From the early 1980s until the mid 1990s I wrote a regular column for Art New England magazine called FORUM.  It was an attempt to create a conversation regarding the relationships between artists and the art world, in partiular - art museums, government funders, critics and collectors.  It sometimes garnered emotional responses from readers.

I have included a small selection of artices here.


National Endowment For The Arts — Not Artists                                                December 1982
                The National Endowment for the Arts has been out of the budget-growth fast lane for some time now. Indeed, it appears as though the motor will be at best left idling again, or if Reagan gets his way, shifted into reverse. In its first decade, from 1965 to 1974 (remember Dick Nixon?), the Endowment's appropriation increased near­ly tenfold, from $8 million to $74 million. In the ten budget years since, it has failed to sustain one doubling, and this session's lame duck congress will likely park it some­where between S100 and $140 million. It Mr. Reagan gets his way, and the low-end figure, the NEA will be spending less on all of the arts—including film, video, music, literature, dance, and the visual arts—than the armed services will spend on military bands.
                Those of us working under the banner of the visual arts have never received a parti­cularly generous share of the Endowment's funds. Visual artists are the least well-organized of all artists, and as a result the least well-funded. Furthermore, direct sup­port for all individual artists from the NEA has always been marginal, usually ac­counting for less than one-tenth of the budget. In 1979, when that budget was in the $140 million range, less than $2 million (1.4 percent) was distributed to visual art­ists and crafts persons of every stripe. (It must be acknowledged that we artists do garner some trickle-down benefits from a number of NEA-funded programs adminis­tered by institutions, and there has always been some political difficulty in making grants to individuals, such as the NEA fellowships.)
                Perhaps more important than the political difficulty in supporting artists is the political ease with which we can be ignored. We may be either too cynical or too comfort­able in our outsider roles to attempt to change that situation by raising our voices. When I do hear artists discussing the NEA it all too often takes the form of complaints about who gets the fellowships (a topic we now have to discuss only every other year) or how ridiculous it is to give out such large ($25,000) fellowships when it means that only half as many recipients can now expect to receive them.
                At any rate, it's always a lot easier to grouse about the NEA to our friends than to talk to the people who make the deci­sions. For starters, we need to assert our­selves as a real constituency to our elected officials and urge them to push for an increase in Endowment funds above the sixty-five cents per capita now being pro­vided. Next, we need to be heard in Wash­ington by the people who are making the decisions about how those funds are being spent. Frank Hodsoll is the new Endow­ment director and Benny Andrews the new director of the Visual Arts Program.
                We all stand to benefit from a healthy and growing Arts Endowment, for there can be no doubt that the symbolic magnitude of its expenditures far outweighs its actual spending. When it was traveling in the fast lane, its slipstream enhanced the growth of a widening public audience and an ever-increasing commitment of funds from the corporate sector. However, 10 percent of the pot for artists is a wholly inadequate share from an organization whose avowed purpose includes "fostering the profession­al excellence of the arts in America." Even the Endowment has failed to acknowledge us as a real constituency.

Artists as Banks                                                                                             March 1983
                The gallery system, which remains the primary source of sales for contemporary artists, continues to function as a far less than perfect mechanism for both dealers and artists. The economic downturn of the past couple of years has exacerbated the structural problems to the point where a fair number of galleries have closed their doors. In a way, the past decade or so of high inflation has been both an ally and an enemy. An ally, because in times of infla­tion people like art for additional reasons, as they do all "collectibles", and an enemy because it eventually drove interest rates up so high that nobody wanted to go to the bank and borrow money directly. Instead, a number of groups became de facto banks, or at least lenders, including artists.
                Artists as bankers, or even lenders, may seem a preposterous idea at first, but the fact is that they have in many cases served as the involuntary lenders who have allowed a large number of galleries to con­tinue to operate when they might otherwise have had to close. The way in which this has oc­curred is that when income came in from generally falling sales, galleries had to choose between paying creditors who could and would padlock the doors or turn off the utilities, and artists. Going to the bank and borrowing at 20% would be sui­cide, so in effect they deferred paying their artists. The result is that artists have been providing interest free loans to their gal­leries in the amount they are owed. The scale of the problem is substantial. I know of a dozen artists currently owed sums in the thousands each, and by reputable gal­leries. There is also one internationally known artist who was owed a six-figure sum when his principal gallery closed.
                Now don't misunderstand me. I am attempting to point out some structural flaws in the system, not place blame. Gal­leries too have had problems in collecting on sales, and of all the payment problems I've heard about, none have been situa­tions where dealers were holding out on artists and were sitting on the cash. In­deed, every dealer I've ever known personally has had a far greater interest in art than in get­ting rich, and most are genuinely con­cerned with their artists' well-being and severely troubled when they cannot pay them on time. Additionally, it wasn't so many years ago that some dealers were paying their artists advances against future sales as a stipend so that they could con­tinue to work.
                At the heart of the dilemma may be the consignment process which is the standard for contemporary works. Unless an artist makes monthly checks of the dealer's in­ventory, one may not even know when a sale has been made. Such checking hardly enhances the artist-dealer relationship any­way. The consignment process works against dealers as well. They are forced to keep prices at the levels stipulated by art­ists, and unlike other businesses cannot easily lower prices to firm up sales during slow periods. Artists may also have contri­buted to this dilemma as well by raising prices too quickly during the past decade. It seems a little presumptuous for graduate student paintings to be priced at $1500 at MFA degree shows.
                The real problem of course is finding a way to remunerate artists for providing more than products. Works of art are the evidence of a culture's consciousness, selling the evidence to the small proportion of the population who can pay the price is no way to expect to make a viable income.

