Artists’ dilemma


Over the Christmas break, I went home to Ottawa and while there, I visited the National Gallery of Canada. I went to the two special exhibits: the Group of Seven and M.C. Escher. The gallery was packed and we waited for three quarters of an hour to see the Escher lithographs. And all of this seemed totally natural to us!

The idea of isolating art in its own building and forcing you to pay to see it would seem bizarre to people of many other cultures.

Art is (generally) expensive and so we associate being wealthy with being able to afford expensive (“good”) art. The question then becomes of how to get the money to buy the art as opposed to whether or not this is a rational way of doing things. Art then becomes another way that the accumulation of wealth and goods is naturalised and people “buy” into the capitalist system. Before realising it people are too deeply entrenched in this system to abandon it, when abandoning it would mean losing all that they had gained. In this way, most people unconsciously swallow the ideology of capitalism.

Clearly, the valuing and purchasing of things lies at the base of capitalist ideology. If we disagree with that ideology then we must act against it or shut up and be hypocrites. One alternative would be producing the things we need instead of buying them. Most people would argue that this is unfeasible due to the time it would take. Time for what? Time for earning money, of course; which puts us right back in the capitalist mode.

As an artist myself, I’m in somewhat of a bind. If I want to make a living in this capitalist system then I must sell my work. The higher the price, the better I live (is that true?). On the other hand, if I disagree with the capitalist system then I shouldn’t sell my art. What should I do?

By Richard Munter

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~ Richard