“Sometimes, to pursue a new idea, the artist must forfeit his deposit on an old idea.”
– Robert Brault
Is it chilly in here? Sorry, my bad- it’s just the candy-assed giving me their version of the cold shoulder. Brrrr, that is brisk… I’m glad that I brought my Hello Kitty Mittens with me, otherwise I’d be freezing. Thank God my hate keeps me warm. But it’s all good, since it just goes to prove my point that Phoenix’s Arts Scene is infested with both the thin-skinned and the thin on talent. I can hear them now:“Oh look, the “commercial” art guy is judging us… AGAIN.”
Ouch. That really hurts. And here I was, all hopeful that we could stay BFF’s and stuff. Life can be so cruel sometimes, can’t it? But like I said, it’s all good. When it came to my last blog, there were more than a few people who thought that the overall tone was a lot “tamer” than what it should have been, given the subject.
Whether I’m snarky or sweet, people have an issue with me. Most days I just can’t win for losing, and neither can Phoenix, it seems. I keep hearing from all these apathetic poseurs how much they LOVE art, the process of creation, supporting the 602, keeping it real, and all that blah, blah, blah crap.
As my dear Oma used to say, the proof is in the Bethmännchen*, and so far- I haven’t seen any.
[*Bethmännchen are a Christmas specialty of Frankfurt. They are small round cookies, made of Marzipan and egg whites, decorated with almond halves. Now you know.]
Despite all the positive talk, the Art Scene in Phoenix, is not just struggling- it’s barely surviving. As far as I’m concerned, I’d settle for struggling, since it would actually be an upgrade at this point.
Wait a minute. Did you hear that? Ahh… the sounds of whining from the Shadows of the Internet. And as usual, they’re anonymous. Shocking. Way to stand your ground, cravens. One small suggestion: if you’re going to defend a certain point of view, it would have more validity if you actually attached your name to it. I’m just saying this as a friend. Because I love, you know.
Now, the argument was made by one of our poseur scenesters that since there’s a First Friday every month, our Art Scene must be doing “okay”. When I received the email containing this idiocy, I nearly horked up a kidney laughing. We’re doing “okay”… are they on drugs? If so, I definitely want some of what they’ve been taking, because it must make crack look like a freaking cheese danish.
Yet, I just know that there might be some of you out there who feel the same way as the schmuck above. So, I offer a simple challenge to my fellow Artists: just answer the questions below, that’s all I ask of you.
– Are you making a living off your Art? (More than 75% of your yearly income.)
– Do High End Art Buyers from other states (as a rule) consider Downtown Phoenix a “go to” spot?
– Are our Downtown Phoenix Galleries able to generate (and maintain) a national sales presence?
– Do National / International Galleries (as a rule) consider Phoenix a hotbed of new talent?
– Which makes more money on FF- The Lost Leaf, Jobot or ANY randomly chosen Phoenix Art Gallery?
Your answers, please. So… are we “okay”, then? Yep…that’s what I thought. Reality… It is such a bitch. But all is not lost- despite my rather acidic tone, I don’t think this situation is irreversible. But given the generalized malaise inherent in the Phoenix Arts Community (PAC), I think it is inevitable, unless we as a whole come together and force change.
Note that I said: “we”, not “me”, or “you”. This is something that requires a cohesive effort, and it will take ALL of the community to do what needs to be done- namely, to make it financially viable to be an Artist who lives and works in Phoenix. There are many issues that plaque the PAC, and they run quite the gamut, but they all have a common root cause: the Patrons, Galleries and Artists who operate within the scene. I still hold that view, but my gun sights have narrowed as of late. As I stated in my last blog:
“Don’t think that I’m giving anyone a mulligan- the Patrons and Galleries are definitely part of the problem, and are issues that need to be fixed, say you me. No, the reasons why I’ve finally leveled my sights on the creative community is this: it all starts and ends with us.”
