Canadians Hate Artists

obama_hopeWell, not all Canadians hate artists, but there appear to be enough of them to make one wonder what it is that happened to these people to make them so afraid of artists and the art they create. Perhaps there is some deep-seated fear of artists from some childhood trauma that keeps them from appreciating what it is that Arts and Culture do for our world and for our economy.

I blame clowns.

Two recent CBC stories demonstrate a disdain for artists all too well. It’s not the stories themselves, specifically, but the comments posted in response to the stories.

Of course, it is important to remember than any time someone posts something on the Internet, they may or may not actually believe what it is that they are saying at the time. There’s a real possibility that they’re just “flaming” to get themselves some much needed attention. The other possibility is that this is the only forum for these people to be able to state their beliefs without anyone answering them to their faces, thereby avoiding the embarrassment that one would feel from having said something so incredibly stupid that at least one person within earshot would have no recourse but to say something about it.

The first is an article that states that, based on the 2006 census, artists outnumbered auto workers. Not only that, but they earned 37% less than the average Canadian worker and that number is falling.

One has to wonder why the author of the story singled out auto workers, but it does demonstrate a point: there are a lot of fucking artists in Canada and they make up enough of the work force that they can’t be ignored. With artists making much less than other Canadian workers, one has to wonder where our bailout money is. Our minority government is putting billions of dollars into the auto industry, while at the same time, they are cutting funding to artists. Makes one wonder, no? Or not, I suppose.

Of course, there will be those that would argue that artists don’t contribute to the world in the same way that auto workers do. This is, of course, true. It is highly unlikely that the art that is created in Canada each year will contribute to climate change, or create smog so thick that you have to be careful of how long you breathe in the air outside at certain times of the year.

That’s not to say that I’ve never owned a car, or have not ridden in one recently. We all need to get around somehow, so that’s all I’ll say.

It was the way that people chose to comment on this story that I found the most disturbing. Here are a couple of excerpts:

“Solution: Better art.”

Good point. Another solution might be to involve more people in the Arts and give them an understanding of why it is important so that more people will support the Arts. However, there are those that will never appreciate art, and that’s fine too. That’s not to say that there is some art that people won’t buy, just like there are some cars that people won’t buy.

“Get a real job and quit complaining. Why would you keep doing something that won’t pay the bills? Move on.”

Artists might complain, from time to time, about their lack of funds, but you’ll find that about 95% of the time, artists are just as pleased as punch to make any kind of living at all by being able to do something that they love. It seems like the person that wrote this post probably doesn’t really enjoy too much of their life, let alone the work that they do. By the same logic, we should not listen to the appeals of auto workers, or other sectors of industry that seem to complain a lot more about their wages than artists ever do. Perhaps it is that artists get to do something they love on a daily basis that keeps them from going on strike.

Artists don’t attempt to make a living at their craft because they want to. They do it because they have to. That is something that can not be explained to a person that has not experienced this kind of calling. That’s not a statement of elitism, it is merely saying that it is something that can not be quantified, in the same way that you can not explain why the sky is blue or how posi-traction on a ’69 Camaro works. Well, you get what I mean.

“So, artists are still getting better than minimum wage I figure. And these art councils are publicly funded. So… what’s the problem? Am I to feel all bad for them or something?”

It’s actually a small percentage of artists that get grant money. This post assumes that no artists actually make any money from the art that they produce and that they are all living on government handouts. While it’s true that artists do, from time to time, get grant money, the reality is that there is a hell of a lot more government funding going towards the auto industry and other sectors of the economy than to the Arts.

“Oh, and btw, if so many artists didn’t come off as elitist, misunderstood snobs, people might feel a tad more sympathetic to their struggles.”

I can sympathize with that statement to a certain degree, but those are attributes that people tend to assign to artists and this person would probably not have made a statement like that if the auto workers were attempting to defend themselves from the vast amount of disparaging comments made by people in this thread. My deepest apologies if I have come across as an elitist, misunderstood snob. Perhaps if I joined a Union and went on strike, I might be taken more seriously.

