art does not have the same intentions or focus or even purpose that functional pottery has. There are some wonderful artistic aspect to a great functional mug. And there is a goodly amount of craft that goes into making a painting. But the two things are NOT the same thing. I’m not saying one is any better than the other, just that they have different intentions and purposes.

    So i suggest that the system isn’t “rigged”. It’s not even one system. All the hullabaloo over the 1% uber rich galleries ( and it is a hullabaloo) is only a slice of a much bigger art world. And being an artist or even a functional potter isn’t democratic.

  4. Scott Cooper says:

    “That’s it, potters! Hurry up and die.”
    So great.

  5. Stephen says:

    The question was posed on a widely read board not long ago asking those that frequent the board if they considered themselves an artist, a craftsperson, a potter etc. and almost all that took the time to reply said ‘artist’ quite forcefully.

    This struck me as odd at the time because this is the main board I frequent and had formed an opinion that almost all of the regulars make functional ware and, from their post anyway, it seemed to me that they made functional ware almost exclusively.

    So is handmade functional ware art?

    For years we had a beautiful salt fired pitcher on our mantel. When asked about it we always responded that it was made by a local ‘potter’. When it was bought it was really bought as more of an art object since it was more expensive than we would have spent, at the time, on functional ware.

    A few years ago we started using it as it was intended, just a pitcher. So this guy used to be an artist and now he’s just a potter, sigh.

    • I think the way a question like that gets phrased matters. If you have to choose between different alternatives it can seem as though the choices are mutually exclusive.

      Instead I’d argue that there are so many ways of being an artist that you’d have to say that a painter is one kind, a potter another, a jeweler yet a different sort, and on down the list of creative activities some of which we might not yet even have put names on. “Art” as many folks use it is a catch-all word for a variety of activities and perspectives on the world. It shares a ‘family resemblance between uses (as Wittgenstein might have put it) rather than anything fundamental. You can use that word liberally or conservatively.. You can be embracing and inclusive or restrictive and protective of where it gets applied. Using the word becomes an exercise in politics.

      The ones invested in discriminating against the ‘have nots’ of a definition of the arts try to just pin down ‘art’ as only a few of these activities. They try to promote what they themselves are doing as somehow ‘special’ by contrast. How utterly self-serving! How boorish! And you can see that their defense of this idea is entirely wrapped up in and justified by their own profit and sense of personal value. As if the natural order of the world was handed down and they wound up on top as winners (as they somehow deserve) and the rest of the ‘losers’ had better just get used to feeding off the bottom…… Equality is as foreign to their minds as the possibility that other points of view have anything worth sharing. As if their own special status only suffers the more other things are seen to also be ‘special’. As if only their own prejudices mattered. “Its not a Democracy” until you start taking away their perks. As long as they are in control they can justify the uneven distribution of resources. It serves them to have more than their ‘fair’ (equitable) share of opportunities and greater access to the food trough and chow wagon. And as long as they are in charge you had better believe they are going to hold onto their privilege.

      The story of your pitcher points out exactly how these divisions play out. The important stuff we’d like to call “art”, but when it loses that lofty status it becomes just a pot. How amusingly arbitrary! Same object, different way of looking at it. The problem isn’t the objects themselves as much as that we have been conditioned to think about them in certain institutionally approved ways. And once you see that the way of dividing the world puts ‘artists’ as winners and ‘potters’ as losers you can’t help bur question why you are being made to sit at the back of the bus if you are a potter. If you are a painter, say, you might actually defend your right to sit at the front of the bus. Sharing the best seats may not be perceived to be in your best interest….. If the status quo benefits you you defend it. If control starts to slip from your clenched cheeks you get nervous and throw stones at the barbarians sitting outside the gates. Its sort of amusing watching them flail about, but unfortunately there is still too much damage being done by their politics of privilege. The vestiges of these institutions still carry far too much weight………

      Thanks for chiming in Stephen! And thanks for your story!