Entry Fees                                                                                                                             June 1983
If I told you that in the course of auditioning for a role in the chorus line of a Broad­way musical, three hundred dancers paid a twenty-dollar audition fee, you'd probably think they were fools.
Visual artists, however, do just that all the time. I'm speaking, of course, of paying entry fees for juried shows. The practice of charging artists entry fees has begun to reappear with disturbing regularity again. About ten years ago, numerous artists' organizations made a major effort to edu­cate institutions and artists on the evils of entry fees. The practice seemed to have largely died out and the vigilance of groups such as the Boston Visual Artists Union, Artists Equity, and others seemed to have finally struck pay dirt when the National Endowment issued a policy statement con­demning the practice about five years ago.
                Unfortunately, the entry fee seems to be reappearing as a way to finance the cost of juried shows. Perhaps it is time to reiter­ate the case against entry fees for the benefit of younger artists (and art admini­strators). The responsibility for raising the funds to cover the cost of an exhibition lies with the exhibiting institution, just as the costs associated with the production of art works is that of the artist. Charging an entry fee is simply a lazy way around that task for an institution. It is particularly re­prehensible when there are cash or pur­chase prizes in conjunction with the entry fee, as the implication is that those re­jected are paying for the awards garnered by those accepted.
                In general, art institutions are accustomed to paying rental fees for shows they wish to borrow. If a work of art is worth exhibiting, it is worth paying for. An artist has already paid dearly for the creation of a work of art in terms of his own labor, materials, and capital. The likelihood of sales at such ex­hibitions is remote, and hence it is unlikely that the artist will recapture those expenses directly from the exhibition. Furthermore, it is the institution that benefits from the exhi­bition, along with the audience which attends, hence that is where the burden of the funding should be placed.
                I am more than passingly familiar with the economics of nonprofit arts organizations, having worked with many of them in the past decade. Indeed, as I write this I am finishing up a year as the acting director of a university art gallery. I know how diffi­cult it is to obtain funds to develop quality exhibitions, and I know full well how costly it is to review the slides of several hundred applicants for a juried show. On the other hand, it is a curator's responsibility to be in touch with the work being done in his area of specialization, and the opportunity to re­view several hundred artists' slides in one place and at one time is far cheaper than any other way I can think of.
                So my friends, send a letter of protest to that show instead of your slides and an entry fee. Often times the entry fee is the result of ignorance on the part of an orga­nization, and when educated to the facts, they may not impose it again.

Successful Low-Income Artist                                                                            March 1984
                Let me tell you about an artist I know. He's in his mid-thirties and works hard at what he does. He quit a near full-time job about five years ago so that he might devote his full energies to making art. He's had good critical success in that time—a couple of significant grants—including an NEA. He's had more exhibitions than I could count. His work is abstract and not very large, sometimes poetic and ambiguously erotic. Last year the Museum of Modern Art bought one, the capstone to a dozen or so museum collections that had already ac­quired his work.
                If you're a writer and you sell a piece, the price you get depends upon who buys it. If The New Yorker buys it, you get a lot more than if a smaller, less prestigious publica­tion does. We do it differently in the visual arts: one price for anyone. My friend sold his piece to the Museum of Modern Art for the same price he would have asked a bank or you or me. I saw him right after the Modern sale occurred and congratulated him sincerely and effusively. He seemed less than thrilled, so I asked why he wasn't celebrating. He said, in essence, that it would not really change anything for him— just another line on an already too long resume. It wouldn't mean much in the struggle to make a living. "I'll still even have to pay to get in the museum."
                Last year my friend earned less than $4000 from the sale of his work. From a variety of part-time jobs, he brought the total up to just under five figures. I know because it's near tax time and we talked about such things over a cup of hot coffee, in a too-cold studio. I am glad for the warmth of the liquid and the friendship. When we were younger, we used to talk passionately about art and aesthetics. Now we talk about money and the lack of it. He says, "Why is it that even if you do real well as an artist by the standards of your peers, you still can't make an actual living? Even lousy accountants make a living, and doctors in the bottom tenth percentile get rich." I don't have an answer. My friend is listed in Who's Who in America, and he makes less than the minimum wage.
                We finish our coffee and I go back to my studio. It's cold and windy on the walk back, and I think about how Reagan wants to cut the 66 cents per capita the NEA gets. Then I remember 90 percent of that goes to the art bureaucracy anyway, not to us.
                The real problem is in the nature of magic. Nobody really believes in it enough. My problem has always been that I believe in everything. My friend too. We both know it's too late to change that — in terms of what we do. The magic isn't always there, but when it is, I can't not do it.

Open Studios                                                                               May 1984
                About five years ago I had the good for­tune of participating in a (now defunct) program funded by the National Endow­ment for the Arts which provided for colla­borations between visual artists and per­forming arts companies. I was commis­sioned to do a poster for a dance com­pany, and joined them when they were on tour in New Mexico during October. I spent a week there, and like most people I know who have visited that part of the world, I was positively enchanted by it. Its land­scape is strong and mysterious, and its light is crisp and searing, uniting sky and land with a unique luminosity. I was also (again, not uncommonly) drawn to the work of Native American artists in the region. There is a sense of integration of visual art with its sources that is uncannily clear when it is abstract as well as when it is figurative.
                Several of us became interested in some silver jewelry by a contemporary artist which seemed quite personal in its style and execution, and we inquired about it in the shops where we saw it. We were even­tually told the artist's name and given directions to his studio. Nearing the end of our stay, we planned a trip there to meet him and to buy some of his work. We were not disappointed. We were greeted by his children and taken to his studio. He seemed pleased that we had sought him out and listened to our admiring comments about his work quietly and with little re­sponse. He showed us more work than we had seen in the shops—older pieces made by his uncles, earlier pieces he had done twenty and thirty years before, and recent pieces as well. Our favorites were simple bracelets with cut-out animal and symbolic markings that read as little narrative tales across their girth. In a number of instances, he told us their stories, translating the visual narrative to a verbal one, and we began to learn how to read them ourselves.
                After about half an hour, we prepared to leave and were arranging to purchase some of his work. We exchanged puzzled glances with one another when he told us the prices, for they seemed about fifty per­cent higher than at the shops in town. We had thought we might find them less ex­pensive, though our primary motivation had been to meet the artist. He seemed to sense our puzzlement and broached the issue directly, asking if we were concerned about the higher prices. When we nodded in agreement, he explained the reason: "When you buy from the shops, you are buying from those who earn their living by selling the work of artists—that is what they do. When you come to the artist directly you learn something of the artist. Some­thing from this experience is then added to the meaning of the work and it is richer and more valuable to you. You should pay extra for this time and this experience." We all agreed and left happily with our pur­chases.
                In the spring many of the artists' studio buildings in New England hold their annual open houses. The artists open their homes and their workplaces to all manner of visi­tors. They share their art and their values with these visitors. Artists and visitors alike would do well to heed the wisdom of this Native American artist.

