This week Happenstance gallery is holding a show of artwork rejected by the Royal Academy, which prompts a discussion about valuing and defining art with democracy. This is important so let us get stuck inÖ.
To discuss art valuation, let us be reminded of the dominant system our society uses to set prices for things, free market capitalism. It bears similarity with the free vote system of democracy. Itís the free bit. Both attempt to be fair by giving everyone influence. Supposedly, everyone is free to vote for who they want to decide who governs. Supposedly everyone is free to buy or sell what they want at the price they want which sets prices. No-one is forced to vote for what they do not want. No-one is forced to buy what they do not want.
Those wants are also called demand. Demand is a bit like a vote with your money. Economists would have us believe that free markets work automatically matching supply and demand. There is an assumption that want or demand just magically happens on its own. In fact, that is not always true; let us look at it more closely. Demand for a bottle of water to quench thirst will arise on its own, but your demand for a book written in Chinese will probably not happen till you learn to read Chinese. Demand for the Chinese book depends on getting some education first. This is typical of demand for many types of media. The demand level for a communication medium depends on the education level of an audience to understand it. Demand is not automatic like thirst for water. Art is like this. You may want (demand) an artwork because:
YOU find the artwork aesthetically beautiful;
YOU detect a message or commentary in the art;
YOU detect the artist emotion in the artwork content;
YOU feel your own emotions stirred by the artwork content;
As a medium of communication and expression, art can do all of this but demand for these intrinsic values of art depends on ability to understand its visual lingo (i.e. visual literacy). Demand also depends on openness to handle your own emotional stirrings as well as the emotions of others (i.e. emotional intelligence.) These characteristics provide a framework to consider a definition of what is art but I shall not consider that any further.
Visual literacy and emotional intelligence powerfully impact demand for art; everyone can sharpen up or dumb down these faculties. It really is just a case of practice, which readily comes if you have information and access in the free market.
Now here is the problem! One of the basic guiding principles of fairness behind free market capitalism is that everyone has equal access and full information about the stuff for sale. However, the art market does not operate like that. It is riddled with insider information and is not regulated; it violates free market principles. It is corrupted. This corruption even extends to those we trust to keep its integrity; The TATE receives considerable taxpayer and lottery funds and recently bought a work by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei but they have not publicly revealed the price paid. Contrast a transparent regulated stockmarket where sale prices are published in milliseconds on trading screens for everyone. If information is not flowing fast and free then supply cannot match demand in a meaningful way and price valuations will be wrong, led by a few insiders in an un-free market.
As a direct result outsiders (the majority of us) lack access and information, which directly impedes the chance to practice visual literacy and emotional intelligence. Consequently, for the majority, the main criterion behind demand-led valuation of art becomes aesthetic beauty alone. Meanwhile, economists wrongly categorise art as a luxury purchase rather than an essential. Art helps manage emotions and this is essential, not a luxury. Worse, the economists and policy makers fail to correct free market theory (and practice) to allow for visual literacy and emotional intelligence in pricing the true intrinsic value of art.
Does all this matter? Well, this exhibition has invited us to vote for our top 3 choices. Why have we been asked to vote? Probably because we like democracy. So, let us look again at our parliamentary voting system. It is one person, one vote. Some decisions which affect our country involve very complex factors, which you may not understand. Some elitists believe we should remove the vote from those who do not understand and leave complex decisions to the elite. Still, itís one person, one vote. Educated or not, we consider everybodys opinion valid in choosing who runs the country. Not everyone has the luxury of time to learn everything about everything although we must take interest. The informed elite must be public spirited and good enough to make sufficient, succinct information available for all to make informed decisions. We people are capable of understanding the complex stuff.
Unfortunately, in the art world the opposite applies. Instead of sharing information equally, the informed elite keep the unregulated art market un- free and corrupted with privileged access for themselves. In so doing, they impede promotion and practice of visual literacy and emotional intelligence, leaving the majority dumbed down allowing themselves to step in as elite price-setters. Do you really believe they know how many of you would really enjoy a powerful emotional response to the artworks they accepted or rejected from the Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition? They do not know you. They do not know your life or your emotions. Of course they do not know. Do they believe their own emotional response is more valid than yours? If so, they would be wrong. So what if they know about the art? That's only half of this emotion communication circle. They don't know about you, nor everyone else.