      • Stephen says:

        Hi Carter,

        Well I was being facetious, we love the pitcher and a few years ago made a decision to start using the functional pottery we had on display in our home and enjoy it every day as we perceive the potter we bought it from originally intended. But we are potters (well the other half is and I’m working on it 🙂 so we of course appreciate it for what it is, both on the mantle and on the table. To us it is a work of art. I do however completely understand why it would not be in a fine art gallery. I truly doubt the potter in question would feel slighted by this distinction and this particular potter may well have fine art pieces in galleries, I simply don’t know, but I’m fairly sure this pitcher was made for daily use and not to be displayed as fine art.

        I’m not sure I can totally get your outrage? Are you outraged? It seems many skilled potters have moved in fine art circles, even of the elite, if that was their desire. I think Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner and several of their elk are good examples of skilled potters whose works tilted toward fine art as their careers progressed as potters, educators and artist. They were very instrumental in opening many doors for those that have come since and want to be part of the fine art world. I don’t however think the artist you mentioned in your post, Dan McCarthy, is a potter but rather he is an artist that works in multiple mediums and clay is one of them. To compare his work to potters that make mugs, pitchers and plates seems confusing. The artistic work of all of these gentlemen may well be of equal stature but the back story is different and certainly the intent of functional ware is not to be displayed in a gallery but to be a prized possession in ones home, in the kitchen or spread out on the dinner table. I do think that people that buy handmade pottery from local potters at a much higher price than mass produced alternatives do so because they consider the pots to be better, more artistic and more often than not they also like to support local artisans. I don’t cringe at the word ‘artisan’, I am not an artist and don’t aspire to be one. I respect those that do but it is not something I personally seek so it is entirely possible that I simply don’t walk in your shoes and thus do not feel the frustration. I love your work and because of the artistic and whimsical nature of what I’ve seen I have assumed you produce functional pottery AND fine art pieces so have thought of you as BOTH an artist and a potter 😉

        The two terms can be mutually exclusive for some of us.

        • Yeah, I DO get carried away at times, and it felt like the time for a little spleen venting. Sorry it came out in response to your statement!!!!

          I did see the humor in your tale, and I never felt you were disrespecting the pot. I do think you are right that it DOES make sense to look at things differently depending on the circumstances, but I do get tired of having to defend things like pottery from an institutional prejudice against them. When I was in school folks were still battling the question “Is it art or is it craft?” and it only seems like the potters in the discussion have capitulated. For no good reason that I can see. They appear to have given up more than they lost the discussion. The odds really are stacked against potters having their voices heard in some quarters……

          But this question only underlies a more systematic discrimination that I was already very aware of. The school I went to was a good introduction to what sorts of things can go wrong under the influence of these sorts of bias. I took my first classes from Ron Meyers, and soon after he retired without having been made a full professor. That stuck in his craw and its still inexplicable to me from a perspective of what was deserved and his quality as an artist. As I continued to take classes it became increasingly clear that without Ron there to defend pottery things were going in a different direction. At the expense of pottery. By diminishing and disrespecting the value of pottery. How could you be a potter and not feel slighted by that? Why would a potter not be outraged?

          So in grad school it was actually made clear that pots were an inferior and inappropriate artistic expression. I was actually persuaded not to make pots for almost a year. But imagining myself a student who was there to learn I went with it. The problem is that you see potters enter the institution and leave doing something else. And years after I had graduated it started to look as if I would be the last potter they actually admitted. Which only has the consequence that the folks teaching pottery to the undergrads are neither experienced potters or invested in the process. How does the next generation learn pottery if there are no potters teaching it? If the message ends up being that its not worth doing, or that pottery isn’t a good value for your education how does this influence things on down the line?

