MerryDeath #87

“HERE IT ALL STINKS,” CAPITOL THOUGHT.  “ART IS MAKING ACCORDING TO THE IMAGINATION.  HERE, BUYING AND SELLING ARE THE RULES; THE RULES OF COMMODITY HAVE DESTROYED THE IMAGINATION.  HERE, THE ONLY ART ALLOWED IS MADE BY POSTCAPITALIST RULES.  ART ISN’T MADE ACCORDING TO RULES.’  ANGER MAKES YOU WANT TO SUICIDE.”
-Kathy Acker, taken from the DEAD DOLL PROPHECY

    One: As a part of a new book to be coming out on AK Press I am editing interviews with fifteen different punks, graffiti writers, makers of prints, some who call themselves artists, others who call themselves as trouble makers, many who say both.  It’s a written discussion about how some of us view art making, and why we make art with political content.  It’s comprised of folks from all over the country who have not all met each other, but have really similar goals.  I’m really excited about it, because it feels like even though we sometimes feel alone, shouting into the dark, there are people we can’t see yelling back. 
    Two: My friend Pippi and I are organizing an art show and panel discussion on art and commodity.  It’s about creating our own world for displaying and selling art outside of elite art galleries geared towards selling art to really rich people who consider themselves collectors of culture.  It involves local printmakers, some of whom are now gallery artists, and other folks who make prints when the inspiration arises.  The show is priced in sliding scale, where people have to decide what they can afford to pay for something within a price range.
    Both of these projects are exciting and involve punks, hippies, freaks, radicals, sub-cuturalists who communicate through visual imagery.  Yet, the environments surrounding them are so different.  The first project is made up of malcontents and radicals across the country who make art so that as many people as possible can enjoy and afford it.  Much of the work appears on the streets, traded with other people, given away, or sold at a sliding scale so people can have a role in determining the price based on their own relationships to money.  We have a lot of beautiful ideas; that art and life should be merged.  We defy the tradition of capitalist America of assigning and determining value of our work.  We declare new ways of bringing art into people’s lives where money is not the driving force behind why and how we live.  There is an underlying powerful belief in the intrinsic beauty inside of all people and the power we have when we all stand together and fight together.  We give away, wheat paste, or trade the bulk of what we make because we want to communicate with people.  When we sell things at sliding scale, we believe that people will be responsible and honest and pay what they can actually afford while also truly valuing the time and energy we put into what we make.  The sliding scale system lets people know that we understand and respect that we don’t all have the same resources and money; but we want many people to enjoy what we make.  Therefore, we invite them to work with us to respect their unique situation and figure out a barter where both people leave feeling excited rather than ripped off.
    The sliding scale show Pippi and I are working on is perhaps the first sliding scale group art show in Providence, perhaps ever?  Most people in the show have never sold things sliding scale before, others have never heard of it, some people know about it through Bread and Puppet and their Cheap Art Manifesto (totally awesome).  Regardless, most people accepted it immediately as an attractive and interesting idea.  I am super curious and excited to see how different people interpret what print they will make 100 copies of to sell for $1-$15 versus a print they will make 25 copies of to sell for $20-$150.  There has been a small response from people who are worried that people will try to get the “best deal”; like pay $1 for a print in the first range even if they have enough money to pay $15.  I think it demonstrates the insidious way that capitalist mainstream society has so thoroughly and successfully corrupted our psyches that we feel we must assume that humans are inherently selfish and greedy.  But in reality, when we treat each other with honor and respect, we usually get the same in return.
    The role of art in the world is something I am highly concerned about, since I consider myself an “artist”- though to me this means that I like creating visual images with my hands and I am miserable when I’m not doing that.  But I also feel greatly estranged from most people around me who consider themselves “artists”.  I live in Providence, RI where there are local folks who have done the equivalent to “selling out” in punk; they make art that lives in galleries and rich people’s houses and sells for almost as much money as I pay in rent for a year.  Because there hasn’t been a historic precedent for a group of “punk-esque/diy/subculture/whatever artists” getting invited to be “represented” by a “gallery” before, most people aren’t having an instinctive knee-jerk reaction of, “fuck those sell outs” that has happened for years when a punk musician signs to a major record label.  In fact, now the hip attitude seems to be that being a gallery artist is THE awesome way to get paid to be able to keep playing in our forts.  Along with this has become an elitist vision of who the Important, Cool, Good Artists are; which is predominately men and artist couples.  The elitist capitalist gallery system has trickled onto us and tricked us into determining what we should value in our own subculture.  People’s value seems to be determined materialistically rather than on creating a mutual aid based community.  Our value is not determined by whether we are a good friend, and how we can support each other and work together, but whether we make good product with a supply smaller than the demand.  Most people make limited edition prints, are very careful about what they will trade for and who with, and very few prints are simply given away or placed in the streets.  People are well respected if they create a lot of stuff, and everyone else is expected to be an excited audience for them to perform for.  The result is that this subculture can be really unfriendly, and people are expected to prove ourselves valuable before we are accepted into the herd.  So, there is a “fend for yourself” attitude that prevails, which prevents us from creating an open armed, sustainable alternative to capitalist America.  The hardest thing to do now seems to be to convince ourselves that we have strength in numbers.  It’s a harder road to travel, so it’s easy for people to lose the trail and wander to the larger, far easier road of individualism.  We have to be willing to fight for what we all believe in, and compromise on some of our slight different aesthetical visions so we can create a greater alternative.  It’s easy to fend for ourselves, to be selfish and isolated.  It’s a far more rewarding and beautiful road to work together and fight together against the larger forces.  We need to have goals and demands, and threaten disobedience and substantial consequences when large powers try to intervene.  Step one may be the part where we have to realize the world is much larger than us and our art; but also that we are all infinitely larger when we don’t stand alone.