Next up is a CBC article about the arrest of Boston artist, Shepard Fairey, the man behind the already iconic Hope poster of Barack Obama. He was arrested by Boston police on his way to his first solo exhibition at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. The story itself is innocuous enough and merely recounts the events that led to the arrest of Fairey. The warrants are for misdemeanors in connection with graffiti art that has been linked to the artist.

What’s troubling is the comments that come below it. I’m not against people being charged with defacing public property and anyone that does such a thing in the name of real art knows that the time will come when it happens to them. I think it’s something that they all accept. However, it’s when we get comments like this that we see just how misunderstood an artist like Shepard Fairey actually is.

“Taggers are L-A-M-E. Too crippled to earn their own property to tag, they have to deface what others have worked for. Too cowardly to actually destroy the property, they just want to mark it as ‘owned’ by them, without actually working for it.f”

This person has completely missed the point of, not only the artist in question, but taggers in general. Taggers don’t tag property in an attempt to mark that property as their own, but to mark their territory. It should be said that about 99% of the tags that one sees these days are nothing more than middle class kids trying to be cool, but at one point, this did serve a very real purpose, criminal or not. Shepard Fairey is not a “tagger.” Calling him one is a bit like calling the Kronos Quartet buskers.

“The most MISSUSED, OVERUSED word in our world is ARTIST!”

I have to disagree. the most misused, overused word in our world is “Hope.” With people like you in our world, I have less and less of it every day.

“I am always amused by the supporters of ‘modern art’ who when a person says they don’t ‘understand modern art’ attack them as having no brain ie intelligence. Why does art have to be so obscure and to defy understanding? ”

I’m not sure that anything done by Shepard Fairey is obscure. Perhaps, if one opens one’s mind, one can come to grips with what the artist meant when they created it. That said, it really is up to the artists to do this in a way that makes people believe in them. That said, there will always be people that just want to complain about something. There will also be bullshit art, in the same way that there will always be another Edsel, or Isuzu Ascender.

To be fair, what Mr. Fairey did is obviously against the law. I don’t think anybody would claim otherwise. What is disturbing to me about the story is the timing of his arrest.

And, of course, what is most disturbing is the reactions of people to the story and the vitriol that they spew towards artists and the contempt in which they hold people whose sole purpose in this life is to beautify the world in which they live.

Art In Public, For The Public, By The Public

maninmirror1I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say, “I think that I might like art, I just don’t understand it.” A part of the problem is that there are those who claim an elitist status in the artistic world, one that separates them from those that they deem to be ‘the rest of the populace.’ Far too much art has been made inaccessible to the public: to regular people who wish to just simply enjoy the aesthetics of what they’re seeing. The elitists of the art world have made it clear to them that unless they can spend five minutes spouting some rhetoric that has less to do with the art they’re speaking of than it does with the cavernous recesses of a self-absorbed brain, then they have clearly not understood the art they’re seeing.

There’s no doubt that this would put anyone off. If I went to a cricket match, attempting to understand what was going on and was laughed at and ridiculed by the fans, there’s an excellent chance that not only would I take my hot dog and beer (or whatever it is that they sell at cricket matches) and leave, but I would most likely never come back. Moreover, I might hold cricket fans and, by rote, cricket itself in less than high regard. By the same token, anyone that attended a gallery exhibition and was treated with the same lack of respect would probably begin to hold art and artists in contempt.

There is an obvious misconception about artists throughout a large amount of the general public. After Stephen Harper made his comments about restricting arts funding to artists because they were all a bunch of elitists who regularly attended black tie parties, a large part of the country appeared to agree with his assessment, even though there could be nothing further from the truth.

The mission now must be to involve people in art. To show them the beauty of art, to give them a sense of what it is that artists are attempting to accomplish. To let them know what it is that drives them and to show them what it is about art that is important, not just to artists and cultural elitists, but to the populace in general. To show them that artists are people just like the rest of the world and that they struggle, but do so willingly.