          I am perhaps sensitive to the issue of discrimination. Its easy to overlook if you are not being harmed by it or if you don’t know any better. We grow up with insidious prejudices just as part of our upbringing, and its important to recognize when diversity is less meaningful than what draws us together. I don’t have a problem with not calling pots art (as long as they are being respected appropriately), but I do resent the idea that the necessary fallout from this is that pots are less meaningful and less deserving, a lesser thing in themselves. That almost seems to be universally implied in the institutional perspective. You mention Voulkos. How long did it take for him to quit making functional pots and start exploding things in his kiln? What was the pressure that told him it was no longer alright to be making pots? That if he continued to make pots he would be irrelevant? How is this not the same sort of discrimination that in other circumstances marks out some people as inferior to others? Makes them sit at the back of the bus?

          The one real sticking point I have with what you say is that the intent is what matters. If that is true then literally anything can go in a fine art gallery, as long as you have that intention. A piece of toilet paper is as worthy as a Picasso. Intention only gets us so far. Intention is a slippery customer that doesn’t play by the rules. I can intend things that will never come true. My intentions can be pure fantasy and delusion. If that’s the stuff that marks out one thing as art and others as not art then we have a problem. Every addict knows that the intention to quit isn’t the same thing as quitting. The intention is nothing special by itself. And we can change our intentions on a dime. Or later in life. I heard that line about intentions somewhere recently and I was shocked that it could be that simple. If anything, simply having the intentions for art opens the door even more than it closes it. Its not as if the gatekeepers are checking peoples’ intentions at the door…….

          Which says nothing about serendipity and exploration. The intention there being to simply see what happens. When asked where his ideas come from Picasso famously responded “I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.”

          Don’t make intentions out to be anything grand or celestial. They are not the saving grace of art anymore than they are the saving grace of addicts. Or so it seems to me…….

          Damn! Sorry if I’m ranting again…… I hope you see that some folks truly are p-ssed off by the way things have fallen out. The fact that some potters simply shun the art world is just a measure of how fed up they are or how excluded they feel themselves to be. And if you can straddle the lines and play both games, good luck to you! Dan McCarthy not being a potter but making $9000 clay vases is just symptomatic of the lack of respect that actual potters get. Of all the potters I personally know there isn’t a single one who has sold a pot for anything close to that. What makes McCarthy’s vases so expensive, I wonder? Respect as an ‘artist’?

          Oops! gotta stop rambling! USA Germany is on! Time to run down to the pub!

        • Stephen says:

          Some great points and I love it when you get carried away, almost always gives me plenty to think about. After reading your response I do see how artist like yourself are tired of the overall attitude of pots somehow being less and that as a potter you must change and conform to be taken seriously as an artist. It’s artist like yourself that will cause change by balking at the status quo and having the discussion in the first place.

          I guess I didn’t really see it because I (and most people in my life space) have such a high regard for potters and although I guess I do normally view potters as artisans I didn’t/don’t see potters as less but rather different and to be honest in a little higher regard. I just assumed that most of the noted artist that work in clay as a medium but can’t throw are naturally jealous of a potter that can do what they do AND throw a beautiful coffee mug 🙂

  6. This is related, so I’m going to repost the entire essay. Its from the amazing Arlene Goldbard’s blog, just posted today:

    Here We Go Again: Cultural Equity in San Francisco
    Home » Arlene’s Blog » A Cultural Lens » Here We Go Again: Cultural Equity in San Francisco

    An enduring pattern has been inscribed on the struggle for cultural equity in this country. Those who get the biggest share of funding—them that’s got, as Billie Holiday put it—pay lip-service to fairness for those who get crumbs—them that’s not. But lip-service is generally the only currency they are willing to shell out. The haves counsel patience: Show up as members of the team, they say. Be part of the united front at budget hearings, go along with our program, and you’ll get your reward by and by.