Oh boy… did that tick off some people, let me tell you- and the horde of bravely anonymous self- righteous poseurs couldn’t wait to start sending their emails ASAP. Thank Heaven for the common sense of my Blogiteers. The tally so far? A 70/30 average… in my favor. As is typical, the ones that weren’t on my side were chock-full of the usual ineffectual insults and a new interwoven tone of:
How dare I lay blame at the feet of the Creative community, who in the blankety-blank Hell did I think I was? Easy answer: I’m an established mid-career Artist who had his fill of being sick and f***ing tired of watching mediocrity and apathy strangle the day, and decided to stop playing nice with the other kids.
That wasn’t the answer some of you were hoping for, I’m sure. Ask me if I care. Go ahead. Hint: I don’t. So, what exactly did I mean when I said that “it” starts and ends with us? My point was that we’re the both the beginning and the end of the artistic process. We start the cycle by creating our works, and we bring about the end by selling them.
Yes, I said selling. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change from the usual First Friday? To actually make a living off our skills… damn. For a minute there, I think I went positively all tingly just thinking about it. Mixed in with all the anonymous emails of venomous idiocy, there were many more who agreed with my POV, and a handful which weakly opined that I hadn’t really offered any workable solutions, either.
HA! Said I, with a glee born of the darkest Schadenfreude. If you’re a loyal and long suffering reader of my literary rants, you know this to be total bull***t. In fact, the first blog I ever posted on Artbitch; “Thank God It’s First Friday” suggested several courses of action for the FF Triad, and it also happens to be the most widely read thing that I have ever written.
[Link: http://waynemichaelreich.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html ]
But then again, maybe it’s my fault- I do write a lot of words, and it’s been my experience that if there’s more than a paragraph to read, the truly stupid get easily confused.And let’s not forget angry. Especially angry. The “I’m completely out of Ding Dongs” kind of angry- it boggles the mind. I would think that if you were going to attack someone’s point of view, you would at least bother to do the merest of research. For some, it seems that’s just way too much thinking.
Phoenix- when it comes to doing things half-ass, that’s when we seemingly step up and give 110 percent.The rules and/or guidelines that I suggested were as follows:
1) Unless you’re an artist I respect, save the art critique.
2) I don’t care to hear what you think about my models.
3) Guess what? I’m not Kmart.
1) Clean the f*****g place up.
2) Location, Location, Location.
3) Failure in presentation is not an option.
4) Be open more than two nights a month.
1) Quality IS job one.
2) Presentation- try it, you’ll like it.
3) Professionalism is never done half ass.
Can you see why my detractors are so annoyed with me? I dare to use Logic, which has the joyous side effect of confusing and enraging them. Speaking of Logic… despite my easily defensible position, my critics like to claim that I’m way out of line while whining that my stance is too caustic and negative. Oh yeah… it’s been ME who’s bringing it all down, and as you might well imagine, the culpability has just been eating me alive.
But my guilty conscience is your gain, yet again. Because I felt so bad at being such a burden on the good and noble Creatives of Phoenix, I locked myself away in my secret hollow volcano lair slaving day and night, until one day- there emerged a game plan for the Artists.Like I said earlier, it starts and ends with us, and we need, as a whole, to start realizing that. More importantly, we need to use what power we already do possess and force the changes that need to be made.
If I were to be brutally honest, being an Artist in Phoenix sucks huge donkey wahaunga, and we all know it. For clarity’s sake, I’m not talking about specific work or the art of the craft itself, nor am I for even the merest of moments, denigrating the interpersonal relationships that have formed within the community.I consider myself very fortunate to work among a number of the best Artists I’ve ever seen, and even more privileged to be friends with many of them. Having said that, I still believe that more needs to be done.
And can be, as well. Like I said, it starts with us: “Yes, yes- we’ve heard you say that several times now, but what do you mean?”I mean “we” (as a cohesive group) can control the scene. Stop laughing for a minute, and think about it. From the Patrons to the Galleries, we can shape how this juggernaut rolls, and I believe that this can be done with a modicum of effort and time.
