Blogs Untitled (Blog) Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is co-founder and editor in chief of Hyperallergic.

Imagining the Future Before Us: Forward to Sharon Louden’s The Artist as Culture Producer

How can artists extend their practices outside of their studios, contribute to creative economies, and create change in their communities? That’s the central question behind Minneapolis-based artist Sharon Louden’s new book, The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, which features 40 essays on the topic by visual artists including Alec Soth, Edgar Arceneaux, […]

Matthew Deleget High Value Target 2014

High Value Target (2014) by Matthew Deleget, a contributor to The Artist as Culture Producer. Photo courtesy the artist

How can artists extend their practices outside of their studios, contribute to creative economies, and create change in their communities? That’s the central question behind Minneapolis-based artist Sharon Louden’s new book, The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, which features 40 essays on the topic by visual artists including Alec Soth, Edgar Arceneaux, and Andrea Zittel. In advance of its March 22 Walker launch event—featuring Louden, Hyperallergic editor Hrag Vartanian, artists Tia-Simone Gardner and Graci Horne, and Mn Artists editor-in-chief Susannah Schouweiler—we share the book’s forward.

At the dawn of the High Renaissance, in 1480 to be exact, the wealthiest artist in Florence was Neri di Bicci, who didn’t make his fortune from the altarpieces he’s known for today, but from the sale of small tabernacles containing a “painted plaster sacred image (made with a mold), and in an ‘antique style’ wooden frame.” The second richest artist in town was di Bicci’s student, Andrea di Giusto Manzini. He’s largely unknown today, but during his lifetime Manzini was also a “painter of plaster statues.”1 Artists, it appears, have always been creative at finding ways to sustain their creativity, and their artistic, personal, public, and financial lives have always been more complicated than they seem.

Only recently have we begun to talk about the economic and social realities of being an artist, long hidden under the myths of “genius” or “passion” that can marginalize the serious work of making art. Books like this one are helping those artists trying to shake free of the unrealistic fantasy created by a steady stream of inflated stories about the luxury art market and how it caters only to the richest 1%.

Though the new media spotlight on contemporary art has given the field renewed attention and glamor, there’s another type of renaissance taking place in the art world around the evolving relationship of artists to society, and it’s one that’s largely overlooked. This new wave is being led by creative individuals working to revitalize their communities, often redefining their roles, and challenging the boundaries of art today. Artists are our conscience; they are innovators, healers, chance-takers, and activists. Most importantly, they are a microcosm of society.

Artists excel at generating new models, and their resilience and popularity often come because they respond to the idea of culture as a lived, constantly evolving, and malleable thing that springs from the fount of everyday life. If contemporary art, particularly its newer forms—like performance, new media, street art—has blurred the boundaries of work and life, then all the systems that sustain this type of work are slowly catching up. The lives of artists tell us about our society, and how we do (or more shockingly don’t) properly value those who help produce some of the most important aspects of our culture. They are stories we need to hear.

Kat Kiernan Untitled

Untitled (2015) by Kat Kiernan, a contributor to The Artist as Culture Producer. Photo courtesy the artist

Some may be apprehensive about the idea of artists as cultural producers, but the evolving nature of artistic practice means we have to adapt our language to reflect a new reality. Artists can’t be beholden to old stereotypes of inspired acts of creation—or even galleries and museums—to determine their path. They work in culture, but they’re also plugged into larger networks of power, finance, identity, and information systems; they create the objects, generate the ideas, and produce the models that allow others to dream, feel, and ponder. Sometimes they reflect our world back at us, and the best of them do it with uncanny precision. Others imagine what we thought impossible and wait while everyone else catches up.

In my dream world, artists would be part of every aspect of our lives. They would help make hospitals more receptive and healing places; they would create street furniture that encourages contemplation and community; and they’d help local governments communicate more effectively with the public. I hope this book will help shatter the old stereotypes of artists as exotic and enigmatic creatures and, in their place, construct a new image using stories of individuals who sustain remarkable artistic lives while nurturing themselves with families, activism, volunteerism, small businesses, hobbies, and politics.

Sharon Louden is one such remarkable individual, who has been a proponent of rethinking artists’ roles in society and responding to their needs. When I first met her, I immediately recognized how much compassion she had for her fellow artists—their lives, work, and even their insecurities—but also how contagious her commitment and optimism can be.

How do we create art that challenges capitalism? How can we find new ways to give comfort to those confronted with violence? How do we shed light on those overlooked by society? Why do we make art in a culture that can be antagonistic towards it? Why even continue? The answer to these questions lies in the work of individuals who imagine the future before us, and we call them artists.

Note

1. Guerzoni, Guido. Apollo & Vulcan: The Art Markets in Italy 1400–1700 (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2011), p. xxiii

Reprinted with permission from The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, edited by Sharon Louden, published by Intellect. © 2017 Sharon Louden and contributors. All rights reserved.

Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian on Performance Art’s Crossover Year

In conjunction with our series 2013: The Year According to…, we invited Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the New York–based “art blogazine” Hyperallergic, to share his perspective on the year that was. He zeroes in on a key development he noticed last year: performance art blasting into the public consciousness in a new way. […]

800px-Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin

Pussy Riot. Photo: Igor Mukhin, Wikipedia

In conjunction with our series 2013: The Year According to…, we invited Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the New York–based “art blogazine” Hyperallergic, to share his perspective on the year that was. He zeroes in on a key development he noticed last year: performance art blasting into the public consciousness in a new way.

Many issues have been on my mind in 2013, including the vast destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, which only seems to be getting worse, the disrespect for Hopi and San Carlos Apaches Katsinam at auction, the rising cost of urban life for artists and cultural workers, and the massive (and frightening) role of state surveillance in the lives of every single person on the planet. All these are very serious issues impacting the creative community, even though it can often feel like there are no easy answers to any of these issues.

Yet 2013 was not only a year of serious challenges and many disasters. As an art critic and blogger, I feel it’s important to remark on one of the most fascinating developments for art in the last year: the evolving nature of performance art.

It has been a long time coming, but 2013 was the year when performance art not only crossed over to the mainstream but made waves around the world in a way it has never done before.

From the Free Pussy Riot movement that helped free the captive singers from a Russian gulag to Marina Abramović’s cult-like institute (not to mention the fact that she inspired JAY Z’s foray into gallery performance art), the terrain for performance art is a boom town of possibilities. Even the Museum of Modern Art’s proposed renovation appears to factor in a larger role for performance in the museum’s programming — something that, in my opinion, is sorely needed.

But this added attention raises some serious questions: will the marriage of celebrity and performance art simply be a way for Hollywood actors to parlay their pop culture fame into seemingly more affluent cache in art, or will it be more? Thankfully, along with the mainstreaming of performance there has been a swell of alternative and indie festivals, like the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, to fill the need for experimental projects that don’t require stars sleeping in museum lobbies or televised roasts masquerading as performance art.

No discussion of performance art today would be complete without mentioning Performa, RoseLee Goldberg’s biennial performance brainchild that has done more to develop the form than anything else in the last decade. Goldberg’s work as an art historian, curator, and champion has slowly raised the standards for performance over the course of the last four decades.

The exciting part is that the future is up for grabs in this evolving field.

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