    In San Francisco, people are tired of waiting. In March, the Budget Analyst’s Office released a study on allocations by Grants for the Arts (funded from San Francisco’s hotel tax revenues) to diverse arts organizations—those serving primarily people of color, ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. The findings show that the proportion of funding to these groups has remained steady for 25 years. For example, an average of 23 percent of the pie has gone to people of color (who now make up 58 percent of the city’s population, a figure that has been rising steadily since Grants for the Arts was first created), and 77 percent to largely white organizations.

    The city has been promising to address this situation for a long time, but the numbers make it clear that they were more interested in paying lip-service than dollars. Now, advocates for cultural equity have urged the city’s Board of Supervisors to add a million dollars to the Arts Commission’s Cultural Equity Grants funding pool, created to channel support to the same communities repeatedly short-shrifted by Grants for the Arts. If overall funding won’t increase by that much, some say, shift it from Grants to the Arts, which has consistently failed to rise to equity.

    In the larger economic scheme of things, those who benefit from the current division of resources typically denounce any critique or counter-proposal as “class warfare,” as hi-tech mogul Tom Perkins has been doing in his recent outcries of “war on the one percent,” sometimes equating it to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews. (Listen to a slightly toned-down Commonwealth Club version.)

    Here, too, breaking ranks with the privileged was perceived as a huge violation of The Tacit Agreement (just play nice, go along with the way things are and—honestly, we promise—things will get better down the road), triggering an outraged response from the beneficiaries of the status quo via an advocacy group called Arts Town Hall. “Pitting arts organizations and City agencies against each other won’t help solve our bigger problems,” they wrote. “We need to work together to find more resources for cultural equity grants—not cut funding for the arts to fund them.” They were so outraged, apparently, that they never considered how offensive it would be to refer to these advocates of color, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ artists as members of a “fringe”:

    We write to strongly urge you to increase funding for the arts, specifically cultural equity programs. We do not support a divisive and damaging proposal being advanced by fringe members of the arts community that would cut funds from the arts in order to fund the arts.

    At the end of 2011, I wrote about an attempt to cut Cultural Equity Grants (“Utterly Clueless: Cultural Policy San Francisco-Style”), contextualizing it with many of these same cultural policy issues, which despite San Francisco’s self-proclamation of diversity and progressive values, seem never to be seriously addressed. I’d like to say that things have greatly improved so that what I said two and a half years ago had become obsolete, but sadly, I cannot.

    What I can offer is a practical suggestion. If it sounds far-out, I suggest you stop a moment to consider how much you may have internalized the view of the doable promoted by status-quo beneficiaries, a view that exists precisely to reinforce their right to say what can and should be done. (It might help to read Maria X Martinez’s elegant post called “Grants for the Restaurants” at the Cultural Equity Matters blog site, which site also features much of the relevant material.)

    A Practical Suggestion: Pay Your Debts. Arts advocates who receive the most municipal funding and lead mainstream advocacy efforts have been talking about cultural equity forever, all the while urging the communities that benefit least from the status quo to keep showing up without much to show for it. Now’s the time to pay off. If the pie isn’t going to get bigger right now, voluntarily surrender part of your slice for Cultural Equity Grants. Go personally to your contacts on red-carpet organizations’ boards and get them to meet with Supervisors and stake their political capital on a significant increase earmarked to support cultural equity. Team up with other beneficiaries for the status quo and send a major delegation to both the Supervisors and Grants for the Arts, demanding equity even at a cost to your own funding.

    If you don’t like pitting arts organizations against each other, stop doing it: line up on the side of right.