Photography                                                                      February  1985
Fine art photography, for most of its 130-year history, has been defined and redefined by Americans. There are, of course, extraordinary examples and bodies of work from other nations, but most of the thresholds in the medium have been crossed by Americans, or occasionally by others) working in America (Robert Frank. Although it is not quite as purely American as jazz, a reasonable history of the medium can be contemplated by examining work produced in this country. It remains, how­ever, virtually impossible for even a group of the finest dozen, or two artists working in the medium to make a living from the sale of work. This is not so of course, in painting or sculpture, where literally hundreds of artists are able to make at least a middle level of earnings from sales.
                Unlike sculptors, photographers find that the opportunities for large-scale public com­missions in photography are negligible, and when compared to painting, the chronic problem of the theoretically infinite multiple has also kept print sales and prices down.
                Perhaps more problematic has been the spectacular ups and downs of prices in the medium over the past two decades. Ansel Adams's renowned Moonrise, Hernandez, N. M., 1944 often serves as a kind of Dow Jones Average of the photography market. In its most common example (and it is common), printed 16" x 20", it sold for between $50 and $150 in the 1960s. In the late 1970s, when art photography was "discovered" for the third or fourth time in this century, its price at auction went well over $30,000. It is currently available at around $12.500 in spite of the untimely death of Mr. Adams earlier this year.
                The Getty Museum's recent entry in the field of photography also provides an example of the undeveloped nature of the market and the overall lack of support for the medium. Although no one is saying for sure, an estimate currently circulates of about $20 million for the cost of obtaining nine private collections for the Getty this past year. This much publicized coup included the acquisition of the two finest private collections in the world and gave the museum the overnight distinction of having one of the largest and arguably the very finest museum collection in the world. Museum officials have said that they have no intention of purchasing contemporary work. Shopping for a world-class painting collection with $20 million dollars would allow you to carry your purchases home in a Toyota Liftback and display them in a Back Bay condo. While key paintings from major periods of art history commonly fetch several million dollars, record prices for photography remain well below $100,000.
                So what's a photographer to do? The more commercial applications of the medium have always provided one option. Richard Avedon and Irving Penn both supplement print sales with commercial work. Teaching also remains a principal source of income for a substantial number of photographers. Neither option allows the artist uninter­rupted blocks of creative time.
                Of course, at any given moment, a handful of artists are reasonably hot in the medium and do support themselves from print sales. Cur­rently Cindy Sherman, Lucas Samaras, David Hockney, and Robert Mapplethorpe all enjoy that status. Of that group, how­ever, it is no coincidence that only the last considers himself a photographer. Samaras and Hockney made their mark in another medium before turning to photography, and Sherman rejects the photographer tag for herself.

There seems no clear solution for artists who choose to work first and/or principally as photographers. The medium itself has had an enormous impact on the other visual arts. A case might well be made for the fact that a good deal of contemporary art engages in a dialogue with audience, critic, and peer through the occasionally overstated elegance of the photographic language. Susan Sontag remarked that "today everything exists to end in a photograph." It remains untrustworthy when it stands alone, or so it seems. Rhetoric aside, photography as an art form continues to languish in limbo as some­thing less than art, and in spite of the exuberant quality of the work in the medium, an insignificant activity to the large majority of collectors.

Public Art                                                                                            May 1985
                To a degree greater than with most other art forms, the recent history of sculpture is a history of public-scale works. Painting, fiber, photography and ceramics certainly see the light of lobbies, plazas, and malls, but sculptors have carved out a large share of the public art market. Architects (understandably) seem particularly dis­posed toward sculpture. Intimate or even human-scale works are too readily accused of decorativeness in the objet d'art tradition, and there is irresistibility to working on a heroic scale, especially with the benefit of a commission, for almost all artists. The problem is that the "scale" side of public-scale work has developed more than the "public" side.
                The debate over the suitability of particular works of art for their sites is hotly con­tested and offers the rare opportunity for an important dialogue between the artist and the large population. I say rare be­cause too much of the discourse regarding art is carried out within the field and only infrequently engages the larger public. In this regard, public art has a unique role. The entire process by which a work of art is chosen for a site needs to be accom­panied by an increasingly broader level of participation by its intended audience. This would offer a marvelous opportunity for rich interaction between artist, architect, developer, and community.
                The recently rekindled controversy re­garding Richard Serra's Tilted Arc in lower Manhattan, when considered against the backdrop of recently enacted art preserva­tion legislation, provides a perplexing ex­ample of the dilemma being faced. Opposi­tion to the 12' high and 120' long Cor-ten steel wall has been consistent and vocifer­ous since its installation in 1981. Serra's work has received considerable critical acclaim, and (from this writer's point of view) not without justification. In this instance, however, I find myself siding uneasily with the public. The work sits on an inhumanly designed concrete traffic island, mitigating against the site's pre­vious suitability for street performers and reinforcing the sense of urban brutality which was successfully achieved even in the sculpture's absence.
                In January, Massachusetts became the third state to pass legislation protecting the moral rights of an artist in preserving a work of art's integrity. Specifically, it pro­hibits any intentional defacing or alteration that is not authorized by the artist and gives artists certain rights to protect that integrity in a court of law. New York is one of the other states to have such a law. Given the fact that Tilted Arc was created for the site on which it stands, the law would seem to prevent its removal as an unauthorized alteration. Serra remains committed to the suitability of the work for the site.
                I would question whether this is artistic integrity or a serious disregard for another collection of "rights" — those of the com­munity in which the work stands. The GSA Art-in-Architecture program, which admini­stered this public art project, seems to have made only a token effort to engage "community" participation. Thankfully its process has improved since then.
                Two issues need to be identified and de­bated here. The first is whether or not, when taken from the private domain of gallery or museum and placed in a public context where viewing it is no longer voluntary, art inherits a more intricate web of responsibilities. And the second is whether art is somehow exempt from the scrutiny and values of the community in which it is sited.
                Works of art, and perhaps more pointedly, artists, have certain responsibilities which ought to be taken seriously. A work of art that does not transcend its object-ness for a group of viewers remains only an object in their experience. If that object is placed in a public setting and reduces the quality of life for that community, we have a quandary. If it was an objectionable sign or, as we have recently seen in Cambridge, an activity (biogenetic research) with which the community's values were at odds, there would be a process for its removal. In essence the new art preservation laws might be utilized to prevent such action against works of art. The responsibility, of course, lies not only with the artist but with the jurors and administrators who have the authority to make decisions regarding the selection of publicly sited art.
                The problem is a knotty one. Public taste and consensus decision making often pro­vide the lowest common denominator of acceptability and unchallenging aesthetic expression. Few serious artists would want to engage in the creation of public art pro­jects if the artworks were overly diluted by group process and criteria. What may be needed is a vital process of engagement between the public artist and the public. The selection process provides an ideal forum for the didactic integration of chal­lenging aesthetic values with the human­istic values of the particular community. Increased use of public forums for slide presentations and exposition could provide the needed bridge. Without such a pro­cess, public art becomes official art, pre­scribed for the "masses" in a manner little different from that in a totalitarian state. The goal should be to commission public artworks of exceptional quality without alienating the community in which they are sited.