So, why do we allow this un-equal information advantage in art but not politics? They have hijacked the free market by controlling information and access.
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The Happenstance show operated a basic low tech voting system by giving each visitor 3 white sticky labels to attach on the wall below each artwork they like. The artwork with most sticky lables wins. I suspect the purpose of this show in inviting votes is to compare and contrast the democratic choice with the expert choice. No doubt there will be a difference between the choice of the elite and the masses.
Does this matter? Yes, absolutely.
I salute this attempt at democracy although the show only displayed about 80 artworks out of probably thousands that got rejected. So, if you really want to level the playing field in the world of art, what can you do?..........Click here
06/06/2012: Mind the gap! 2009-2011 What happened?
Last year, on this blog I announced our comeback with Art Buffet as a Community Interest Company.
I introduced Tony as new CEO and apologized for the long gap since Art-Switch closed in 2009! Now before continuing, it is important for transparency to explain why there was a gap and what happened in that gap. This is about my core motivations as founder and my journey.
I used to work as a doctor in healthcare. My intuition and emotional intelligence were switched on and told me that healing happens more effectively when a sick person feels positive and feels loved. I emphasise feelĚ. It is positive energy. I sensed that positive healing energy of a person is powerfully boosted if health care includes:
Caring to allow loving relatives enough time and space to give love
Caring to ensure dignity or modesty when they are naked
Caring without allowing egoistic professionalism to block loving body language and smiles
Caring to let sick people shape their environment in a personalised way (favourite teddy or art etc.)
All this warms and stimulates healing energy.
I also sensed that certain things can often diminish positive healing energy such as:
Focusing a subconscious mind on non-healing; legal consent forms emphasise what can go wrong.
Suggesting in subconscious mind that a patient is less important - as carers hurry to see others.
I saw that hard logical objective science can be a helpful tool but I also saw that this tool was being given too much importance. This is a mistake because objectivity cannot yet properly measure positive healing energy and actions that boost it.
As a doctor, I felt the big system encouraged and rewarded me for practicing with logical objective hard science but not for practicing with emotional intelligence, intuitive sensitivity or those un-measurable values which boost positive healing energy. Often, the system even got in the way of my caring love. I left medicine and entered corporate world. Here too I found the same culture with all decision-making dominated by hard logical objectivity and numbers. Non-measurable values are ignored.
I am not against using logic or rational objectivity as a tool but its dominance in decision-making is rampant and is crushing all non-measurable values in society. I realised there is a dire need to create a movement to push back, re-awaken and re-invigourate our emotional intelligence (EQ), which is being switched off and dumbed down by the system which favours left brain logical thinking (IQ). This was the subject of my MBA thesis in 2004.
In 2002, I conceived of a business service to kick-start that movement by enabling people to switch on and practice using their emotional intelligence by looking at lots of art from an art library. In 2005, I launched the service and called it Art-Switch.
07/05/2011: Lots to say...
Hello again!! I'm back. We're back!
Apologies for the long gap and thank you for your patience. It's been a tough couple of years but we've come out of it leaner and better placed to achieve our mission.
We are now officially a social enterprise Community Interest Company. We have a new name Art Buffet. Geddit? (Think smorgasbord class and variety, not cheap £5 chinese.) New brand and logo coming....
We're delighted to have a new CEO, Tony Wells, at the helm of our operations. He's is going to have a positive impact on this venture and I guarantee you will feel his presence. I ask you to join with me in wishing him the best of luck.
As for me? Well, I've spent nearly 10 years in the front line where finance and business meets the arts and creativity. I've seen a lot of mumbo jumbo, corruption, insider dealing and general exclusion and lack of transparency that goes on in the commercial world. In the financial sector it's outrageous and it's even worse in the arts.
So now I have a lot to say. It needs to be revealed. It needs to be fixed. The world is going through a lot of change and much systemic unfairness is being revealed, even in democratic countries.