    You will find links to and summaries of much of the pertinent material at Barry Hessenius’s recent blog covering this story. He predicts this scenario:

    “Demand for equity by the multicultural communities will inevitably grow and put pressure on all funders—and a more equitable distribution of funds will likely mean less funding for the current recipients (it will have to come from somewhere). I think the days when multicultural arts support is its own “special” category are numbered, and the former majority cultural community—at least in certain urban areas, if not everywhere—will find its preferred status over. And as costs of doing business for arts organizations escalate, income decreases and shifts (funding, foundations, other philanthropic support and audiences), we are likely to see more closures and failures by organizations who will become economically nonviable. And all the improvement in our business skills won’t likely be enough to “market” our way out of this reality without substantial government support—and that seem problematic at best. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

  7. More from my inbox this morning. Julian Baginni:

    “René Descartes was a famously clever chap. Yet it wasn’t until he left his native France that he realised that “those who have views very different from our own are not therefore barbarians or savages, but several use as much reason as we do, or more”. In a passage of staggering sub-gap-year naivety, the 17th-century rationalist recounts how he came to realise that someone “raised from his infancy on among the French or the Germans, would become different from what he would have been if he had always lived among the Chinese or the cannibals”. Who would have thought it?

    This little footnote in the history of ideas is as good an example as any of how travel can broaden the most expansive mind, even if it doesn’t always do so. The problem is that with greater breadth can come greater shallowness. This can be the result of misunderstanding another lesson Descartes learnt, that “we are clearly persuaded more by custom and example than by any certain knowledge”.

    If we become too impressed by this fact, it is easy to conclude that there is no such thing as morality, merely convention. And if we do that, laudable cosmopolitan pluralism can become amoral permissiveness. Sex tourists convince themselves that underage prostitution in southeast Asia is “just what they do”, while driving a hard bargain with someone struggling to feed her family is simply following the local bartering customs.

    What cultural differences should teach us is not to take all values as equal but, as Descartes saw, “not to believe too firmly in anything which I had been persuaded to believe merely by example and by custom”. Rather than becoming credulous about other cultures, we should learn to be more sceptical of our own. This is something travellers often fail to do but, again, Descartes identified the source of the error: “When one spends too much time travelling, one finally becomes a stranger in one’s own country, and when one is too curious about things which went on in past ages, one usually lives in considerable ignorance about what goes on in this one.”

  8. From the Financial Times:

    “The fair craze could be said to have introduced a kind of panic buying among the super-rich…… but has also turned contemporary art into a spectator sport and fashion accessory. Art advisors shop for their clients from a list of must-have names while art funds trumpet the rates of return to be made from investing in the artists du jour.

    ….less happy is the development of sites such as ArtRank, in which artists are brutally listed under headings that include “buy now”, “sell now” and “liquidate” if their stock has considered to have peaked. Not much room for aesthetic values there.”

  9. Typology of Nubian bowls. 3000-1550BC. Collection of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston.

  10. Garth Clark tells it like it is:

    “You don’t sell dinnerware in a New York gallery, unless its by a very famous person for an unreasonable sum of money”

    Tales of a Red Clay Rambler interview 36:30

  11. More Garth:

    “We loved to hear what it was like running a gallery in 1950. And they said to us,”You know, in the 50’s ceramics got the nickname ‘Terraworthless’ because it didn’t matter who made it, it could be Picasso, it could be Miro, you couldn’t sell the damn stuff. And eventually it just made it further, further, and further back into your closets until you forgot you even had it.”” Tales of a Red Clay Rambler 43:20

    Witness the frustration of the gallerist that the usual link between who made a thing and what it can be sold for didn’t hold true any longer. These two values being supreme in the art market, but also typically reinforcing one another. Forget about the art itself…… ‘Ceramics’ became a dirty word. That’s the world we live in, right? Any denying that these dynamics tend to rule some of our opportunities?

  12. YANSS Podcast 029 – How labels affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with Adam Alter

    “I did something this week that I’m sure many people secretly do every day. I stopped, talked to myself for a moment, and checked to see how much slack was in the leash I keep on my tongue.

    I was reminded that I need to do that from time to time, or at least I believe that I do, by a bit of news that was passed around for a few days this week. The reports said that one of the government’s most prestigious energy laboratories was working to eradicate the Southern accent – not from the planet, mind you, just from employees who had requested the service.

