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The art conundrum

From the starving artists to the lone genius, we will explore some oddities, dilemmas, social rules and questions in this strange field. This text will invite you to rethink your assumptions about art and its role in society, the narratives we validate daily, and how we relate to each other as a community.

Artist multitasking to meet the demands



Abandoned Youth

The systemic exclusion of young artists and the myth of posthumous fame.

We don't celebrate young artists, either by coincidence or design. Some might say that experience creates masterpieces; others say it is a method of systemic exclusion.

David Hockney painting of Harry Styles
David Hockney | Harry Styles | May 31st 2022 David Hockney | Photo Credit: Jonathan Wilkinson Jonathan Wilkinson.

This observation led me to explore the old myth of posthumous, where artists get famous once they are dead. Maybe that is what art was meant to be: hindsight, that moment of clarity long after the storm. Chances are that the evolution of art is already here, but you cannot identify it because if you could see it now, it wouldn't be.

David Hockney painting Harry Styles in his studio in Normandy
David Hockney painting Harry Styles in his studio in Normandy | June 2022| Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima.

Perhaps artists are not meant to become famous because no one allows freedom, which is only possible by touching the outskirts of social walls that define how we think and behave. To go beyond what is presented and find inspiration outside the social baggage that conditions which we are. How can you support artists without them having to become famous? Artists starting during the first ten years need more investment, not less.


Predicting the Unpredictable

Can art’s next big thing be predicted? A network of institutions and galleries defines the value of art.

Fig. 1 Co-exhibition network | Quantifying reputation and success in art
Fig. 1 Co-exhibition network | Quantifying reputation and success in art | Science

I am going back to basics. Art can't be defined or outlined. It has no direction, no logical, socio-psychological, or mystical explanation of what makes it art. That is what makes it so magical.

I always thought art was very different from other performance measures. Well, Network physicist Albert-László Barabási claims he can predict artists' success without looking at their work. Art performance is measured based on who painted it, who owned it, who commissioned it, and who wants it. Art is, at its heart, a reputation economy. The survival curves reveal that 52% of the artists had only one recorded show. Moreover, for those who have more than one exhibition, according to the data, ten years after their five exhibits, 86% of artists with low initial reputations stopped having exhibitions.

Fig. D Survival Rate|  Quantifying reputation and success in art
Fig. D Survival Rate| Quantifying reputation and success in art | Science

The study Quantifying reputation and success in art identifies that the value of an artwork is defined by a series of connected institutions and galleries that lead to the centre of the network. He concludes that art is ruled by a handful of industry leaders (central nodes). If you can or cannot get there, it is defined by who would work with you in your first five exhibits. The predictions were incredibly accurate.

Deep Dive the study: Quantifying Reputation and Success in Art

The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart — Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's former Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art.
Peer Network of 90 Early 20th-Century Abstract Artists map Fame as Illusion of Creativity
Peer Network of 90 Early 20th-Century Abstract Artists | Fame as Illusion of Creativity Banerjee Ingram |

Likewise, in 2012, an exhibition at MoMA showed how over 80 artists invented abstraction between 1910 and 1925. The exhibition opened with a diagram of the artists' network to show who knew each other. Two business professors used MoMA's data to analyse patterns of creativity; however, the data concluded that there was no correlation between creativity and fame for these artists. There was, however, a strong correlation between having a large and diverse network of contacts and being famous (Fame as Illusion of Creativity).

It is because, In areas of human activity where performance is complex to quantify objectively, reputation and networks of influence have a central role in defining access to resources and rewards.

Between Vanessa Bell and Suzanne Duchamp


Art is Trust

Values underpinning the art sector and the role of social norms in determining art’s value.

When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things. The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master — that's all. He talks about it just as if it was a game! - thought Alice. — Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass).

Even though art has always been considered a subjective experience in a particular place and time, art history is taught as a tale of extraordinary human achievement. Art is transformative, revolutionary, and sublime.

The reason sophisticated, experienced, and legally represented institutes are willing to pay millions for something that the law does not recognise because of the social norms of the art world. For us, art is the act of belief; for the rest of the world, it is a matter of trust.

Art has unclear definitions, leaders, structures, goals/objectives, communities, and foundations. What I thought to be the virtue of art was setting the scene for something much darker. Like anything else, arts is tied to the free market; value is a measure of confidence and privilege—a world where money is behind nearly every decision made. Looking closely at the foundations of the art sector, we identify values like competition, gatekeeping, social exclusion, the cult of the genius and the exploitation of the genius persona.

Why are private views not private? You might say it's just a word, but all words have a context and meanings.

The words we choose to define art are a significant window to our identity as an arts community. William Powell Frith's painting represents the private view of the RA summer exhibition. the exhibition was open to the public for a fee. Before the public opening, guests like royal family members, aristocrats, patrons, critics, and artists had a special preview. Private views might be private now, but the idea of exclusivity remains. If we don't understand our past, we can't understand our present. This is true for art as it is for our own lives.

A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881 by William Powell Frith 
A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881 by William Powell Frith 

Where is Wilde?

