“Hi Sean, I hope you are well. I’m contacting you on behalf of a-n The Artists Information Company regarding a piece I’m writing on open submissions. I’ve just been reading your post on Cultivate Vyner Street and wondered if you would like to contribute to the article by answering the following questions?” said someone called Jack Hutchinson last week.
I was more than happy to answer his questions, and duly did just that. Seems he was also asking people who indulge in the practice of demanding artists pay a fee just to send in an e.mail submission, Zeitgeist and such. The original piece I wrote is here, along with some comments left by another representative of a-n. No problem with people leaving comments or indeed links, but it seems to read the a-n articles via those links, as an artist, you need to pay a fee of at least £36 and join their organisation. So to read an article about the problems that surround paying a fee just to submit an e.mail, you need to pay a fee… Who knows if the fee is worth paying or not? Can’t read the article without paying to do so so we don’t actually know. Another set of people looking to make money out of us artists? Maybe? Who knows, be smart about art, do it yourselves….
So anyway, if I had known you couldn’t read the article without paying, I’d maybe not have answered the questions. I have invited Zeitgeist and others to come do an interview with us, Zeitgeist have so far not responded to the invites (other than to block us both on Facebook and Twitter), in fact not many of these galleries, curators and organisations seem to want to answer any of our questions. The only response from Zeitgeist is to tell me to shut up and try actually running a gallery. I look forward to going to their 2014 Open on he couple of days it is actually open.
The a-n questions, and my answers in full then (we’ll let you know if and when the article is published, if we can actually see it that is….)
What is the key problem with open submissions?
Key problem is not the idea of open submissions; open calls and open submissions are a vital thing, especially for new and emerging artists. The major problem is that we artists are now, more and more, being expected to pay to just submit to these vital open calls. A lot of easy money is being rather cynically made out of artists who are not even getting to take part in these shows. For me the growing practice of curators, galleries, organisations and the rest charging artists JUST to simply submit an e-mail and a j.peg to maybe potentially, if we are lucky, get to take part in a show is a serious problem. The practice is growing, the practice is fast become the norm, and it rather looks like for some, it is a far too easy way to fund a gallery space or the lifestyles of those who run these shows.
As a working artist I don’t have a problem with the principle of sharing reasonable costs of a show I am actually taking part in – it is tough running spaces, I more than most appreciate that, I speak from experience (I’ve run spaces, I’ve battled to pay rent, spent time on admin, on opening the e-mails, dealing with artists, I know what’s involved). Where once it was an occasional big show charging people to submit, the summer salons aimed at the ”Sunday painter” and such, now it is fast becoming the norm with almost every open call or submission requiring a payment just to be considered.. Seems obscene to be expected to pay a fee just to send in an e-mail, even the music business hasn’t stooped to that low (yet), seem very unfair and extremely unreasonable to expect an artist struggling to establish him or herself to pay fee after fee. This offensive pay-just-to-submit model is fast becoming the only option, a lot of new artists are being frozen out. . £15 here, £20 there, it soon mounts up, artists are really being hit here, and galleries and this business of curators requiring a payment just for simply opening an e-mail is a cynical step too far. I find it very difficult, as someone who has run very committed full-time art spaces, to justify charging just to open a simple e-mail, galleries that argue it is the only way they can survive are simply wrong, I’ve, almost single-handedly put on over 100 open call shows in the last four years, without once sinking so low as to even think that charging artists just to open their e-mail was okay (and no, I don’t have financial back up, I don’t have arts council funding, I’m a full-time working artist from a working class background, who was forced, because of the way artists are treated in this city, to do it myself). .
I’ve kind of established myself enough to be scraping a living as a full-time working artist now, but this cynical practice is restricting new young artists in so many ways – it is forcing artists to consider the nature of their work in a negative way; it is resulting in more conservative shows, shows in which only a certain type of art or artist is getting to show, dare I say a middle class comfort zone of marketable art? I am really concerned about new artists, I really had to fight to get a foothold, if I was starting now, I don’t think I would be able to.
Yes, it is tough running a space, keeping it open, paying the rent, dealing with artists and the rest, I know that more than most, but charging artists just to submit, expecting to be paid just for opening an e-mail, the practice is at best is a lazy cop-out, and I’d say, in most cases, a lot more that just a cop-out. Charging artists for something they are not even going to be involved in is cynical, doing it is morally wrong, and it is especially wrong when those do it openly mislead new and emerging artists in to thinking there is no alternative – we are now seeing a number of organisations cynically marketing themselves as supporters and advisors of and to new artists, and those of us who know how it really is, who see this cynical exploitation of new artists, like those who are fresh out of art school and trying to establish themselves, those of us who know are not prepared to stand by and watch this cynical exploitation anymore.
So yes to open submission shows run properly, and no to the cynical practice of charging artists just to submit a simple e-mail.
Would transparency on where the funds are going help?