The Picture Gallery 2                                                            May 1986
           As most artists are aware, the commercial art gallery is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Last month's article focused on some of my perceptions of that system. There are of course some viable alternatives for the exhibition of work; the problem is that most offer little promise in the way of economic support.
One frequently explored option has been the artists' cooperative gallery.  A number of fine examples have operated in Boston (and New York) over the past couple of decades.  Their sales and prestige however, have rarely if ever, been the equal to their private commercial counterparts.  Artists (and presumably collectors) have always found the cachet of the commercial gallery preferable ‑ although there is no inherent logic in such a conclusion.    A number of factors may contribute to this problem including the general antipathy visual artists have toward joining organizations.  This can be appreciated more readily when the organization's dynamics provide for consensus decision making and governance which is often extremely tedious and frustrating for members.  Another problem with the cooperative gallery can be the unreasonable assumption artists and the public may make that it is merely a "vanity" gallery and that the artists involved are not good enough for a "regular" gallery.  This perception steers artists away from participation and can become a self‑fulfilling prophesy.  There is no structural reason why the best and most prestigious galleries could not become artist/member owned and operated.  It would be interesting to see what would occur if a dozen of Boston's finest and most highly regarded artists were to organize such a venture.
           The other principal alternative to the commercial gallery is the non‑profit gallery - usually as a subset of a larger organization such as a university or a union.  The cooperative gallery may also be organized as a non‑profit, but there can be IRS problems if it is seen as being concerned only with the sales of its members.  For many artists the smaller college galleries offer the best opportunity for exhibition.  The larger ones, particularly those with substantial studio art programs function more like contemporary museums ‑ which is probably appropriate.  In neither case are sales of work encouraged or even considered as a factor in determining whether to exhibit the work.  This is an important avenue for the exhibition of difficult, risky and unsaleable work and is crucial to the continued vitality of visual art.  The university galleries cannot however play a very direct role in the economic support of artists, at least through the sales of work.  What they could do much more often than they now do, is to institute a system of fees to pay artists for the work they are in essence borrowing for free.  There was a time when visitors to artist's studios paid a small admission fee to view new and important works by well-known artists.  Universities and museums should both institute a policy of paying artists a rental fee for borrowing the work and perhaps an additional fee to lecture or otherwise make some type of presentation during the exhibition.  While the latter is becoming fairly commonplace, the former is not.     If a university considers the gallery a teaching resource for its community, than it would be logical for them to pay the individual responsible for providing that resource.  A major plus in such a convention would be the partial liberation of artists from the sole reliance on sales of work for economic support.  The more options available that reduce the dependency on this feeble source, the better.

           In each case improvements will only come if artists take the initiative to create these changes themselves.  Waiting for the NEA or a state arts council or some well-meaning foundation to bring about improvement will mean symptomatic changes at best.  Artists unions have not been able to consistently function as a meaningful agent of change.   Indeed, the Boston Visual Artists Union, which during the 1970s did seem to be making a difference, has seemed almost invisible in the 1980s.   A consistent handicap in creating viable alternatives has been our failure as artists to work vigorously together to develop them.  We are willing to accept what the system offers us ‑ or at least we are unwilling to create alternatives.