The Trust Spectrum in games and play
The Trust Spectrum – Raph's Website

The funds are set to create a competitive environment, setting up measures and markers for success that do not correlate with the art itself whilst validating them over and over again. The funding system places institutions in a constant position of precarity and survival despite the visual arts contributing £49 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy in 2022. £35 billion more than the combined automotive, life sciences, aerospace, and oil and gas industries (McKinsey & Company).

Figure 6 shows the network of NPOs with indirect ties — where two NPOs share a board member.
Figure 6 shows the network of NPOs with indirect ties — where two NPOs share a board member.Figure 6 shows the network of NPOs with indirect ties — where two NPOs share a board member.

Money is not allocated according to the needs of artists and creators but to preserve established institutions. Artists represent only 3% of salaried employees in publicly funded arts organisations (The Big Freelancer report). The more organisations restructure themselves to rely on fundraising and sponsorship, the more vulnerable they become.

In a study titled Who Runs the Arts in England? a social network analysis of arts boards showed how board members connect with funded organisations. The study argues that cultural organisations have become more market-driven and are losing autonomy due to policy demands and curatorial and programming priorities, even at the NPO level. This elite dominance contrasts cultural policy's efforts to democratise the arts (ACE, 20102020).


Art Life

Between low-pay art jobs, the risk of youth poverty, and the need for more opportunities for artists.

They say the trick is to find work that doesn't exhaust the body or fill the head to have something left to create. Slowly but surely cementing the legacy of the myth of starving artists - which is, for the detriment of our community, not a myth.

Richard Serra was a removal man, Susan Hiller was a receptionist at a Skoda factory, and Ed Kienholz sold vacuum cleaners. Besides paying jobs, artists need to keep up with the fast-moving world. To be an artist is to be a facilitator, salesman, marketing and community manager, P&R agent, academic writer, and magic maker.

At-Risk-of-Poverty Rate | Inequality and Poverty across Generations in the European Union, 2018.
At-Risk-of-Poverty Rate | Inequality and Poverty across Generations in the European Union, 2018.
Is what you can get away with —Andy Warhol

The risk of youth poverty is on the rise in Europe. The younger generation is unable to build wealth like their parents and grandparents. Low-paid work done by young men increased by 45% between 1993 and 2015. The crisis is leading younger generations to social exclusion. People cannot afford to participate in society. The world was different for Richard, Susan and Ed. Inexpensive things carry hidden costs, frequently borne by exploited, underpaid worker.

Royal Academy of Arts —Summer Exhibition Website
Royal Academy of Arts —Summer Exhibition Website

However, there are more opportunities for artists than ever. The RA Summer Exhibition is one of the oldest exhibitions in England, and it's still running. Unlike the William Powell Firth painting, the exhibition is now free entry, funded by the artist with over 660,000 pounds for administrative costs despite being funded by Insight Investment. It is evermore challenging to ignore that art is not a real career, as my grandfather would note.

Art is a hobby; why don't you do something else like graphic design? — Tiz Creel grandfather

Structurally F–cked — a-n The Artists Information Company
Structurally F–cked — a-n The Artists Information Company

The report titled Structurally F–cked, included a survey conducted by Industria with testimonies from artists who shared their experiences of injustice, discrimination, and frustration in the UK. The survey revealed a median hourly rate of £2.60 an hour, dramatically below the UK minimum wage of £9.50.

Either institutions like the British Council and the Arts Council England have reviewed, approved, and funded projects that violate the UK's labour laws, or the benefits and protections of being a citizen do not apply to artists. Like my grandfather, the government doesn't see artists as true workers with real jobs.

A survey was published in The Sunday Times about essential vs non-essential jobs Essential, or not? – Sunday Times, Sunday, June 14 2020.
A survey was published in The Sunday Times about essential vs non-essential jobs Essential, or not? – Sunday Times, Sunday, June 14 2020.
Never invest in a business that you do not understand — Warren Buffett, Financial Bull.
Warren Buffett, the "Oracle of Omaha," is one of the greatest investors of all time | University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha | University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Nobody would argue against the idea that art has social value. Yet, almost nobody will agree that society must protect art and acknowledge and compensate the labour of the people who produce it. Art education does not help. It hides artists inside their studios, and the curriculum prevents them from working outside art world institutions. They are designed to fail. We are all participating in a system in which we are not fully valued (or, in Buffett's terms, understood). What other options do we have? Follow Duchamp's advice and go underground.


Cultural Wars

How do narratives shape our understanding and value of art.

As we examine the narratives more deeply, we begin to get a complete picture. Stories like art is not a real job or starving artists are ideas that are now deeply embedded in the way we think, behave, and relate to each other, progressively shaping our reality. By doing what we do daily, we validate and give life to those narratives.

Stories, images, music, and games form our values before they become political issues. Social, political, and economic approaches need the context of culture to reexamine their role and purpose. Culture is nothing less than the creation of the future.

