This is commentary on an installation artwork (a landscape) that I made for SVA Open Studios 2019. Called ‘Private View’ it was an opportunity for audiences to enjoy the view from my studio in private for up to ten minutes. Participation was charged at £1.
OH WHAT A LOVELY VIEW
Last time I took part in Open Studios I sold almost nil, but without fail visitors remarked on the lovely View and how I must get terribly distracted by it. (I don’t, thanks for your concern: but it’s nice to have for the occasional times when I remember to gaze out upon it. A sort of luxury item if you will. And its a useful ice-breaker.)
It is a fact that when I took on the space, I was told the View cost extra – an additional £50 per month. I wasn’t looking for a View – I’m not that sort of artist – but in every other respect the space had what I needed and spaces are harder to find these days – so I took it on, luxury View and all.
Now I, like almost all the other artists taking part (I am allowing for the possibility that some are wealthy enough to be able to sidestep market capitalism) have to earn an income in order to take part in the society of which I am a member, ie to pay for living expenses. But like almost all the other artists taking part, my art practice is not something I do as my way of participating in market capitalism. It’s something I do because I have to. It’s a way for me to express my thoughts and feelings and connect in a meaningful way with other humans. I can’t function properly without it: in fact it just happens to me really. There is no Sarah Dixon without Art.
Making art costs money, as we have seen above. But there are few ways to make money (in any field). The main ones I know of are:
- to sell products or services
- to rent out property you own, or sublet property you rent
- to wait for increase in value of property that you own (investment)
- to wait for increase in value of a business that you own or part own
- to lend money with interest
(Can you suggest others? I am always looking to figure this out, and welcome all suggestions.)
In business we are told to sell what people want, to follow the market, and we see the commodification of many areas of life in order to allow money to flow through the system.
GIVE AUDIENCES WHAT THEY WANT
So in this artwork I decided to commodify the View from the studio, which clearly has a cash value as evidenced by the explicit higher rent price. At £1 for 10 minutes, plus free postcard, I would hope audiences consider this excellent value for money. (Indeed when we consider the total value input of the show it’s basically giving it away. The £1 is a symbolic amount for most people. It seems odd to me that people would mind giving someone £1 in exchange for about £2K of value (see below for an account of this). For some perhaps it is a significant quantity. Those people are unlikely to be able to afford the access cost of around £2k to participate as artists and are effectively excluded from the entire process).
By framing the View as an artwork I can claim it as my own and charge for it as a participatory conceptual work. It is a kind of landscape art, which is among the more commercially viable forms on display at Open Studios – something people expect to see at Open Studios in the Cotswolds. Here I have cut out the middle man (the artist) and offered up the landscape for direct consumption.
This process puts me in mind of how land ownership, timber production, mining, oil exploitation – almost any human economic activity in fact, is profoundly exploitative and violent. The View cannot possibly ‘belong’ to me, or anyone. It consists of a confluence of locations – the position of the building (probably the most identifiable value object here) in relation to the valley, the trees that grow on it, the sky above it, the houses and buildings owned by other people, the train and the railway. And most importantly of all, the View only exists in the mind of the viewer. How can I charge for that? It is a violation of reality to do so.
You will perhaps think I am being obtuse. But I and many other artists are struggling to create a functioning practice under this form of capitalism, with its demand for marketable products at prices that only rarely can cover their investment cost, let alone be profitable enough to provide for the expenses of life as well.
How does a thought process, or a particular interaction between a human mind and its location in a landscape, fit in to this system ? I would posit that the invention of conceptualism is a response to this. It is an attempt to create a form in which all kinds of creation can be considered ‘objects’ and can thus be valued. (By market capitalism, which mediates much of our existence and requires of us that we supply cash in exchange for basic requirements of living as well as luxuries, like nice Views.)
EXAMINING ARTIST’S INVESTMENTS IN THE LANDSCAPE
Artist’s participation in Open Studios events typically costs each artist a significant sum. This year (2019) I paid £160 to be listed in the OS brochure and enter a piece into the group show.
Artists work, in this case, for four full weekend days (11-6, plus prep and packup time) during the event. They also spend significant amounts of time and some money beforehand, making work and promoting the event, creating cards and flyers and preparing their spaces for the event.
There is also money spent providing cakes and refreshments and the artists are also paying rent or mortgages on the property where their work is shown.
If we take as a rough starting point a basic freelancer rate of £230 /day, (roughly following a-n guidelines on what artists should be paid) and assume the artist puts in on average three days work as well as the four days of the show, then there is a time value of £1610.
Other estimated costs include:
- Rent £50 (one week)
- Printing cards & marketing materials £60
- Refreshments £30
- Art materials £100
- Open Studio Fee £160
This comes to £2010 per artist.
This year there are 80 artists taking part. That’s an estimated total value of
put into the system by artists in Stroud. And there is another similar festival (SITselect) on at the same time, with about the same number of artists taking part. So that would be £321,600 each festival season.
I have not taken account of the additional events put on as part of the festival or the time spent distributing flyers or invigilating the group show. I have not included the childcare and other care work that needs to happen to support the artists to be available for the shows. I have not included the time donated by the free local arts magazine and its writers, to cover and promote the events.
There are undoubtedly many other costs not taken into account here. (I would love for you to add your costs to the inventory. The figure I have reached is pretty arbitrary and I’d like to make it more real. In fact, I would love to hear from you if you are able to do some accounting to give these figures more veracity. There is a shortage of volunteer accountants in the art world.)
Of course some artists will make sales of work – a few, indeed, make a good profit. However, this is somewhat unpredictable, and not evenly spread amongst participants.
Apparently estate agents enthusiastically receive the Open Studios brochures. So I hear from other artists. Why might that be?
I suggest that it’s because the value of a house is not just in its size or quality but in its location location location. And what does location mean?
It is the context. A context rich in cultural and entertainment value – in social value – adds a lot to the value of the house. And it is the landscape, so precious to property owners and buyers.
Property owners and investors are the primary beneficiaries of the cultural investment given by artists to the landscape they inhabit. Estate agents are also beneficiaries, as are cafes, shops and hostelries in the area. How do they support the artists? Are they just exploiting innate human activity just as timber fellers exploit rainforest? As we have seen, artists are unpredictable and patchy beneficiaries of the investment made. A wise (fortunate, ie already in possession of good fortune) artist runs their show from their own home, or owns the property where the art is made and presented.
Yet artists keep doing it – offering up their labour, ideas, work, time and materials for free, paying to participate as contributors to cultural events.
Why? Do share.
Views are the artist’s own.