Thinking About #Art Beyond #Capitalism

"Blue Showroom," photograph by Jean Vengua

I’m reading an interview by Caroline Woolard, “Caroline Woolard Defines What it Means to be a Solidarity Artist,” and checking out the “New Economy Coalition,” both of which I found after writing the paragraphs below:

I sometimes wonder what would happen if I — to whatever extent is possible (which may not be much) — were to opt out of any attempt to be a part of the dominant art market system. I’m an outlier, anyway: while I have an advanced degree, it’s in English, and I’m returning to art-making as a woman of color over 60 who does not have an independent source of income — so I’m certainly on the margins. But, at least in regards to art-making, the idea of just moving beyond capitalism would seem laughable. It’s everywhere, and like a virus, it responds to change by mutating to new forms and swallowing resistance. It seems that it would be impossible to move beyond it in terms of basic survival. What would happen? I’d have to continue with my freelance work, which supports me as well as my art work. I don’t support myself through making art or writing poems, anyway.

But the other things that we often consider requisite for success in the art world — patrons, sponsors, collectors, the black folder portfolio, the requisite series, the maintenance of an easily identifiable style, shaping the art toward eliciting increasingly higher prices  — in short, playing the game; why not just give up on that, and instead, think about and/or work towards a different paradigm?

Well, wtf: one report says that artists who do achieve “success” usually retain it for only 4 years. I’m willing to work hard for my art and my writing; but I’m past the age where it would make any kind of sense to work my ass off on the gamble that 4 years of recognition would gain me another 4 or more years, and maybe an income that I could live on. And in any case, why work to shape my art to be acceptable for a system that gives so little to so few in return?

Although I’m not, by most standards, “successful,” I do want to continue making art. And although art-making is a very personal and rewarding process in itself (rewarding enough that it’s worth the anxieties that sometimes well up around its process), I don’t make art just for myself — I feel part of a social fabric, interdependent with others: a community, humanity and the earth/animal world. So I want my art to be seen, and I would never isolate myself in that regard.

But also, this idea of looking “beyond capitalism” for a paradigm that would work (even as I am a product of capitalism and imperialism — late capitalism, I think, collapsing in on itself, decaying into fascism, living within it, even depending on it) — would present some initial challenges, for example: 1) I have no idea what an art practice “beyond capitalism” would be, or even what I would want it to be;* so it would take some thought-work and research, and maybe discussion; and 2) I’d have to overcome a mindset about how art and artists fit into the world, a mindset that I know full well is ingrained, programmed in.

I don’t know if I’m going to do any of this. But I do know that the issue — this sense that I’m going about it all wrong — is pushing me to find another approach; it has come up again and again, and with increasing frequency, in my life. It’s not going to go away.


* That may not be entirely true; I’ve read about and discussed other paradigms, but have never been confident that they would work. But perhaps “confidence” isn’t what’s needed now…