Politics is downstream from culture — Andrew Breitbart

Online Cultural Wars, 2018-2019 |
Online Cultural Wars, 2018-2019 |

Today, culture is dominated by commercial interests, mass control, and misinformation. In these times when people desperately need perspective, art seems ever more disconnected from the general public. When healthy, art offers a window to our most profound truths, which have continued to awe us for hundreds of years. Art will live as long as humans do, but the cultural context is gone.

Today, culture is somewhere else.

As the lines blur the distinction between culture and advertising, where is art? Where do we, as a community, stand? Some might say that art has never been made for regular audiences and that not everybody can appreciate art. But, in a world that is evermore divided, where the survival of our species is in question, we need art & culture more than ever.

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared, "We've arrived at the end of history."
Political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared, "We've arrived at the end of history."
British PM Margaret Thatcher once said, "There is no alternative."
British PM Margaret Thatcher once said, "There is no alternative."

Where is the utopian future?

The death of alternative means that all viable systematic alternatives have been exhausted, that we've hit the end of the line regarding economic models, and that politics can now be about making things look better. All existence is evaluated in terms of money, presented to us as ideal because everything else has failed or could be worse. The death of alternatives is closing down any possibility of collective dreaming.

They express the polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only outgrown — Carl Jung.

The crisis is the moment at which the truth reveals itself, and this is when we should challenge it the most. Today's predominant ideology is not a positive vision of some utopian future but a cynical vision of resignation and acceptance. The roles of creativity and culture as developmental tools have not been removed, limited, or denied. Hegel and Danto declared the death of art; Art as a practice will continue but has no more ways of progressing. This means that art has reached a point where it no longer has a distinctive purpose or direction and where anything can be considered art. As a result, art is becoming more isolated and self-centred, losing its distinctive role in human culture.

In the art world, there aren't any standards or values; they've all been dismantled (rightly so). However, there are no discussions about the meaning and purpose of art in today's context. Art means something different for each person. Calls for regulation of the art market rarely come from within the art, and despite the conundrum, everyone seems to be comfortable with how things are. No one challenges the structure and content in any meaningful way. It is wild to think that no whistleblowers or scandals exist in an industry with so much obscurity. The art world is ruthless, just like the very core of human nature.

Art is a handshake business, and if someone treats you poorly, don't deal with them again, but don't go public with your gripes: it's bad form, and will result in bad karma —Adam Lindemann.

When Darwin wrote about evolution, he wasn't doing it in a vacuum; he was influenced by the writings of economist Thomas Malthus. Darwin saw the features of a capitalist economy in the theory of evolution. Darwin showed that in organisms, the logic of natural selection ensures that the better-adapted types slowly but surely displace the less well-adapted. He coined the term "the economy of nature", which describes the struggle for existence among living organisms. Even though Darwin did mention mutual support as a feature of evolution, he emphasised the role of competition and scarcity in shaping human society. Somehow, Darwin needed the survival of the fittest to justify evolution.

Toothless cranium and mandible of an old adult | Hominins |
Toothless cranium and mandible of an old adult | Hominins |
Those who tell the story rule the society — Plato

The skull is a Homo erectus from Georgia who lived about 1.8 million years ago. He had lost all his teeth except for one and had a severe jaw infection. He survived for several years after losing his teeth; someone or a community was helping him survive. Almost 1.8m years ago, someone practised compassion and care before our species began. Mutual support and selflessness have been observed wildly in nature; we have found social structures and societies in nature. We can't deny there is an immense amount of violence and extermination, but there is at the same time as much mutual support and selflessness. Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle.

Divergent problems cannot be killed...They can, however, be transcended — Schumacher, 1995.


Wishful Thinking

Role of art in creating behavioural change and shaping the future.

 Prince Lev Nikolyaevich Myshkin, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot.
Prince Lev Nikolyaevich Myshkin, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

Art has meant different things in different times and contexts. When contemplating artworks, just like listening to music or reading, we discover an interest in the world. Culture, in the original meaning (to cultivate), is how we might nurture our lives.

"I believe the world will be saved by beauty." — Prince Lev Nikolyaevich Myshkin, the protagonist of The Idiot.

Culture is at the centre of finding solutions to change society and its development; culture is a collective endeavour for personal and for humanity's enrichment, culture being nothing less than the creation of the future.

To change the culture and the systems, choose the story that is a foundation for the future. Art has a role to play in creating behavioural change because artists are supposed to be the people who have that kind of freedom to play with infinite possibilities. We need to build trust within our community and with the general public. Because there might be no function of art, but there are consequences. The future will be created with or without us. Something might tell us that some kind of end of art has indeed occurred, but that can only mean some new narrative could now be structured.

The future belongs to those who can see it.

Radical ideas can and do penetrate the system, but this usually occurs despite policies or institutional support. We can assert some control over what art is and what it can do, and maybe others might be inspired by our example. I want to prove to myself how necessary art is to our daily lives, culture, and communities. Art should be seen and felt by everyone.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes  Marcel Proust.


Tiz Creel ©2023 - artist & maker living in London

Thank you for reading 🫀

Read more about the text: Public arts enquiry

1 Comment

Maria Wiktoria
Maria Wiktoria
Feb 08

Super insightful!

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