Money for Nothing, and Crits for Free                                                         March 1987
           Graduate students are given protected little nests within which to learn to make art.  Nurtured by the blood and sweat of underpaid art professors, they paint in heated studios by day and read glossy art magazines at night, studying the strategies for success of this month's cover-boy artists.
           Our colleges and universities release tens of thousands of larval stage artists each year.  Subscribing to the abundant offspring theory of procreation, they are confident that enough will survive to insure the continuation of the species.  But the early years are fraught with difficulty.  The survival rate is low.  Finding a studio, a job that provides an adequate income to live and enough time and energy left over to make art, a supportive network of empathetic colleagues, and the opportunity to exhibit work are all major obstacles.
           Many young artists in the 1980s plan to skip the emerging artist stage.  It is an anachronistic apprenticeship they feel no need to serve. The modernist epoch has devalued all traditions, while craftsmanship and virtuosity are scorned.  The artist's role, we are led to believe, is to seek fame and fortune, as a foot soldier in New York City's two billion dollar a year art industry.
In my own judgment, young artists face some of the most daunting problems they will ever confront.  The crucial one is perhaps the time - money tradeoff.  Developing a salutary arrangement between the economic demands of urban life (which the vast majority choose), and the desire to make art is exceedingly difficult.  The low commitment jobs ‑ cabdriver, waiter, builder, etc. are physically exhausting and time demanding.  Professional options ‑ teaching being the dominant one ‑ are emotionally taxing and very difficult to come by.  The expected career path today is not a path at all.  Instead, it is an expressway with a part‑time teaching job and a state arts council grant at 23, a Newbury Street gallery affiliation at 25, an NEA Fellowship at 27, a major New York gallery show at 29, a Guggenheim at 30 and retirement from all outside jobs at 31.  The problem is that there just isn't much room on that highway, and it's very difficult to get on and off.
           There seem to be almost no other options, yet for 99% of artists under age 35 such a scenario will not come to pass.  The mythologies persist ‑ real artists don't take straight jobs ‑ with the possible exception of teaching. They simply do their work, and somehow economic problems are solved.  Many of us came of age when no one really expected to make a living only doing art.  Consequently, we either gave up ‑ a fate that will befall many young artists ‑ or we developed other arrangements.
There are of course, no pat answers to this dilemma of balancing time and money for the emerging artist, merely temporary arrangements. We desperately need alternatives that nurture the visionary, as well as the mercenary soul in the arts.  We need artists who are patient and committed to the work they believe in, and we need a system of support that does more than grossly overpay a handful facile art stars.
           I remain hopeful that emerging artists can develop lifestyles which will allow us to think of art making as more than commodity production.  I hope your peers will accept your arrangements as serious, regardless of your number of exhibitions or grants.  I hope that you will be certain that your personal values will be more important than your prices.  I hope you will spend more time thinking about what your work has to say than, your resume.
Finally, I hope we are all, always, emerging artists.  Emerging from one metamorphosis to the next reforming ourselves, our art and the culture we are a part of into something more meaningful.
Wyeth’s Helga                                                                                     November 1987
          Like a fast food emporium at high noon, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has customers lined up and corralled in bunches for a $6 feed.  Homogenized nuggets of art ‑ 140 of them ‑ have arrived on Huntington Avenue in the form of Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Suite.  Standing five deep with their Ticketron stubs in their shopping bags, art consumers are savoring the slick surfaces of Wyeth's highly publicized series of nudes and contemplating the hint of scandal that has accompanied them.  From the gallery they will head directly to one of the several gift shops to acquire postcards, calendars, notecards, posters and other memorabilia.  If they are really lucky, they will time their visit so as to be able to have the luncheon special of knockwurst and braided bread.
Is it Wyeth for whom the press of flesh has been generated, or is it the scent of scandal?  His major oeuvre of weathered barns and heathered meadows has made him the painter laureate of traditional American values and the popularity of his nostalgic realist style is still another salvo fired against the fortress of twentieth century modernism.
          Helga has stared mysteriously at us from the cover of newsweeklies and has starred in the Book of the Month Club selection as the show's catalog.   Like Jim Bakker and Gary Hart, Wyeth's softly suggested dalliances have only served to broaden his media salability.   Perhaps we can look forward to a series of watercolors of Donna Rice in Bimini by Gary Hart, or Fawn Hall in Nicaragua by Ollie North next year at the MFA. 
THE HELGA SUITE interests me far more as a cultural phenomenon than an aesthetic one, yet I will not be going to see it. I did not see it in Washington either.  I am familiar with Andrew Wyeth's work from the expansive show the MFA did a number of years ago, and I have seen the exhibition's catalog.  I do not find Wyeth's work interesting and the current fuss over his private life interests me less.
          Wyeth is an easy mark for the critic.  The preparatory drawings suggest a rather mediocre level of draftsmanship, suggesting that his technical virtuosity is overrated and largely the result of an obsessive patience in the studio.  His sense of sentimentality and nostalgia is highly developed, and it is that which has brought him his popularity. 
          My primary disdain for ANDREW WYETH: THE HELGA SUITE is based more on   politics than aesthetics.  The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery in Washington and represents another chapter in the continuing saga of art market manipulation.  The principal owner of the Helga pictures, Leonard Andrews, managed to acquire the copyrights as well as the works themselves from the artist and has since absented himself from his lucrative publishing business in order to oversee the work's hype.  The very fact that the show was originated by the National Gallery seemed to be a major departure from the institution's long-standing policy of not doing major exhibits by living artists.  Other important collectors who champion "traditional art" are among Wyeth's supporters and their influence was critical in the packaging of the three generations of Wyeth’s show that was recently sent to the Soviet Union as a part of our cultural exchange program.  Wyeth's work fits in nicely with the long tradition of sentimental realist work so often favored by totalitarian regimes from Hitler to Stalin and hence will not create any unnecessary strain on U.S. ‑ Soviet relations.  Pity the poor underground Soviet artists who might have hoped for a vote of confidence for abstraction in this exchange.

It is a major disappointment when the resources of influential and powerful institutions such as the MFA and the National Gallery are dissipated on the likes of the HELGA SUITE.  We have a right to better judgement and more thoughtful achievements from both.  The resources squandered on this media event have denied us all the opportunity to have seen something far more worthwhile this fall.
If this is the direction the MFA is moving in, I would suggest that the next expansion program include a drive‑thru window for fast food art.

Critical Thinking                                                                                            October 1988
          I regard this column as art criticism.  I don't very often write about what artwork I like and don't like, nor have I established here, an aesthetic theory that I utilize to measure works of art against.  I regard this column as art criticism because I believe art in America in the last half of the twentieth century is inseparable from the institutional structure that it supports, and it is this institutional framework which I write about.  I do not think you can discuss the art of our time without examining the relationship it has to the increasingly large constellation of museums, galleries, government agencies, publications, foundations and collectors found in our society.  The arts industry in the United States is a complex fusion of private capitalism, governmental support, corporate philanthropy, nonprofit activity and individual actions.  The dynamics of this interaction defy a simplistic analysis (Marxist or otherwise) or neatly packaged, all-purpose critique.  It also requires that art critics play a role that is more important than simply that of an inside informant and a provider of hot tips for the elite.
          To discuss what the visual arts look like and what they mean, without considering the institutional infrastructure supporting them is absurd.  As artists we are nearly all dependent on institutions ‑ museums and galleries for exposure, dealers for sales, publications for documentation and discussion, and the government for fellowships and grants. The work we do is filtered through this system and is more and more frequently created specifically for it.  As the corporation becomes the dominant collector‑persona, so then has the work of art anticipated this venue.  A great deal of the work being done today is more market specific, than it is site specific.  Some (if not much) is created to satisfy the corporate need to gentrify its image.  A good deal of it is also created specifically for the cavernous spaces and moral vacuums of museums and government atria, and some of it is also created because the artist believes that it will aid him or her in securing government grants.
          Institutions may be more than the sum of their parts, but their parts certainly help to define them.  These parts include their boards, owners and staffs, and the meaningful integration of artists into those components is crucial for the vitality of the arts.  As the arts continue to generate more and more institutions, artists must play an increasingly meaningful role in defining the policies and personalities of those institutions, and it is this issue which I so often try to address in this column.  If artists continue to function outside the politics of this structure, we will find ourselves in the unpleasant situation whereby it is the arts institutions that are "creating" art, rather than artists.  In the sense that our art is what gets seen, distributed, conserved and discussed, artists are playing an increasingly minor role in the art of our time.  In order to survive we are increasingly expected to conform to the values of this arts industry, for if we do not, our work will remain largely invisible.
          Nobody needs to be told that the arts are hot stuff these days. Politicians reading the dollar signs in economic impact studies of the arts keep their speech writers busy constructing pedestals for the arts just beneath those for motherhood and apple pie.  There is more gallery space, more museum square footage, more media coverage, more money changing hands, and more artists than anyone would have imagined a dozen years ago.  However, artists as a group are not significantly better off now, than they were twenty years ago.
          We artists are simply too complacent and too accepting of the institutional landscape which continues to function largely without much meaningful input from artists.  We have accepted a childlike role in relation to the government and expect it to make all of our decisions for us and with our best interests at heart.  We speak out rarely, if at all, and usually only when our own personal lives are disrupted.  Our acquired wisdom is that artists should avoid the bureaucracy and the taint of politics and commerce, yet the truth is that those who are most "successful" have generally embraced the values and behaviors of these subcultures.  So long as we believe that we should remain quietly in our studios, we shall remain impotent.  I continue to believe otherwise.  I believe that our responsibilities include the restructuring of the natural landscape and the cultural one.  While it may be true that art has no responsibility other than to be itself, we must expect more from ourselves.  We must make art that moves the collective consciousness as well as the collector’s wallet.  The policies, programs and values of the arts organizations in our community are our responsibility and we can and must be heard.