The end result being a stronger, healthier, and more profitable Art Scene for us to partake of. My vision is over-optimistic to be sure, but it IS possible. Naturally, I might have a few ideas how, and since we are such good buddies- I’ll share some of them with you, free of charge. However; unlike the last time I threw out some suggestions towards all the players in the Art Scene, these are for the Artists alone, as a suggested “how to” on changing our currently brackish cultural pond for the better.
Remember the most important bolt in my argument: WITHOUT “ART”, THERE IS NO ART SCENE- HENCE, IT ALL STARTS AND ENDS WITH US. Therein lies the power that will change the culture of the PAC. As I’ve noted before, there are three key players in the PAC, and just like the last time I attempted to start a forward dialogue, we’ll start off this with the Patrons, except this is not going to be about what they should do, it’s about what we collectively as Artists need to do about them.
The generally accepted definition of a Patron is as follows:
– A person who is a customer, client, or paying guest, esp. a regular one, of a store, hotel, etc.
– A person who supports with money, gifts, efforts, or endorsement an artist, writer, museum, cause, charity, institution, special event- a patron of the arts.
Now by that definition, a Patron sounds like a sure bet, except that in our art scene, our so called Patrons really don’t do d**k for us in the financial security department. It’s been my personal experience that most of the several thousand warm bodies that turn out for FF are essentially just useless scenesters smoking cigarettes, swilling beer, gumming up the works and buying the occasional two-dollar refrigerator magnet.
Don’t get me wrong, there are more than a few among the great lemming mass who do buy the high- end art, but their numbers are too low to keep this scene viable for all of us as a whole. Obviously, this needs to change, and the sooner, the better.
I would love to know of any other profession that throws a monthly free event with the substantiated knowledge that they’ll make less than a zero return on their outlay. We need serious art buyers at FF, not parasitic “here for the party alone” free-loaders, and if you think I’m being way too harsh, try walking a mile in my motorcycle boots and see how you feel. So how do we start culling the useless members of the herd away from our verdant pasture?
A Street Vendor’s Market: Come for the Corn Dogs, Stay for the DJ’s!
It’s an open secret that the majority of peeps who come out for FF do so because it’s a good time for very little to no money, and that’s ok- it really is. When I was in my early twenties, Top Ramen and I were the closest of friends, so I understand the concept of wanting a good time for cheap.
That had nothing to do with why I dated a lot of strippers back in the day, however. Pinky swear. Moving on… now, if they’re actually interested in buying Art, the odds are pretty good that their budget will be under fifty dollars, and the chances are even better that they’ll find work at FF worth that cost. Or most likely- someone who’s willing to accept such a price for their work. That desperate, I am not. Realistic would be a more accurate term for my current state of mind, I think. I’m an Artist, yes, but I’m also a businessman, and I have bills to pay just like you. And the typical FF poseur party-goer isn’t gonna help me, much less the scene, if at all.
To quote Ansel Adams: “Art is both the taking and giving of beauty; the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these.”
That there’s a beautiful thought. However, the sad reality is this: I’ve personally witnessed the scores of witless FF automatons traveling through a gallery, with a steady forward moving pace, looking at everything, and yet somehow- seeing nothing in the end. And these, the insipid, are the people whom we hope will keep us afloat? Boorish cretins who take what we do for granted, deride our skills, spend as little as possible, and yet somehow, every month get us, the arts community- to open our doors, showcase our wares, only to be rejected just the same.
Did I mention that we also foot the bill for all of this?If I were to draw an analogy, the PAC is like that nice (but plain) girl in High School who had no real friends, filled spiral-bound notebooks with really crappy poetry, and in vain, hoped that one day, the star quarterback would notice her solely on the strength of her personality. How does it help your career / sales/ the Art Scene if one thousand people see your work (with out actually seeing it) and aren’t going to buy anything, anyway?
Explain this to me if you would. And don’t even get me started on the street vendors. I really don’t have an issue with anyone trying to make some extra money, but… if you’re selling homemade five dollar collage art right outside the door of the gallery where I’m trying to move a $1000.00 painting, and the retail mojo gets screwed up because of you, know this- we are gonna have a serious disagreement with each other.
