How the Tate staff strike exposes the contradictions ravaging the arts sector



It is time our major art institutions address the mucky business of money. 

During my younger years in Dublin I managed to cultivate a churlish distrust of art and artists, despite never having spent much time around either. I seemed to have missed out on a silent but vital lesson, somewhere between the age of 14 – when art meant being good at drawing fruit and faces – and adulthood, when art meant all manner of unquantifiable, shifting things. I liked to go to art openings because attractive people did so too, and there would be a crucial ten minutes early on where you could rinse the free, albeit acrid, wine. But the art itself, whatever it happened to be, I turned sullenly away from, refusing to engage. I had the feeling that someone might be ­having me on with what they had ­produced. To express a thought, no matter how general or banal, would ­reveal instantly that I had failed where others had succeeded, and that I could not understand the objects on a sophisticated level.

Sometimes this suspicion of mine that it was all a droll laugh at the ignorant viewer’s expense did bear out; an exhibition I went to featured a red button accompanied by a sign that read “push me”, and when I moved to do so a pristine gallery assistant glided towards me to forbid it. But for the most part my instinctive eye-rolling at what I perceived to be the pseudo-intellectual excess of the art world was reactive and borne out of insecurity. Not only was I not a particularly visually-minded person, but I had dropped out of university and had no grasp of theoretical terms.

When I was 24, though, and living in London, my relationship to the art world changed because the man I was seeing was an artist and so was more or less everyone he knew. All of my roommates in the south London house I’d moved into were, too. My roommates weren’t the terrifyingly fashionable trust fund types I assumed most practising artists had to be by definition. They were like me insofar as they juggled an array of scrappy jobs, were tired all the time, and battling against the abrasive city we chose to live in. But, unlike me, they had a purpose, something they cherished. They tried hard, and they cared. I think ­seeing this made me look at art in a new, softer way.

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I noticed that my new friends and acquaintances would refer to their “waged work” instead of simply work, to distinguish what they did to pay their bills from their other, creative work. Something about this excited me, the casual implication that making art (or in my case writing) could be valid even when it did not commercially reward you. For years I had worked in transient nothing jobs: retail, hospitality and admin temping, writing in my spare time. Because of how I earned money, I never ­allowed ­myself to say I was a writer, but …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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