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Surviving Art

Author: Matej Tomažin

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The art world is a magical place full of complex conversations about unmade beds, buttered-up chairs and urinals, but nobody seems to want to talk about how it actually works. I want to change that.

So, welcome to Surviving Art, a safe place where trigger words like job security and pension fund are strictly forbidden.

But what isn’t, is making sense of the art market; how to price your work, approach galleries and get exhibitions, as well as tips and strategies on how to sell your art directly to collectors and get your creative message across.
158 Episodes
After a (too) long hiatus, we're back with a conversation with performance and conceptual artist Oreet Ashrey, and we chatted about the art world, not being boxed up as an artist and how there actually was a time when being an artist was considered as being an affluent individual! Her website:
Welcome to another very special episode at Surviving Art. We’re doing market research in London as part of a cultural residency, provided by Slovenia’s Ministry of Culture and will be conducting a series of interviews and talks about the art market in London. In the series, I’ll be chatting with book publishers, both emerging and well-established artists, gallerists and other art world professionals and today I have the immense pleasure to introduce the wonderful Denis Maksimov: Denis is an aesthetico-political scholar and independent curator based in London and Athens. His research focuses on the supranormal phenomena of power in European mythography, world history, literature, arts, and audiovisual cultures. His advisory practice covers the issues of political technologies, EU-Russia, and international relations. In his artistic projects, many of which are developed under the aegis of Avenir Institute, he investigates political potentiality in futures, something we explore in-depth in the coming chat. We talked about the future & avenirs, art institutions and art fairs in the age when accelerating neoliberal capitalism reigns over defining value, questions of power and attention in the arts and much, much more. Enjoy: Links: Avenir institute’s FACEBOOK: Avenir institute’s WEB: Avenir institute’s IG: Denis Maksimov’s webpage:
Welcome to a very special series of episodes at Surviving Art. We’re doing market research in London as part of a cultural residency, provided by Slovenia’s Ministry of Culture and will be conducting a series of interviews and talks about the art market in London. In the series, I’ll be chatting with book publishers, both emerging and well-established artists, gallerists and other art world professionals. And to kick it all off, today’s run-and-gun podcast (meaning, please excuse the London traffic in the background, it’s inevitable), is with Lizzie Reid from Lizzie’s Lines. We talked about art school and why going to art school might not be the best option (at least not in places, where education isn’t free (I’m still amazed that people come out of college with debt almost as large as the GDP of a small country). And we also explored her views on the possibilities curatives have in London at this very moment, how a longer hiatus can actually be good for you and much, much more. Enjoy. In her words: “Illustration, design and poetry are the facets that make up Lizzie's Lines. Sourcing her creativity from the subconscious mind, Lizzie uses instinctive mark-making and metaphorical language to reveal her current thoughts, emotions and beliefs of her place in the world. Predominantly using paint and ink, Lizzie draws in moments of creative desire and adopts a patient approach to enable her eye for visual balance to define the poetic relationships between her signature lines, shape, colour and space.” And here’s all the link paraphernalia anyone curious about what Lizzie’s work looks like could want, enjoy: Website: Instagram: @Lizzies_Lines Portfolio:
Art is obviously emotional and as such its value is determined absolutely subjectively. The big question though is how, because even though ambivalent, subjectivity can still give us a lot of various starting points to think about our target audience. How people recognise a good story in objects and experiences differs from person to person — that’s why it’s subjective — but usually we can find basic guidelines that can help us define this perception. The main idea behind this exercise is to find what is most important for each person, that we are trying to understand. What are their needs? What do they wish for? Do these wishes and needs have a certain urgency? Do they provide pain or discomfort for them and can our art elevate or even completely fix their issues?
Artist statements, even though they might appear like a load of pretentious art-talk (which many of them sadly are), serve a very important purpose: presenting your passion in a bite-sized package, to be easily consumed and understood by the reader or listener (you can, and should know how to pitch them too). But what many of us present as an artist statement is usually exactly the opposite of what it should be; we focus on intellectually sounding words and sentences like this: “As wavering phenomena become rediscovered through subversive personal practices, the observer is left with an awareness of the boundaries of our era.”, rather than actually trying to communicate clearly.
Story is everything