Just like the Hells Angels don’t want a group of yuppie weekend bikers at one of their rallies, or the way Neiman-Marcus reacts to the thought of a Wal-Mart opening up across the street, I don’t want the value of my work being undermined or more accurately- cheapened, by someone’s slapdash stab at being an Artist. It’s hard enough to sell as is, even more so when a potential customer decides he wants to cheap out and buy a handful of ten dollar color copies off a folding table set up across from my show.
Hobbyists have no place next to the professionals. Scathingly harsh, but true. In keeping with Artbitch tradition, I truly expect that some of you may have a slight problem with me saying this.
Tough. After working my a** off for the last two decades, I’ve earned the right to say it, and the hobbyists have the right to shut the hell up, and maybe learn their craft, instead of screwing with ours
I refuse to lower my standards and professionalism because you’re too vain and lazy to raise yours. However, this is America, and as such- it’s not up to me alone to dictate populist taste in the Art and Culture of a community.
Consider yourself lucky, because if I were the one in charge, there would be Reading homework for everybody. All snarky kidding aside, as I said earlier, I’d never get in the way of anyone making some extra cash, especially with the way the economy is now. To be blunt, I’m not a total pr**k, despite some hearsay to the contrary, and while you might find this possibly unbelievable- I’m still on Santa’s “nice” list, and that ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
As I see it, we have a dual problem here that needs solving; an influx of so called Patrons who have little to no money, and a group of varying talent selling cheaply priced trinkets to the same.Both have the bad habit of spooking serious Art Buyers- the poseur horde by their being crass, cheap and unappreciative of the effort put forth every month by the PAC, and the vendors whose DIY presence taints FF with possessing the depth of a church bazaar.
We really need to get these two together and the Hell away from us, so hence- I think we need a Vendor’s Market. A permanent retail location where people looking for a good and cheap time can hook it up with various street vendors selling the same. God knows we have several prime locations downtown where we could corral this herd, and provide them with what they truly come to FF for: DJ’s, corn dogs, tee shirts, cold beer, spray paint stencils on cardboard, the whole “bro” works.
They want a street party? I say let’s give it to them, so we can get back to the business of selling our work, uninterrupted by their crass idiocy. If you think that I’m being a little elitist in my approach, grow up. I don’t bust my a** so my work can sit at my studio collecting dust, I do it so I can make money and pay my overhead. Being paid to do what you love seems like a no brainer to me, and if you had the chance to do so, why wouldn’t you? If you need proof that a business model approach is the right way to go, just look at Scottsdale.
You have no idea how much it pains me to praise a city where arrogance has an actual physical presence. But, they do know how to move the Art, and they don’t f**k around when it comes to marketing either. My day gig involves dealing with galleries and art professionals of every discipline, and I can assure you that they wouldn’t put up with one tenth of the crap that we do in relation to FF.
Their Art Walk is actually just that- no street festival atmosphere, no bros, no drunken hipsters, no card tables hawking detritus of questionable quality, it’s actually nice- and it happens four times a month, versus our two, and unlike 99% of our so called art spaces, they are open at least four days a week.
Is such a draconian solution as the one I’ve proposed absolutely necessary? I’d say yes, but to be totally fair, I might be a tad biased. So, I ask you impartially, do we need it? Let’s reflect for a minute… boorish crowds, atmosphere akin to a carnival, drunken hipsters, and flat-lining sales. Still think we’re “ okay”? If you do, then please go stand with the rest of the herd, behind that velvet rope, as the wheat gets separated further from the chaff, using my next humble suggestion for the Patron problem.
“Sorry, Bro… You’re NOT on the list.”
Here’s another take on making FF better- since us Artists are throwing the party, I say we decide who gets invited. With all due respect, it’s not a high school kegger. Just because you heard about it, that doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to get in. And to control who does, I had to use my artistic TARDIS and retrieve an inspired idea from my gallery days back in NYC, a concept which is as old as the club scene itself: The Velvet Rope.