Jailhouse Block                                                                                                                         April 1989
The arts are making news in the mass media again.  No, I'm not talking about the continuing fascination with price escalation ad absurdum.  A good deal of press ink has been focused in recent months on the fact that works of art are being placed in prison facilities under the aegis of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' percent for art law.  In 1981 Massachusetts joined a growing list of states (and the federal government) in legislatively mandating that 1% of the budgets for new public buildings must be allocated to works of art that are accessible to the public. 
          A front-page story by the BOSTON GLOBE followed pieces in the BOSTON HERALD, NEW YORK TIMES and elsewhere (when plucked from an AP wire service story) have chronicled how the program has placed a large outdoor sculpture at the county jail addition in Worcester County.  Interestingly, all of these stories have appeared outside of the arts pages.  The GLOBE piece took a mocking tone toward the particular work of art placed there, and a generally derogatory view of the entire concept of percent-for-art programs. 
          It was obvious that the writer was not experienced in writing about art ‑ indeed seemed less than knowledgeable about it.  She also chose to find as many examples of potentially controversial applications of the law as she could ‑ questioning whether as much as $1.1 million ought to be spent on art for prisons and "garbage facilities" (actually a recycling plant) in Springfield over the next five to seven years.
          Unfortunately, the GLOBE piece is nothing more than a cheap shot at public art, filled with questionable numbers (the $1.1 million figure may be vastly overstated) and attempting to make it look like a wasteful luxury for an undeserving population.  Even more questionable is the tactic of making public art an emotional scapegoat for the chronic failures of the corrections system in Massachusetts.  The state has had a crisis level shortage of prison space for over a decade and can't convince a single town to permit a new facility to be built within its boundaries.  As a result, we have thousands of convicted criminals back on the streets and committing the same crimes again because we simply have no place to incarcerate them.  State Representative from Andover (who is quoted in the GLOBE piece) filed legislation that would exempt the prison system from participating in the percent for art program.  The fact that he has been opposed to the construction of a new corrections facility proposed for his district probably has nothing to do with his new found interest in arts legislation.  It is clear that instead of dealing with the prison shortage problem as a real front-page story, the media has found it more convenient to go after the arts ‑ as though the arts were somehow part of the prison problem.  Great logic, right?
             It is important to note that we are not talking here about decorator prints for the inmates' TV room.  The sculpture in question is outside the prison walls, and at least seeks to enhance the appearance of an inherently unattractive institution. Percent for art programs have been around for nearly twenty years now, and we have overcome many of the early problems with implementation.  The Massachusetts law is a rather typical one ‑ not the first, and not a particularly magnanimous one.   It is predated by the federal one, and a number of other state and even city statutes (Cambridge, Seattle, Kansas City), some of which specify that up to three percent of construction budgets be allocated for public art.
             There have been occasional problems with percent for art programs, and some public art.  Artists have often complained that architects frequently circumvented the spirit of the law by planting a few bushes and commissioning a handmade bench or two for the grounds, or that they too often sought the most innocuous, and unobtrusive work they could find, so as not to have it "compete" with their buildings.  Both of these problems seem to have diminished in recent years as a number of highly visible projects, marked by genuine collaboration between artists and architects, have resulted in some stunning successes.                      
             There have simply been too many good public art projects using percent for art funds (been on the MBTA Red Line lately?) to allow irrational and emotional appeals to determine its future.  Perhaps someone else will decide that there are other facilities which shouldn't really have public art either ‑ like those for the retarded, or the elderly, or perhaps even entire neighborhoods.  We should indeed be looking critically at all arts programs and institutions and seeking to improve them. I just don't like demagogues deciding for us.
             I would even propose that we consider increasing the expenditures for public art for prisons (and "garbage facilities") ‑ adding the caveat that we pay attention to somehow making the institutions more acceptable to the communities in which we locate them.  We ought to be looking for ways in which we can make percent for art laws serve the needs of the Commonwealth even more effectively, not ways to diminish their impact. This is a program we should be trying to adapt to private sector development, and not one we should be looking to weaken.

