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In his’ Making and Connecting’, Gauntlett hits up against a basic dilemma- how to work with a gift in a market based society. How could a discussion of craft and art not touch this issue?

This upsurge of people making things and sharing them in on and offline communities is distinguished by a strong current of giving and sharing. Think of book drops,art  postcard crossing, many forms of guerilla art, etc. So much of this tendency is a reaction against the present system where the worth of things…(and people!) is determined purely economically.

So how do we reconcile this genuine desire to share our creative efforts outside an economic framework with the just as real need to earn a living?

Free platforms as exploited labour*

*(This subhead is a direct quote from the book).

OK, we have some new channels for sharing our art and ideas- YouTube, Facebook, Flickr etc. These are open platforms where, for no charge, with no credentials, and hardly any conditions, we can put our stuff out there.

Some people claim that You Tube, for example, makes gobs of advertising money off the millions of people posting and viewing videos there. Gauntlett has done some research and writes that it actually costs YouTube more to host the site than they are receiving through ads. (Based on 2009 figures, YouTube makes a bout $1.20 per video on ads per year and spends $3 per video to host the site).

We generally accept that no ads would mean no free sites.

He also says that most of us don’t care about the ‘free labour’ harvested by these sites because we want to share our work and we have ‘no thoughts of economic value’ except being glad that we don’t have to pay to share our creative work online.

Around a campfire

David suggests that the atmosphere in most of the open platform sites is like being around a campfire. Maybe my singing voice is beautiful and I could print out tickets and charge a fee, but that would completely change the underlying agreement of mutual sharing.

OK, fair enough. But then he goes on to rightly say, that in a society where everyone gets paid for what they produce, creative people should also get paid for their efforts. This is where it gets tricky.

Gauntlett cites the  example of the music business to illustrate this point. People seem to feel entitled to download music free of charge while most of the musicians are struggling to survive from their music. Some established bands or star status artists make good money from their products and tours, but they represent only a fraction of the whole profession. As a rule, it is the managers, PR people and other middlemen who are making big bucks off the musicians ‘backs. Gauntlett has a suggestion to remedy this. Read the rest of this entry »

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If everyone is an artist….?

December 15, 2011

There are several points of discussion ,’Making is Connecting’, brings up for me. The first one is:

if anyone can make and sell their work on (and off) line, is everyone, then an artist?

If everyone is an artist, then, of course, no one is.
Not in the same sense I’ve been brought up to believe; that an artist is someone with a calling who devotes his or her life to learning to express themselves in their chosen craft/discipline. This almost always involves a rigorous path of education and then the required 10,000 hours of practice before one can even begin to make work of stature and relevance.

I think, though, that the ways to discern people devoted to excellence in their calling from the dabbler have been blurred. James Krenov acknowledged this in the last century and suggested that keeping  professionalism and amateurs strictly separate was the best way to honour the artist and leave the hobbyist to putter in their own domain. I apologise for sounding harsh, but for many years this is how I felt about hobbyists, even though in some fields, I am one myself.

Pro-Ams

Things are radically changing, though. In his book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson cites the rise of the so-called ‘Pro-Ams’.  (partially  paraphrased)

This is a kind of amateur who works at increasingly high standards…the Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. The Pro-Am uses his leisure not for passive consumerism but is active and participatory involving knowledge built up over a long period of practice.

While no professional in any field enjoys being undercut by people offering lesser quality work at cheaper prices, I actually welcome this democratisation of art and creativity because it frees us all from some very confining boxes.  Creative people are finding channels, not previously available to non-professionals, for sharing their work.  And professionals,too, get a chance to let down their hair and try out some other areas without the constraints of having to be perfect first.

Real Artists

I think there will always be a place for excellence and authenticity. There are simply artists who either reach such high levels of their craft that it communicates to whoever is receptive to it. Or they touch a nerve which the whole society is poised to express but hasn’t yet realized. And  in so doing give it a voice and a face.

And reluctantly I must admit, that maybe the distinction of the Real Artist might be passé.  Or it is expanding to include various degrees of commitment and expertise.

There is to my eye definitely a distinction between the talented crafter who at this moment is flooding Etsy with (extremely popular) owls, birds and vintage. And the artist drawing from their own experience to give wings to a vision.

More about art vs craft another time.

I really liked David Gauntlett’s book, ‘Making is connecting’. His clear and readable writing style shed light on many issues I am concerned with. He provides well researched and -formulated arguments for the value of craft and everything to do with its resurgence both on and off line.

Craft is political

Gauntlett ‘s particular contribution with this book, is I think, to show that

the current rise of crafts is not some charming sideline to more important social changes, but it is an urgent political statement in its own right.

From creating our own clothes to making our own internet content, we are moving away from the ‘sit back and be told’ society to a ‘making and doing’ one- and that is individually empowering. He shows how the rise of internet has made it possible for the many users of open platforms (like YouTube) to form not only an alternative, but even a serious threat to mass-produced media entertainment.

People are not mindlessly accepting what the mass media is feeding them but are creating their own alternatives to reflect their views in the form of videos, zines and photo sites to name a few.  He says this choosing leads to a whole new perspective and potentially a political shift to how we deal with the world.

Craft creates community

Speaking of craft today, Gauntlett says that making things with one’s hands (or with software tools) take time. This slowness contrasts with our guzzling, fast-consumption society, and leads to self-reflection and eventually self knowledge. Seeing something through every step of creation from conception to realisation makes us more proactive and constructive.