This, of course, is a very familiar adversary to anyone who has ever spent any time trying to get past one in order to be in the V.I.P section, the place where all the magic happens. I’ll explain. When I had my first solo shows, I needed something to bring the people in. Being the new kid on the proverbial art block, I had no previous street cred or show history to speak of, nor any reviews to back up the (at that time) personally-held belief that my work was solid.
I required a gimmick, a hook, an attention-grabbing publicity device. After ruling out bribery, blackmail, crying, threats of violence, holding my breath until I turned blue, and trading sexual favors, I hit on what eventually did work: exclusion.
Not too shocking a concept really, since I got the idea from standing in line outside a Manhattan club for about two and a half hours before realizing that unless I had cocaine or boobs, I wasn’t getting in any time soon. And thus, a marketing campaign was born. One of the great never fail triggers, especially if you want to tick off your fellow Humans, is to shun them from something. The fact that they didn’t really want to go in the first place doesn’t even matter- it’s the absurd idea that you had the audacity to judge them inferior in the first place.
Seems like it would be counter-productive, I know. But there was a method to my madness, and it was based on the concept of catnip for the Human Ego, as it were. And boy, did I use bags of the stuff to get my name out. First, I hosted a very exclusive invite-only Artist Reception a few nights before the general public opening to let the buzz build, and when the big night arrived, I made it almost impossible to get in. On purpose, mind you. And it worked like a freaking charm. When all is said and done, I love the fact that sometimes, we’re just monkeys with cell phones. Despite our inherent sense of Logic, we’re all hard wired to react a certain way, and it’s a system that’s easily manipulated.
Especially by a Machiavellian bastard like myself. I tend to run with my strengths, you know.The setup was this: I asked one of my more intimidating friends to act as doorman and screen the collected multitude, making sure that only those who looked like definite money were allowed to pass. Well…them, and girls who were really hot. It’s not like I’m a complete idiot.
The over the top act of his checking the clipboard for people’s names; “Sorry Sir/Miss… if you’re not on my list, I can’t let you in- hey, you two cute Punk Rock Asian girls? Go right on in.” was in my humble opinion, sheer f**king genius. And as I said, it worked like a freaking charm. The ones who did get inside were definitely a cut above the mass who didn’t, and the show sold out, much to the delight of the gallery and myself.
Elitist snobbery? You bet’cha.
Whether my fellow Creatives want to admit it or not, at the end of the day, it’s all about moving the work and getting paid. I’ve often been accused of having a touch of the soulless mercenary within me, and obviously- I’m okay with it. Oh hell, let’s be honest. I enjoy every second of it. When the Artist’s smock comes off, the Businessman’s shark skin suit goes on, and that’s how I make sure that a roof remains over my head. Having to split myself into two distinctive halves isn’t as difficult as you might think- heck, Batman does it all the time, and he’s just fine.
But let’s get back to the rope.
The time has come to elevate the culture, and the best way to do that is to start at the door. I don’t come to your job and act like an uncouth jacka**, try having a little respect and do the same when you come to mine. If you’re gonna act like an unrefined bro, I’m gonna treat you like one, and show you the sidewalk where you belong. One of the many beefs I have with FF has always been the consistent annoyance of the low rent crowd mucking about the scene- one’s pajamas should never be considered as formal outdoor wear, unless you’re Hugh Hefner getting his mail.
Depending on the occasion, I endeavor to make sure that I’m appropriately dressed to say the very least. I recently attended “Women’s Room: Art by Phoenix’s Premiere Female Artists” a show of Feminist Art on display at Bragg’s Pie Factory, and gave serious pause to gouging out my eyes at some of the fashion monstrosities I witnessed. Visualize Jersey Shore’s “Snooki” mixed with the “B” team from your local strip club, add a dash of Hoochie Mama, and you’ll have a faultless snapshot of what was fleetingly passing for Fashion that evening.
Sadly, that was just the dudes. To paraphrase Denis Leary: Pull. Up. Your. Pants.