Dune Shack                                                                                                                                       Summer 1989
I sense I float at the edge of an infinite volume
of salty liquid teeming with life ‑
from the microscopic to the leviathan.
Rolling humps of gray‑green Atlantic pass under me
and crash onto the sand a dozen yards away
angry that they can travel no further.
The water is almost warm today for my morning swim
and I want webs to grow in the gaps
between my fingers
and gills to slice through the soft spots
behind my ears. 
Later I lie in the August sunlight
and watch a confetti of olive & red
specks of kelp make arrangements
with the salt lines on my skin.
The sky a brilliant blue today
after the noisy storm last night.
With a wind that pushed me back
from the edge of the dune and kept waking me
to remind me it was still there.
Today I can't imagine a single reason to leave here,
but I know I will. 
          That was a small excerpt from my journal the summer I stayed in a beach shack on a dune in Truro, in the Cape Cod National Seashore.  It is not specifically one of the ones which our wise government wanted to tear down.  Those are actually a couple of miles north of where I stayed, in the Peaked Hill area of Provincetown.  But I think I know what it would be like there.  We shared the same ocean and dune ridge and night sky.  My stay in that little one and a half room shack on the dune shifted my consciousness, and as a result substantially altered my work as an artist.  The building sat low among some scrub pines, a hundred feet back from the dune's edge, and about fifty feet above the beach. It had been there for about fifty years and was weathered as gray as an overcast sky.  I spent much of my time there watching the light, listening to the sea and learning the feel of the winds that washed across my face.  I was awed by the good fortune that permitted me to be there.
          There are a dozen or so simple cottages like this along the dune in Truro and Provincetown, all within the boundaries of the National Seashore.  Residents of the area, especially a group of artists and writers who have had the privilege of staying and working in them for a time, have been seeking to preserve them.  Largely through their efforts, the Massachusetts Historical Society has nominated all of them for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.  That would keep them from being destroyed by the government, but not by the elements, as they are still regularly lost that way as well.  The National Park system has condemned them, and as the private leases granted to the original owners 25 years or so ago expire, they will be burned down.  This will, we are told, bring the park more into line with its natural, wilderness state.  Sadly, it would also end a legacy of intimacy between man and nature that was with us long before there was a National Seashore.
          Extended, as well as short stays in these buildings have nourished creativity of such people as Eugene O'Neil, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock and literally scores of less famous individuals to whom they may well have meant at least as much.  You cannot spend a few days on the "back side" of the Outer Cape without sensing the enchantment of this place.  Walk fifteen minutes from the named beaches and even in summer you are alone  on a beach that is much as it was a hundred or even a thousand years ago.  This is a magical stretch of dune, a place I cannot imagine tiring of.             
          The National Park Service has been generally negative toward the preservation of the dune shacks.  There are concerns with maintenance and access for visitors on a more open basis, but these can surely be resolved.  One plan to save the dune shacks calls for continued short term access to them for artists, writers and others and maintenance through a non‑profit trust.  This would permit the continuation of a legacy of symbiosis with the environment that we must certainly seek to preserve at all costs.   
          The draw of the outer Cape to artists has been powerful for more than a hundred years.  The narrow land (especially in Provincetown) seems to float in a bath of atmospheric illumination.  There is an experience of the planet's dynamics at this meeting of earth‑sky‑sea that can only be savored by living out there, (alone if you can) for a period of time. The dune shacks provide a way to focus that encounter, and we should not be denied the insights, and the visions that will benefit our culture from generation upon generation yet to come.

Artists' Rights / Collectors' Rights                                                                                  June-July 1991       
          Two important changes in federal law take effect this year and each is likely to have a major impact on the art world.  In one instance the result will very likely mean a substantial increase in donations of works of art to museums by collectors.  In the other, American artists will finally enjoy a bundle of important moral rights long in place in numerous European countries. The first, enacted as a single year provision in the tax code, permits collectors a tax deduction for the full appreciated value of a work of art donated to an art museum in 1991.  Since the passage of the 1986 Tax Reform Act, donors of art works could value those donations only at their original cost.  The "tax simplification" of 1986 eliminated numerous loopholes and reduced upper tax brackets (so corporate presidents, athletes and entertainers earning several million a year now pay very nearly the same tax rate as teachers and cops) made it far less attractive for wealthy taxpayers to donate appreciated art to museums.  Between the alternative minimum tax's unpredictable effects and the rapid escalation of prices for art in the late 1980s, many collectors felt that they had little choice but to sell their art collections at auction. I realize that taxation discussions can quickly cause art people to become comatose, but a general understanding of how this works is really in our best interest so bear with me a bit longer. 
          The history of the American museum is really a history of noblesse oblige - the vast majority of art works has come to museums through the gifts of generous donors.  Indeed, for nearly a hundred years, the tax system in this country has been designed so as to create a variety of incentives for giving to "charitable organizations" (e.g. museums, hospitals, schools and churches).  The appeal of donating appreciated art to museums can be seen in the following example.  If Madonna gives a Donatello  Madonna to the Brooklyn Museum this year that is worth $7 million, which she paid only $1 million for, she gets to take $6 million more off of her taxable income this year than she would have gotten last year.  Assuming she is in the 33% bracket she would pay $2M less in cash taxes (33% of $6M).
          The point of all of this is to illustrate the importance of this tax incentive.  Individual donations account for considerably more revenue to charitable institutions than do corporate, foundation or government grants and using the tax system to encourage charitable behavior is an important factor.  A study by the American Association of Museums last year concluded that donations of art works had fallen off precipitously since the passage of the 1986 law, with most museums reporting decreases of between 50 and 70 %.  Despite the fact that this is a one-year-1991-only window of opportunity, many museum directors have expressed optimism that there will be sharp upturn in gifts.  We have already seen the donation of the Annenberg collection to the Metropolitan Museum, and although its dollar value is difficult to measure, the figure of $1.4 billion dollars is a conservative estimate.
And as 1991 provides collectors and museums with an unprecedented opportunity, artists celebrated May Day this year with the knowledge that it is the day that the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (and signed into law by President Bush in December) went into effect.  Eleven states already offer artists similar protection - some stronger than the federal law, and a number of European countries have had such laws in effect for decades.  In essence the law provides artists protection from any distortions of their work (and harm to their reputations) that result from unauthorized changes or mutilation of their work.  Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy was a principal sponsor and has fought hard for its passage for nearly a decade now.  In one recent version the bill provided artists with economic as well as moral rights - tying it to resale rights (a share of future profits from resales of work) but that was clearly too much to hope for and was subsequently dropped from the bill.
                The Artists Rights Act is far from perfect - it provides artists only with lifetime protection substantially less than Copyright protection which extends another fifty years, or the French Droite Morale which is extended in perpetuity.  These two laws, coming into effect as they do this year got me to thinking about the ways in which artists and museums seem to remain so unconnected.  For smaller, regional museums it is unlikely that the charitable donation breaks this year will make much difference, particularly those which emphasize contemporary work.  I am sure that the twenty or thirty largest museums in the country will benefit substantially from the change, and I support the deduction.  I only wish that artists could be given the same benefit as collectors.  Artists, you see who donate works of art to museums this year (or any other year) are permitted to take a charitable deduction only for the value of the materials.  Thus, if a painter whose work regularly sells for $3500 donates a work to the MFA, he or she can take a deduction for the cost of his paints and canvas - perhaps $50.  A work of the same type given by a collector to the same museum will mean a $3500 deduction! We have a major discontinuity in "rights" here.  Although the moral rights contained in the Artists Rights Act are an important step forward, economic rights of every type continue to be denied to artists. 

