I came away from OpenAIR with mixed feelings. On one hand it was great to see a whole load of AIR members all eager to find out how we can help one-another and how we can affect change for artists for the better. On the other hand, it was confusing and seemed to lack a clear direction.
The speakers were excellent - it was a really good idea to get non-artists who specialised in engineering change to give us ideas about how to motivate ourselves and other people. However, it would’ve been good to hear from the AIR council about what they were planning. Admittedly part of the day was about trying to find out what we wanted them to help us with, but even that seemed a little rudderless: our break-out session apparently had a theme (or themes) but these were never really made clear, and some of us felt confused as to what it was we were meant to be discussing. When mentioning this we still didn’t really get a clear answer and it felt like we were talking around a subject as opposed to about it.
What were we trying to affect change for? Artists face so many problems - many of which aren’t purely artist’s problems but problems faced by many in the current financial climate. Points were raised about whether we were focussing on being artists solving problems for artists or artists working more generally for the greater good (a notion I think genuinely worth pursuing).
As usual I didn’t really think of what I wanted to say until afterwards - I had so many half-formed questions buzzing around my head that never really amounted to actual responses at the time. I left feeling like I hadn’t really taken full advantage of the event - I could’ve asked more things, I could’ve suggested more ideas. I do have a view on the situation but I feel that I haven’t worked it out yet. Perhaps I should’ve taken Carrie Bishop’s advice and not wait until it is all resolved, polished and packaged, but share it now because you think it’s a good idea and you’re excited by it - and then through sharing you can resolve any problems or stumbling blocks.
So what’s my idea?: I’m interested in how we can change people’s perception of art through the art itself; make a case for the importance of art by making art itself more important. This would involve (I think) a significant, but slow, alteration of how art is presented and perceived. I get the feeling today that there is a general slump in the quality of culture - at a later date I’m planning a large rant about the dangers of nostalgia, the proliferation of ‘photographers’ and the problems with the term ‘artist’, but that’s a whole other thing. To cut it short: I don’t think art does itself many favours at the moment. There are a lot people calling themselves ‘artists’ that produce work which creates ammunition for the ‘art is a waste of money’ brigade. I’m not saying that this work is not necessary or important - I don’t believe in censorship of the arts, I don’t believe in telling people what they should or shouldn’t make and how they should or shouldn’t work - but sometimes you are shooting yourself in the foot by making work that, rather than challenging people, physically puts them off art.
One of the delegates said ‘Artists think differently’ - I disagree with this and I think this is also a dangerous route for artists. Everyone thinks differently. The danger lies in perpetuating the idea that artists are ‘different’ and ‘special’. If we continue this I don’t think that we can overcome the particular prejudices that cause people to be negative about art: that it is not for them, that they won’t understand it, that it is a waste of money. Artists are just people who, like many other people, can be very dedicated to what they do. By setting ourselves apart to such a degree we risk appearing like we want special treatment, which in these straitened times is also going to make people wary of our value.
Can 17000 artists work together to create work which makes a case for art? We don’t really have to change what we do that much - just bear in mind how our work is perceived and work cleverly to instill something within it that adds another weight to the scales to tip the balance in our favour.
As I mentioned earlier this idea is not fully formed, but I think it’s got legs.