Expect to hear a lot from me! It's going to be strong and it's going to be everywhere. We're engaging in a fight for fairness.
Please join us in this struggle or at least be a cheerleader.
26/05/2009: New Art-Switch Video Blog!
We're proud to present the second installment of our London based artist interview series! This interview takes place with sculptor Jeremy Willett and provides an insight into the way he works, his influences and what he intends to achieve with his work. Jeremy's work fuses sculpture and painting, finding an exciting juxtaposition between the two techniques. He uses a range of mediums that span from Wood to Canvas to Jesmonite and mixes them with a colour pallet that includes a mix of both pastel and bold, bright colours.
We've already got the next interview lined up, so check back regularly to catch the next video and also to get a round up of what's happening in the art world through our blog. If you haven't seen the first installment of our interview series then click here to view the interview with Alice White.
Click read more to see parts 2 & 3 of the interview.
07/05/2009: The Rose Art Museum, Massachusetts Faces Closure
Part of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, the Rose Art Museum is facing an uncertain future that could result in the selling of its 8000+ work art collection. The museum was founded in 1961 and holds some early works by great American artists such as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. It's also held some pretty renowned, important exhibitions by artists Joseph Cornell and Dana Schutz including others. It is the universities debt, however, not the museums that is forcing The Rose into an uncertain future. The university is considering the drastic action of closing the museum completely and auctioning off the collection in order to cover the potential $79m debt facing the university.
29/04/2009: Turner Prize 2009 Shortlist Announced
Roger Hiorn's is one of the four nominated artists
The four shortlisted artists were announced for one of the biggest art prizes of the year have been announced this week and are as follows: Enrico David, Roger Hiorns, Lucy Skaer and Richard Wright. The prize is held annually and open awards 'a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding'. The Turner Prize has been running since 1984 and has seen the likes of Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Anthony Gormley, Grayson Perry and Anish Kapoor take home the prize money. This year the £40,000 prize fund will be split into £25,000 for the overall winner and £5000 for the other shortlisted artists.
Damien Hirst has chosen an unlikely setting for his next retrospective, Kiev in Ukraine. He's picked up on the former Soviet Republic's 'newly discovered interest in contemporary art' and plans to bring over 100 sculptures and installations, plus oil paintings to the city. Many of these works have never been seen before, but as Hirst feels his current audiences are growing tired of his work he sees an audience farther afield can view his work with fresh eyes:
"I've always thought that museums are for dead artists and I kind of was afraid of that. But I think because in Ukraine the audience is so new ... to contemporary art at least ... that makes it exciting, that makes me want to do it." - Damien Hirst
23/04/2009: Berlin Wall Murals to be Re-created
120 Artists works decorate the 'East Side Gallery'
Paintings that adorned the East side of the Berlin wall are to be restored in a scheme to breathe a new life into the dilapidated wall that now serves as one of Berlins main tourist attraction. After the wall was torn down, a group of eastern Berlin artists called the East Side Gallery recognised the wall as the 'worlds largest open-air gallery' and decorated the wall with a series of murals to breathe life into the structure that once split their city in two. The paintings were political remembrances to the purpose of the wall as it stood dividing Berlin's citizens because of political beliefs.
21/04/2009: New Art-Switch Video Blog!
We've got a new project kicking off today! The Art-Switch video blog aims to give you an insight into the working practice of a range of London Based Artists. We kick off today with Alice White, a painter whose work features in the Art-Switch library.
There are more interviews in the pipeline, so keep checking back to see more interviews with different artists working in different mediums. The video has been split up into handy bite sized clips to enjoy at your convenience.
Be sure to click read more to see parts 2 and 3 of the interview.
The Diana Memorial, Hyde Park. But what could have filled the space instead?
The Henry Moore Foundation was set up by famous British sculptor Henry Moore to promote visual art, especially sculpture across two settings, one in Leeds and another in Hetfordshire. Moore himself is famous for his monumental public sculptures that are dotted all around the world so it's fitting that the forthcoming exhibition at the Leeds foundation is going to showcase a range of public art proposals but with a twist: none of them were ever made.