Beuys and Warhol at the Boston MFA.                                                                      April-May 1992
Beuys and Warhol: The Artist as Shaman and Star

                The recent exhibition of the work of these two influential artists has provided the opportunity for a spirited dialogue about art, artists and culture that has been an acutely felt pleasure hereabouts over these cold winter months.  It is an auspicious beginning by Trevor Fairbrother, as the museum's newest contemporary curator - not because it provides any definitive answers about their work - but because it raises important questions about the intersections between art, economics and power.  Too often in the past twenty years, heated debate about the nature of art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has been limited to how bright the greens and yellows should be in a restored Sisley painting.  As Patricia Hills commented last month, in this show " ...(Fairbrother) was declaring himself as a postmodernist - one who feels that questions and art-world issues need to be raised before any `art appreciation' can take place."
                Beuys and Warhol: The Artist as Shaman and Star succeeds as an exhibition, not because the objects themselves are so moving, or even because the thesis holds up (it doesn't), but because we are confronted with such profound questions about an artist's (or anyone else's) values.  Indeed, Andy's work has been seen so much in reproduction that only size is ever much of a surprise to anyone.  As for Beuys, his pieces seem to be struggling for the breath of their creator in those galleries.  It is perhaps the only time I have seen Beuys' work where it was not animated by his direct personal engagement with the installation, refashioning it each time, like a storyteller who is compelled to tinker with a tale in each retelling. 
                Both artists frequently relied on the power of repetition, and at the MFA, only Warhol really enjoys that mode.  His Marilyn  and Mao pictures are massed on one large wall, and a few other pieces are shown as multiples as well.   A Beuys sled however, standing singly on a low pedestal has nothing like the impact of a score of them pouring out of the back of VW bus, looking like an escaping herd of totemic animals.  With Warhol, a dozen various colored versions of soup cans, flowers and celebrity heads were like so many shoes in a boutique window - a way to make it easy to for the new consumer/collector - no connoisseurship required, just the brand name status of the manufacturer.  For Joseph Beuys on the other hand, repetition seemed more like the rhythmic voicing of a primitive drum, or a mantra chanted so that each new pulse echoes against all the others.
                Fairbrother's hypothesis that each artist is both star and shaman may not hold water, but it is a crucial issue to have given us to regard.  Clearly, almost no one in the U.S., outside of the art cognoscenti, knows anything about Beuys - even in Germany he was less than a household name.   Warhol, on the other hand, was a self-made celebrity.  His name is not out of place when strung together with the entertainers of his time, especially those who made New York their base.   It is true that both artists emerged from the Zeitgeist of the 1960s.   Warhol as an extension of the sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll cultural rebellion and Beuys more as a manifestation of the political rebellion that focused on empowerment, environmentalism and social change.
                The problem with Andy is that ultimately, he owned up to no more depth than the ink on his silkscreen paintings.  He once said:  "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface - of my paintings, and my films and me - and there I am.  There's nothing behind it."  I for one am willing to take him at his word.  The images of electric chairs or automobile accidents never really seemed to be about their subject matter, the media had made them into consumables years before when Kennedy was shot in Dallas and Oswald killed live on the news a couple of days later.  Warhol just learned to package them as consumables.  For Andy there was no content - in art or in life.  There were only appearances.  We have no reason to believe that racism, poverty or the condition of the planet were any more important to Warhol than fame, glamour or shopping - although there are those who believe this was all an ironic cover for his "genius" - I do not count myself among them.
                Beuys on the other hand was obviously frustrated by the limits of formalist art and by the late modernist equation of ART=CAPITAL.  He knew that for art to reassert its spiritual and its social function,  it needed to  reconnect with people's lives outside the marketplace.  For Warhol, there was no life outside the marketplace.   Beuys extends, not the modernist notion of how esoteric theorizing can build new formal, art paradigms, but rather an almost Renaissance notion of art and vision as a vehicle for extending the limits of human knowledge and a restructuring of social institutions.  His attractions to the Fluxus group, educational reform and political activity all bring this into focus.
                Fairbrother's curatorial selections and installation seeks to minimize the differences between their ideas about art, when in fact they probably shared few important values.  Beuys' work, when pried loose from his presence seems to suffer a kind of dislocation of vitality.  Warhol's, on the other hand gains a kind of iconographic prestige enshrined with all those high-priced objects of one of the world's great museums.  Museums frequently make the fundamental mistake of thinking that we have only the objects themselves to evaluate.  But the art of the present and the near past cannot be so cleanly separated from the artists who make it and the economic and political structure that surrounds it.
                For Beuys, objects were always works of art, evidence that the activity of art had previously occurred, and the objects were being left as an offering, to our spiritual dimension.  For Andy the objects are like corporate stocks he used as a way to finance a celebrity lifestyle.  All of this was done, of course, with the toney style of New York hip in that epicenter of capitalism.    So it all seems so IMPORTANT, but it logically extrapolates to a culture where a simple minded movie actor can look enough like a president to be elected to two terms at the twilight of the American empire.
                That both are among the most important influences on artists working today is undeniable, and Fairbrother is to be congratulated for articulating that so effectively.    However, one must never misconstrue influence for integrity, substance and achievement, otherwise we might just as easily confuse Donald Trump and Mother Theresa.