Craft has become more than just a few individuals making nice things, there is now a sense of community and shared purpose, largely because of the internet.

continued in next post.

Another important point David Gauntlett makes concerns the democratisation of art.

Make it yourself/ourselves

He sees our choices of media, art and culture up until now limited to either the mass market channels (TV, newspapers,magazines) OR,  more distinctive but elite ones (such as the artworld’s system of ‘star’ artists and international galleries).

But now, in the ‘middle ground’ between mass populist culture on one hand and exclusive elitism on the other,the ‘make it yourself’ ethic is emerging as a viable alternative with its own products such as YouTube videos, photo sites, craft fairs, guerilla gardening and interventions, eco-art, etc.

Previously, to get your work out in the world, you had to be an artist where ‘having the right education, sponsors and jargon are necessary markers of worthiness’.  Galleries, art and literary societies, publishing companies etc., all have their own gatekeepers. Creative people without the right credentials were/are denied the channels for sharing their work.

But now, anyone can get their work out there without worrying if the credentials are worthy. Regarding the internet:

The relevant filters now operate after, not before publication. (Clay Shirky)

Continued in next post.

continued from previous post

Joie de faire

A significant part of the joy of craft and online creativity is that it does not rely on hierarchies of experts and elites to be validated and doesn’t depend on editors or gatekeepers for its circulation.

Craft is more about creativity and the process of making at a grass-roots level and not caring so much about star status, commercial returns or validation by the established art world. There is an inherent joy at creating something and then sharing it within a community or group with similar interests. Gauntlett speaks about the need to keep the web a free platform and defend it against being turned into one more instrument for consumerism. It needs to be a bit messy, chaotic, and personal to keep the creative element alive.

And of course the web isn’t everything…people create their own networks and experiences around the process of making things because they like to see and share the whole fruits of their own creativity and to feel connected to other inventive people, and to feel part of meaningful productive social processes which have continuity. This urge appears to be timeless and enduring…

He concludes with:

Making things shows that we are powerful creative agents- people who can really do things, things that other people can see, learn from and enjoy. Making things transforms materials but also one’s sense of self. Creativity is a gift in the sense that it a way of sharing meaningful things, ideas or wisdom, which form bridges between people and communities.

Having read and studied this book, I am armed with yet more arguments for why creativity is so vital to a healthy society as well as happy, purpose-filled individuals. And though the massive subsidy cuts and other hostile actions against the arts (tripling art sales taxes) here in Holland will do some damage, I am less worried by them than I was. With the widespread emergence of a sense of craft as important to our well being, and a renewed appreciation for things made well by hand, I feel that in the coming years there will be a lot of healing and amazing positive developments in creative areas.

Artists have a key role to play in this new scene, to not only do ethically sound, relevant, and socially engaged work, but to open other people to their creative potential.

I trust that then, the questions of livelihood will start to resolve. But it will take a while before the society and the systems change sufficiently to allow that to happen. At least we have a better idea of what we could be moving toward.

Exploring the gift further

September 23, 2011

Painting by Elizabeth Blackadder

The destruction of the spirit of the gift is nothing new or  particular to capitalism. All cultures and all artists have felt the tension between gift exchange and the market, between the self-forgetfulness of art and the self-aggrandisement of the merchant, and how that tension is to be resolved has been a subject of debate since before Aristotle.   Lewis Hyde, ‘The Gift’

I realise that this is the central question up for me and informing this blog and most of what I do. So it is great to be able to muse on it and explore it further here. (See previous post for more about the book ‘The Gift’).

Hyde cites 3 aspects of the gift in relation to the creation of an artwork.

The first is the inspiration from a perception, or experience, intuition, a dream a vision, or another art work. It is rare for this initial vision to be the finished work of art, we have to labour with it.

The ability to apply our skills to do the labour is the second gift. The artist works from that part of our being which is a gift and not an acquisition. It can’t be acquired by will –  talents are gifts.

‘The artist’s gift refines the materials of perception or intuition that have been bestowed on him.. if the artist is gifted, the gift increases in its passage through the self’. The artist makes something higher than what he has been given, and this, the finished work is the third gift. It is offered to the world or directed back to the perceived source –  which could be the muse, tribe, the spirits, nature, homeland or the muse.

By this Hyde means that when the artist is aware of his work as a gift, there is always humility and gratitude present. And this prompts the artist to give back somehow.

I will be exploring how to preserve this gift element even in the midst of market exchange in future posts. Because it is not either gift or market, but how to exist authentically in the tension between the two.

Feeling lack and tension around money? these thoughts really help.

Continuing on with excerpts from Lynne Twist’s, ‘The Soul of Money’: (once in a while slightly paraphrased)

Our attention enlarges and enriches our experience of whatever is before us. We have the opportunity to direct our attention in the way we relate to money…

When we allow jealousy, envy and resentment  to become the focus of our attention we become jealous, envious and resentful people with our money.

When we direct out attention to creativity, courage, and integrity, we become expressions of those qualities in whatever we do in our interactions with money.

When your attention is on what is lacking and scarce- in your life, in your work, in your family, in your town- then that becomes what you’re about.

That’s the song you sing, the vision you generate. You engage in lack and longing and what’s missing, and you call others to that same experience..If your attention is on problems and breakdowns with money…that is where your consciousness resides…. No matter how much money you have, it won’t be enough. No amount of money will buy you genuine peace of mind.

Yikes, I sure have fallen into that trap lately.

If you are interested in how to climb out of this very common and debilitating state of mind, read on in part 3.