This Can Be Called Cultural Appropriation
In recent weeks, a media debate has resurfaced around the issue of calls for proposals to artists to participate in exhibitions. Artist Zeev Engelmeier has published an angry protest post against the Court Heritage Museum that invited illustrators to illustrate for free for an exhibition in memory of Janusz Korczak1. Engelmeier, a creator and publicist, often manages to arouse widespread public interest through the art of protest, provocative works and verbal and visual statements that often get him in trouble. But thanks to him the voice of many is heard and now the voice of the artists themselves. He calls to artists to oppose the method.
Artists are the spirit in the sails of society. Cities invite artists to live within their walls to revive the city, beautify it and instill in it a spirit of youth. Artists create atmosphere and attract tourists. Businesses and halls are adorned with works of art and of course the galleries and museums are the ones that live off the honey of the artists' hives.
All these bodies and organizations are working for the purposes, pay attention to the surprise, financial gain! The art in their corridors places them in the cultural elite and of course brings in a paying audience?
If so, why don't the artists get paid for presenting their works in the halls? Is it possible that the director of the auditorium / city hall / theater / museum will hire a plumber / glazier / cleaning worker to care for his spaces free of charge? Will the museum guide, the gallery owner, the salesman at the museum shop, the ticket agent, the director, the curator and the rest of the craftsmen work unpaid?
All those involved in these organizations make a living from their work and on the day they are not paid, they will also stop working there. But the artists, creators, the front of the museum's activity or the quality mark of the institution, are not eligible for payment. They are welcome to present their work without any compensation. They are also often required to bear the costs of transportation, framing and more, of course without any reimbursement for expenses on raw materials for their creation.2
Having said all this and for those who are not in the Israeli art world, it must be noted that the above situation is precisely the one that benefits the artists compared to the no-man's land that has been raging for several years, mainly between galleries. In past days galleries and publishers used to hire experts in order to filter the creators and then they invested in editing, production, publishing, curating. At the end of the process, the works were sold and the profit was divided between the artist and the gallery / publishing house.
The new incarnation, which has been emerging for the last decade or so, operates in a completely different way; Every creator is now required to pay for the display of his work in the gallery and the writers are required to pay for producing a book, without any filtering, editing, or any investment services.
As I know the subject of galleries closely, I can tell that there are galleries that offer a permanent residence in their space for a monthly fee, which is actually rent for the art piece. An amount that can quickly reach the value of the piece and easily surpass it as well. In other cases, the galleries advertise calls to artists around a particular theme, ostensibly setting up an exhibition for a week / two weeks / month. Each artist gets a small wall space (usually up to 1 square meter or so) for a few hundred / thousand shekels to appear among many other artists on the same wall for the allotted time. In a quick calculation one can identify the beautiful profit potential for the exhibition entrepreneurs. What a beauty! The artists pay for themselves. Of course, additional costs are at the expense of the artist, including transportation, material costs, sometimes also advertising and framing. The same exhibitions are usually intended for sale and then also from the same sale, the curator / director of the exhibition deduces a considerable amount.
So far, we have understood how to profit from art. We know that everyone who works in art benefits from it: the curator, the gallery owner, the business owner, the clerks, the hangers, the framers, the advertisers, the cleaners, the guides, the museum shop and the cafeteria workers, the art critics and journalists, merchants and collectors. All of these, obviously, will not work a minute without getting paid.
But the artists, it's something else, they are expected to be spiritual beings, without earthly needs, detached from the vanities of the world and non-commercialized. An artist is required to create non-profit, without wage aspirations and without existential constraints. Interesting, no?
As such an artist myself, art has been a part of me all my life and alongside that I have always made a living from different and weird works. Because, as is well known, it is impossible to make a living from art... Is that so? Because the one who lives from art is not the artist, but everyone around as detailed above.
If so, if art can be traded and made a living from it why should artists be doomed to stay in the ivory tower of finesse and hunger? As a privileged woman in a postmodern world, I have gained a variety of eye-opening education. Many years ago, I started creating commissioned art, one for which customers come, ask for and receive exactly what they want for a fair fee. This can be called cultural appropriation.
It started with book illustrations and went on to portrait paintings and later I also became an independent business with a website and a whole marketing set-up, including activities on social networks and occasional promotions. Indeed commercialization.
In small steps and over many years I have built a customer base and a brand of quality and reliability. To my taste it sounds good overall. Every car / electrical / furniture company aspires to these degrees. Except that I am an artist and humanities educated. Everyone who lives in these worlds, including academia, liberal arts and fine art is appalled by the commercialization of my work. None of them are appalled by the sums rolled in by merchants and museums and support legions of workers from the same art itself. The border is stretched at the feet of the artist. He is required to stay out of the art market, hover between clouds and live from dreams.
Commercialization is a curse and an artist who sins is denounced by the elitist club of art appraisers, curators, writers, researchers and galleries. More than once I have heard blatant and critical remarks from such figures who make a living among the ripples of the artistic world, including curators, museum staff and galleries. The gilded elegant ripples are created around an artist and his work, but he is doomed to sink like a stone into the abyss and never enjoy their sparkling.