Art is an Ecosystem

Star Guide, by Denise Manseau. This woodblock print was purchased by Alexis Carey Lawrence at the last Fair Share Art Auction in October 2020.

As we will be relying upon our scientists, in this darkest dream, so too will we be relying on our artists: now, as well as afterward. There is a great need for the small, the gentle, the delicate; for the balm of finesse, craft, care, attention. For the little fires of passion. We have had enough roaring, for a while.

–Rick Bass

In this passage about our difficult era, it seems reasonable to read “artists” as a term that refers to all of us in our creative modes, that place where we can each sense the value of “the small, the gentle, the delicate…the balm of finesse, craft, care, attention.”

So yes, enough of the roaring.

Respect for the small and gentle–for those little fires of passion—has broader implications. I have found hope in some recent changes in the way art is made, seen, appreciated, purchased. Now having achieved $70M in sales, Matthew Burrows’ Instagram hashtag program, #ArtistSupportPledge, has done a lot to move the dial. Not only did Burrows create an effective way of supporting artists during the pandemic, he has also opened up new conversations about the general art ecosystem. (Are you new to ASP? Read about it here.)

As Burrows points out, “Last year the art industry was worth 10 billion in the UK alone, but the average artist earns less than £10k per annum. I don’t think the old system shared its wealth well. It’s going to be challenging as we move forward, but those with the most imagination and agility will thrive and create new opportunities.”

Building better models that serve more people is vital work. Burrows has emphasized the value of a sustainable art market model based on honesty and giving rather than deal-making and selling.

I have always felt that there should be another economy that drives what works for artists. You’ve got to build a culture of trust and generosity.

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Doing the Pledge – inventing it, developing it and managing it – it’s almost like what I’ve done is to create a context of values that my art sits more comfortably in.

Creating a “context of values” where art can sit more comfortably is at the core of what many of us are trying to do with new approaches and models. For example, last October several artist collectives came together to hold a fundraising auction, the Fair Share Art Auction. Using Instagram as its platform, the auction featured nearly 60 works of art, many of them priced to be very affordable. Half of the final bid was donated to a charity and half went to the artist.  

The quality of the work was exceptional, and the blend of support for both charities and artists speaks to that context of values Burrows described. In addition to raising nearly $5000 for charities and a matching amount for artists, the auction also enabled people who previously did not consider themselves art collectors to engage with art in a new way.

Two Fair Share Art Auction participants shared their experiences with me.

“The Fair Share Art Auction through Instagram was an incredible opportunity on many levels. I worked hard during the pandemic, political unrest and black lives matter protests to cultivate an Instagram feed that reflected diversity, information, and action. In working to create this space where I could go to be challenged and to learn the Fair Share Art Auction provided an opportunity to be inspired. I was able to visit the auction and see incredible works of art, I learned about artists that clearly believe in the power of using their voices for good. The opportunity to support them and an important cause was an incredible opportunity. I found the art fair because of one artist in particular–Deborah Barlow–and the chance to have her art hang in my home, to have my children understand that she donated her work to a cause makes her a source of inspiration both for her artistry and her activism.”

Danya Haber, teacher

“Like so many people the pandemic pushed me home, where my already strong nesting instincts became amplified. In a year of what felt like nonstop bad news at work/at home/online (rising tide of covid patients in hospital, limited PPE, schools closing, getting covid, headlines on Arbery, Floyd, Taylor, California wildfires, Ginsburg ETCETERA) I (like everyone else) desperately craved comfort, serenity, beauty, balance. Nesting is set design at home- creating a stage where my family (and eventually, sigh, friends again) can relax. I have never thought of myself as an artist, but always as a great appreciator, and believed in the power to collect and curate those objects that evoke feelings of calm. It was not until this year that I realized the impact the collectors can have on the artists.

“In a prior life (read: pre pandemic) I would wander galleries and look at art, enjoying a museum-like experience. Where things were beautiful – but not for sale, where things were interesting – but not for me. Incredibly the pandemic broke down some of these barriers, and art has felt more accessible. Wandering through a gallery I seldom felt close to the artist- too often they seemed anonymous and separate from the work itself. Fair Share was a beautiful break from doomscrolling, and allowed me to jump from an image to an account of an actual human, who was creating actual art. Early in the pandemic there were great public outpourings of support for frontline healthcare workers- and while it was wonderful to be thanked, it was more meaningful when that thanks was paired with tangible items that made our work easier and safer (arrival of appropriate PPE, for example). I realized I had, until this year, appreciated art in an abstract way, appreciating on a conceptual level the benefit of having art in the world. This year, through the act of buying art (affordable art!) I realized the tangible impact of these purchases on the artist and on me, as a collector. The act of buying art is an essential part of protecting the environment for the artist to continue to create. This was an intensely comforting realization. The appeal of art in your home was never in question for me- but the joy of collection itself- to actively nurture the art you admire- was a balm in 2020, and a practice I look forward to continuing.”

Alexis Carey Lawrence, ER doctor

 The act of buying art is an essential part of protecting the environment for the artist to continue to create. Art is an ecosystem, and it needs you.  

The second Fair Share Art Auction begins on February 19 and runs through midnight on March 1, 2021. Once again it will be on Instagram, with all available art on view at @fairshareartauction.

Real art in real lives, without a prohibitive price tag.

Your participation matters.

And then there is that larger arc to consider, described so well by Rebecca Solnit:

We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within…these are collective projects that matter not when one person says something but when a million integrate it into how they see and act in the world.

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