    The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a place where Nobel laureates hang out. It’s a place where thousands of scientists work daily trying to solve some of the world’s most serious problems. It has, according to the website, a $1.46 billion annual budget. This week, NPR reported that the Tennessee laboratory swiftly canceled its plans to hold a six-week course aimed at reducing the Southern drawl among employees. They explained to reporters that the course was created at the request of employees, not the lab, and that it was also shot down by other employees who found the idea offensive.

    I learned through this reporting that there are professional twang assassins who go around to businesses and large organizations like this one helping people neutralize and flatten their native lilts and inflections. Not just the Southern accent either, if your organization is chugging along thanks to regional dialects weighted down with negative associations, professionals can help rid you of that baggage.

    I have to admit, it bothers me that brilliant scientists would be self-conscious about droppin’ the letter g, and leaving behind a trail of y’alls during lectures about spallation neutron sources and high flux isotope reactors. But, I get it. I feel for them. If I hadn’t spent so much time over the years working to flatten out my own Southern accent, and if I knew what a high flux isotope reactor was, I might consider taking that course.

    I don’t hate the Southern accent. I’m not ashamed of it. I share my motivations with Stephen Colbert who explained why he flattened out his tongue back in 2006 in an interview with 60 Minutes. When Morley Safer asked him why he didn’t sound like other people from South Carolina, Colbert said, “At a very young age, I decided I was not going have a southern accent. When I was a kid watching TV, if you wanted to use a shorthand that someone was stupid, you gave the character a Southern accent. Now that’s not true. Southern people aren’t stupid, but I didn’t want to seem stupid. I wanted to seem smart.”

    I want to seem smart too, or, at least, not dumb. That’s why I hide my accent and occasionally reel it back in when I notice it’s getting too frisky. The Southern accent tells people you are from the South, and being from the South labels you with an assortment of negative associations, and the associative architecture of memory causes people to involuntarily, unconsciously, invisibly change they way they think, feel, and behave once such a label worms its way into the brain.

    Consider these two phenomena – the Baker/baker paradox and the halo effect. The Baker/baker paradox describes how subjects in studies tend find it very difficult to remember last names like Farmer or Baker but find it very easy to remember that each person was a baker or a farmer. The last names are part of weak networks with few nodes while the professions are part of vast networks with constellations of nodes connected to ideas all over the mind. How many Farmers can you name? How many items can you name that you might find on a farm? The stronger the network, the easier it is to think about something, to remember it, and to feel whatever your culture and upbringing has primed you to feel about it. That’s why the halo effect is so powerful. In what is now known as The Hannah Study, subjects watched as a young girl answered a series of difficult questions correctly and a series of easy questions incorrectly. When asked to grade her performance as above or below average, the students were faced with ambiguity. They had to guess. Expecting this, scientists beforehand had shown half the students a video of Hannah playing in a posh, pristine playground, and the other half saw her playing in a fenced-in, overgrown schoolyard. The people who saw her in the nice neighborhood said she performed above average. The people who saw her playing in the bad neighborhood said she performed below average. The halos eliminated the ambiguity.

    We are each born labeled. In moments of ambiguity, those labels can become halos that change the way people make decisions about us. As a cognitive process, it is invisible, involuntary, and unconscious – and that’s why psychology is working so hard to understand it.

    Adam AlterOur guest for this episode is Adam Alter, a psychologist who studies marketing and communication, and his New York Times bestselling book is titled Drunk Tank Pink after the color used to paint the walls of police holding cells after research suggested it lessened the urge to fight. Alter’s book details the power of names, regions, accents, clothes, colors, skin tones, race and everything in between. Those things, he explains on the show, become symbols and labels, charged with meaning. Thanks to the networks they ping in our brains, labels and symbols, even colors, change the ways in which we think, feel and behave without us realizing it, he explains.”

  13. “The notion that I should be fine with the status quo even if I am not wholly affected by the status quo is repulsive.” Roxane Gay

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