Story is everything


Be it online or in person, there’s a lot of competition in the arts. And the fact that the art world is much smaller compared to the world of business, law or medicine, only makes it harder for any one artist to succeed. While everybody online is telling us to “niche down”, and explaining why it’s so important, usually no specific tactics are disclosed, and the how is left for us to figure out for ourselves. This blunder is intended for anyone who wishes to find their focus and stand out in today’s oversaturated creative market by understanding the immense power of storytelling — especially when positioning ones creative skill and aspirations in the market.
In the last two blunders we discussed the importance of calculating ones base expenses and all-around financial needs on a monthly basis and the concept of added value. Today, I’d like to combine the two and take a deeper look into how various models can help us to set fair and consistent prices for our work. First of all, we need to acknowledge a very important fact; the pricing model we use to determine our value shouldn’t necessarily be the same one we use to communicate that value to others. Not to be misunderstood, I don’t mean that we should hide such info or act as we’re beyond money — the main problem here is semantics. Part I: Pricing your art the right way Part I: Expenses and Resources Part II: Pricing your art the right way Part II: Value and Worth
Oscar Wilde once wrote: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” A true artist therefore should be the exact opposite, but not due to ignorance towards the ever-present concept of money; the real truth of the matter is that putting a price tag on an embodiment of love, hate, reminiscence or longing (and all the other messages that art can communicate) just isn’t as easy as adding up ones material and overhead costs and slapping a 20% markup on the sum.
Creating a beautiful work of art is hard by itself, but when it comes to putting a price tag on whatever we made, it does tend to get even harder for most of us artistic types. The question for today (and a few future blunders) is therefore: How much is creativity even worth? And today I’d like to share the method that works best for me; and please don’t worry, there’s minimal maths involved, and the few equations that we will mention are of the sweet, money-generating variety, that — in my opinion — makes them much easier to understand. Let us therefore put on our green accountant hats (if you have one) and get down to business.
Just as with sweeteners and coffee, you have natural and artificial options to spice up your art, too. Both sweeteners and symbols are created by moulding reality to our will, but unlike aspartame and the like, artificial symbols don’t have negative health side effects (unless we count war and propaganda, of course).  It does though open up your work to the possibility of being misinterpreted, and in today’s blunder, we’re going to take a peek at how we can at least guide our audiences into the right direction as well as take a jab at the underlying question that many of you might be asking yourselves. Namely, if there even is a “right” direction with art — we might just as easily say that any perspective is a valid one and that there are no “wrong” ways to understand a work of art.  Well, let’s find out!
Art and entertainment