We, as artists, all know the choices we have made and we know that very few will make the sort of money in their endeavors that a chartered accountant or a business executive, for example, might make. Enough Canadians (barely) make their living as artists that we now represent a group larger than others that consistently garner more funding from the Federal and Provincial governments that it must be seen as nothing more than a crime.

Huge corporations are consistently and unashamedly given grant monies from all levels of government. Consider the massive amount of money that the oil companies receive in investment funds from government. The last time I checked, art didn’t kill a flock of ducks in a toxic pond created by the run off from a spoken word show, or a play. Modern dance has never belched so much smoke into the air that it caused global warming or gave children athsma, nor has a symphony orchestra ever spilled into a remote bay, killing off all the marine life that they came into contact with.

On January 14th, students from Concordia University’s Department of Contemporary Dance presented OCCUPANTS at Concordia’s EV Building at 1515 St. Catherine West in Montreal. The event was made up of site-specific choreography with the intention of interacting with the architecture of the space and intermingle with the building’s occupants.

The challenge here was to create works within an active public environment. As people rushed to and from meetings, work and appointments, the dancers engaged them in what turned out to be a spectacular artistic experiment that not only engaged the public, but shone a light on the daily workings of the city.

The goal, of course, was to engage persons and not alienate them. Amy Blackmore (Assistant Producer of the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival) choreographed a piece that began with her dancers banging on windows and motioning for people to come over to them. While many ignored the entreaties, several walked over and attempted to find out what was going on. With strict instructions from Blackmore to not speak to anyone, the dancers were left with nothing more than hand gestures and movement as their tools of interaction. Most people were confused. Some got upset.

Art often attempts to shine a light on society, but with this experiment, the roles were reversed and the audience began to reveal its nature through the natural course of interaction with an unknown entity. Instead of the dancers performing for the public, the public began to perform for the dancers, giving themselves fully to the performance without even realizing that that’s what they were doing. What could be more natural than a performance of people attempting to go on about their daily tasks and are attempting to understand something that’s happening to them that’s so completely out of the ordinary that they aren’t sure how to react?

At some point, a man that had come over to find out what it was that the dancers wanted of him asked Blackmore what was going on. Giving nothing away, she replied that she wasn’t exactly sure what was happening and simply allowed the man to sit and watch the dancers and quietly assess the situation. Eventually, she walked over to him and told him that the girls were part of a dance piece. His entire focus given to their performance, he found himself surprised by how entertained he was. He felt like he’d been let in on a great secret and the show began to exist for him on entirely different level. Once he had understood what was happening, the show, for him, became much more than just the dancers, but those watching the dancers as well.

As the dancers began to move from social interaction to dance, once again shifting the focus, a man sat on a table in the midst of them and immersed himself in the performance. As the piece came to a close, he shook each performer’s hand and thanked them for their presentation. He walked away into the crowd, beaming.

And that’s really all it takes. Just a few people being given a simple understanding of what art is meant to be. There was no need for any of them to discuss the social ramifications of the experiment, they simply understood that they had been entertained. They realized that they had been given a gift in the midst of what might have been a very ordinary day that turned out to be quite extraordinary, indeed.

Art is easy enough to understand because ALL understanding of art is really up to the viewer, not the artist. Perhaps an artist might attempt to convey a message, but it’s what the audience takes away with them that is the most important thing. Artists exposing themselves and making themselves vulnerable in situations like this will help to give those that might be afraid to approach art an appreciation and understanding of the message that artists are attempting to convey. It will give them a sense of belonging in a world that they might feel that they know nothing about, but are a part of on a daily basis. If people don’t know about art, then it is the artist’s job to bring it to them and let them see how important it is in our daily lives. All we have to do is show them. They will see.

Art is the juice of life. Let’s squeeze out a glass for anyone that looks thirsty.

You can see OCCUPANTS on Thursday January 15 13h-15h & 19h-21h and Friday January 16 13h-17h for FREE at 1515 St. Catherine West (Concordia University’s EV building).