The ladies are also getting a critique too- I like girls in thongs as much as the next guy, but not when it looks like they’ve been poured into their clothes and had forgotten to say “when.” Maybe I’m being a bit of a quadrangle, but I was raised to believe that you don’t leave the house looking like you just rolled out of bed. Seriously… would it kill some of these people to clean up a bit before they came out to the galleries? Apparently, it would, and I’m sick of it.
Hence my velvet line in the sand, which I feel is long overdue. Codes of Conduct and Dress are S.O.P. for other businesses, why not ours? Just because we’re artistic doesn’t mean that we have to put up with the kinds of crap that would get you kicked out of everywhere else. However, I do realize that some of our Patrons may honestly still not have a clue why us Artists get so annoyed, and therefore may need some additional guidance beyond what I posted earlier.
So, my Patrons, here are your additional rules. There will be a pop quiz later, so if I were you, I’d make sure to take notes.
1) You’re Drunk? Great! Please get the F**k out.
The last time I checked, just because there’s wine at an art opening, it doesn’t mean you’re at a bar, so lay off the two handed 12 oz. dead lift. Predictably, since the only time Shane MacGowan looks sober is when he’s standing next to you- you’re not really someone I find to be truly inspiring. Sure, I’ve seen people like you before – but usually I had to pay an admission first.
My apologies. That was completely uncalled for, since to be honest- I feel sorry for you, I really do, because when you look back on the beach that is your life and see only one set of footprints, you’ll realize that this was when Bacchus was sleeping it off. A heads up- if you f**k up my show because you’re staggering around and being obnoxious, I will personally snap off your arm, shove it up your a**, and turn you into a Whiskey-flavored human Popsicle.
For a start. Now, why don’t you go home and slip into something more comfortable… like a coma?
2) This isn’t a Motorhead concert, so you can bring it down a notch.
While we’re all really excited that you graced us with your presence, we’d probably appreciate it a whole lot more if we hadn’t been alerted by your louder than Zeppelin conversational skills when you entered the room. I get it. You’re self-important. However- whoever you are, and wherever you are, you will always be in the wrong if you’re rude.
Amazingly, no one here is interested in where you’ve been tonight, where you’re going next, or whom you’re “hooking up” with later on. It’s an art event, not TMZ, so please… keep it to yourself.
3) Would you like to see if that I-Phone has a “shoved up your a**” app?
This rule is not going to be for the reason you may think. Since I already covered the base of general rudeness with Rule No.2, there’s really no need to beat a dead horse with a reminder of proper phone etiquette. With one exception: phone camera usage.
If I had a sale for every time I stopped someone from stealing my work with their phone, I could have retired long ago. Never mind that half the time they attempt this, they’re usually standing in front of a clearly posted “No Photography Allowed” sign. The fact that you like it doesn’t mean I have to give it to you for free. If you like the art enough to snap an illicit pic to later use as your screen saver, then you should like it enough to buy the original art work that’s hanging right in front of your face.
You have no legal right to do anything with that work UNTIL you purchase it, and even then- the right to do more than display said work is strictly limited and regulated by the laws of these here United States. Selling our work is how we Artists pay our bills, and when you electronically steal our work from us, you impact that ability greatly, and yes- it IS a big deal. If I came to your job and stole your paycheck while you were standing there, would you be cool with it, you loathsome hypocrite?
Thought as much. So next time you’re at an art show, and see something you like, buy it outright or negotiate the price, if that option is extended by the Artist. Speaking from experience, if you’re stealing an Artist’s work (and it IS stealing) the odds are good that if they catch you, you’ll soon find out two things: whether or not your I-Phone is waterproof, and if a colon extraction surgery is covered under your insurance policy.
But on the up side, you’ll have a brand new batch of interesting pics to look at, and it didn’t cost you a dime.
With that, I think it’s time for a well deserved break. And when we get back, the Galleries will be the next entrée on the Artbitch’s serving tray. Don’t you worry. I’ll save you a piece. But be warned, it’s more gristle than meat.
“You never see what you want to see, forever playing to the gallery.” – Robertson Davies