Art and entertainment


More and more you see art shows being coupled with support programs that, to an art goer from a couple of decades ago, would resemble more a visit to the local club than an actually gallery — albeit a club that, for whatever reason, seems to also have some “art” on the walls. But why is that?!
An interesting sentence, uttered by a friend of mine while we were chatting over drinks, was that “Art has no purpose, only consequences.” and these six words really struck a chord with me. In today’s blunder therefore, I’d like to explore this statement, because I think a lot of us may posses a misconstrued understanding about our artistic production that could (and probably does) influence our ability to reach the right audience and consequently grow as artists.
Welcome to a very special episode of Surviving Art (done for the 33rd Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana! What makes this one so special are the interests of my guest: Amy Whitaker. She is an assistant professor at NYU with a Masters degree in business as well as a masters in Fine Art. An incredible mix of interests and one of the reasons why I’m so excited for this interview. She’s also the author of two incredibly interesting books.  Museum Legs, which is a wonderful collection of thoughts on the operation of museums, asking questions like: What's the purpose of an art museum? Should they educate us or entertain us, or merely act as a public display for works of art? And regardless of what purpose they have, should all art museums try to serve the same one or niche down and specialise in following one particular mission? Her second book Art Thinking explores the act of being creative in today’s world of schedules, budgets and bosses. It combines the mind-sets of art and creative thinking and the tools of business, offering practical advice, inspiration, and a healthy dose of pragmatism for anyone that wishes to navigate the difficulties of balancing creative thinking in a business environment. Link to the Hyperallergic article, mentioned in the show: Link to Amy’s worksheet and notes: Link to the video interview:
Creating art is a two step process; first you obviously have to make it, but then you also have to show it and present it to the public, and hopefully leave an impact on the world (preferably for the better). But these two steps could not be further apart in both their methodology and all-around nature. The real problem is that making art is a predominantly personal and intimate experience, but showing and presenting it requires an entirely different skillset. So, in today’s blunder I would like to explore the act of creation and presentation and — with a little help from psychoanalysis, theory of mind and history, all sprinkled with a few down-to-earth examples — show that even though it seems like they are two very disparate things, in order to master either of them, we really “only” need to master one thing: ourselves. Link to the book, mentioned in the podcast: The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
A few days ago I had the great pleasure to interview Amy Whitaker (she has an MBA from Yale and an MFA in Painting from Slade University — an incredible mix!).She is also an associate professor at NYU and the author of two very interesting books: Museum Legs and Art Thinking. Our conversations and her writing got me thinking about my own exploration of both worlds and the ever-present question of economics in art. Amy speaks of two inherently different but incredibly interconnected ways of thinking and experiencing the world. The first kind she calls Art Thinking; this is the process of letting go, of giving ones mind the time and space to wander, explore, and get excited about the world and the question I want to ask today is: How can one create their own system that incorporates both? Or better yet: How can we find already created ones, that we can reappropriate and reuse to fit our own needs? LINK TO HER TWO BOOKS (Both are incredibly interesting for artist, that would like to nurture their business side and I highly recommend reading them both!): Museum Legs: Art Thinking:
A wonderful quote of which the author eludes me even after 5 min of thorough Google searching goes like this: “Life is a game. You can be a player or a toy.” And the question I’d like to pose today is: How does making your own rules, and sometimes even completely rejecting the already established ones, that our environment proposes, impact our perspective on life and place in society?
When we think about creativity and inspiration, we might picture an image of a spirit, a muse, that comes forth from the heavens and touches us in funny places at the most random of times imaginable. But these moments aren’t random, and there really is no extraterrestrial or divine power fondling our brains. It’s all an illusion, a misunderstanding of causality and how our perception and thinking work. While the idea of inspiration coming from outside of us isn’t that far from the truth — the building blocks of any idea are build, similarly to dreams, from our encounters with reality — it’s not the outside that needs to come into alignment for us to get a “great” idea.  It’s our insides. Link to the book I mention: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
To be frank, all comments on either the meaning or purpose of anything are irrelevant in the grander scheme of things, because all are but a form of ideology, a kind of software that runs in our minds if you will, and contrary to common belief that humans are nothing more than complex Turing machines, no programs are actually alike. What I believe my purpose is, could not be further from what you or your friends might think your goals in life should be; while we might all resemble each other in the ways we operate — we may wish to expand, to satiate our insatiable curiosity about life, to play and consume and of course gain as much power as we can (or believe is appropriate to have) — each and everyone of us has a distinct means of operating in the world. What I’d like to focus on today is the distinction between form and function or between self-actualisation and power appropriation.
Is this art?

Is this art?


Countless figures throughout history have tried to explain this incredibly complex question: What is art? And more importantly, what isn’t art? But still the institutions have no real answer, no common ground upon which they could define a normative of what defines art. Brut art is a problem, so are other outsider artists, and home schooled creatives that defy or just never become part of the institutional system.  It’s the carpenters that put more than the usual love and attention to detail in building their “consumer objects”. It’s the iPhones and iPads and other designer products that always walk the thin line between art and function. Then you have others that do not agree with the institutional idea that one needs to even be part of the system to be considered an artist. You only need to have ideas and communicate them with the world via your production. And in the philosophy of aesthetics — the field that studies this question ontologically — there is even more confusion. LINKS TO THE ARTICLES MENTIONED: The first one is by Thomas Nagel, titled What It Is Like To Be A Bat. The next story, written by Frank Jackson is titled What Mary Didn’t Know.  Titled The Chinese Room, this wonderful tale of speaking Asian walls stirred the lines of cognitive scientists when first presented in 1980 by John Searle.
People have two intrinsic desires; to know themselves and to find a place in their environment. We constantly search for better ways, a clearer image of who we are and continuously try to place that projection of ourselves into society and our environment at large. But a lot of us make a grave mistake when conducting our search. A mistake we might not even recognise, but that defines and ultimately controls our inability to find our true way in life.