No, not really, unless these running these shows and charge us just to open our e-mails are going to be totally transparent about the money they make all year around from large commissions, from monthly retainers, from their art fairs and the rest. Unless they are going to be open and transparent about how all the financial risk is transferred to the artist and how they take non of the risk themselves. Being transparent about one-off shows would be a start, but it won’t be enough. And especially not enough from those who claim to be running “not for profit” organisations for the benefit of artists.
Is it ever okay for an artist to pay to exhibit?
Yes, that isn’t the issue, the issue is being charged JUST to submit an e-mail, just to take part in some kind of on-line selection process that probably isn’t going to result in artists exhibiting – ZAP boast of 547 entries to their forthcoming Open, of which 15 were selected, Matt Roberts boldly proclaimed over 1600 entries of which about 35 were selected to his Salon show last year – there’s a lot of people paying a lot of money and not getting to exhibit, that’s a lot of money being made out of artists who don’t get anything in return,
As an artist I’m more than happy to share reasonable and fare costs of a show where artists or reasonable curators are coming together to make things happen and where I’m actually involved and actually showing work. Realistically it is often the only way things are going to actually happen. When a show or an event is put on in a fair and reasonable way and everyone who is contributing to the cost is actually getting to show work and potentially get something out of it then yes, it is okay. Yes, perfectly happy to share reasonable fair costs as well as to see curators or galleries take a reasonable profit in terms of commission or from running a bar, in a show I’ve paid to be involved in. Curators and galleries need to survive.
If an artist submits to the Royal Academy Summer Show and is accepted, is it
worthwhile in that particular instance?
Personally, I’m not a fan of the Royal Academy shows and the way they work and no, personally I don’t see it as being worthwhile, but I do accept that for some artists, if they do make it through the cattle market of a selection process, then there is an argument that at least they get something for their financially gamble. I’m no fan of the Royal Academy but there is quite a big difference between an extremely well published show, a high-profile event that is at least open for a decent amount of time, and some of the very short run back street shows that hardy open their doors before they are over and are probably not going to be attended by more than a handful of people other than the artists and their friends on an opening night. I’m seeing some very poorly run, rather cynical shows being put on by people who claim they are about helping new and emerging artists. I’m seeing shows that claim to be open for two weeks and are actually only open for a couple of afternoons and the rest of the time just by appointment Seems to be a whole industry growing up based mostly on making as much money directly from artists rather than working with artists, a whole different world far far more cynical, far more exploiting, far more about milking artists, than the Royal Academy model is.
Is the current situation indicative of a wider issue with smaller artist-led galleries struggling to survive?
Well at the moment, on the whole, it isn’t artist-led galleries who are charging artists just to submit, although disturbingly the practice is now seeping down to one or two, and as it does seep down the danger is that this practice of changing people just to submit will become the norm in artist-led galleries as well – we’re certainly seeing the practice escalate, it is very disappointing to see artist-led spaces doing it At the moment the practice is widespread within small non-artist led galleries and businesses, places run by people who maybe did go to art school a few years back or who once were artists but have now given up in favour of being part of a growing art-business that seems to be about charging artists and milking artists for everything it can rather than working in a reasonable way with artists. These people who have put away their brushes and picked up a computer mouse and a balance sheet and who spend their time having expensive lunches rather than working in their cold studios, there people are fast taking hold of the remaining art spaces and galleries and we are setting a whole new set of rather cynical rules being established as a result. They seem to feel they are justified in funding a comfortable coffee-drinking life style on the backs of us artists; they expect their shows, their art fairs and businesses to be totally funded by working artists and while they expect artists to gamble with what little money an artist generally has, they take no financial risk themselves, they seem to think us artists owe them a living and as their grip on the art world grows, we are being left with little option than to pay these people, tempted to say these parasites, but I won’t.
As for genuine artist-led spaces, yes, there is a wider issue. The problem now, well here in East London where I’m based at least, is the lack of spaces for real artist-led galleries to exist in. Rents are rising, property developers are knocking spaces down, there’s a new breed of coffee-drinking art-entrepreneurs and taking up the few spaces that are left (we’ve seen one of these creatures buy up and close five gallery spaces in Vyner Street in the last two years). There are lots of problems being faced by artists trying to run artist-led spaces; artists renting existing gallery space for one-off shows is not a reasonable option anymore with even the smallest of for-hire galleries now charging unrealistic hire fees. Where once East London was alive with empty spaces and possibilities, we now find very few spaces, we find high rents, spaces and studios being closed, gallery options limited, fewer and fewer spaces for artists to take on or even show work, and that brings us back around to those spaces that still exist now being run by people who appear to be out to do little more than fund their comfortable lifestyles by cynically milking artists and charge us just to submit to their often dubious shows. Viable rentable space is the major problem in terms of permanent artist-led galleries, studios or even pop-ups, but the cynical attitudes of this new art-business that is emerging is a far bigger problem. It should be about working with us artists, not exploiting us.