Bear with me, this is going to be rambling and probably pointless.
I’m not exactly an avid Facebooker. I tend to use it more as a news conduit and to keep tabs on/in communication with friends and family I don’t get to see on a regular basis. I find the obnoxious over-sharing and stupid meme trading really annoying and totally overstimulating. Especially given that people tend to share things with out checking it’s validity or ensuring it comes from a trusted source. It’s just not my style. Anyway, this afternoon I happened to see something that a former colleague from grad school had “reacted” to (why I see their reactions, I have no idea), which ironically ties into something my last post was talking about, which I had totally forgotten I’d even written. The reaction was to an image of a banner that simply read:
“If it’s inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.”
Now, I have no idea where this image originated, or the context in which it was shared and then reacted to on Facebook. But it hit a nerve for me. I’ve been thinking about privilege and access a lot lately, it’s difficult not to. From watching the current presidential race unfold, to seeing the effects of the current economy on those who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouth, to the absurd and disturbing fight over transgender rights and sexuality… The (mainly rich, white) privileged seem to be desperately grasping for any control or supremacy they can maintain, and society as a whole seems to be trying to stand up against it and call that privilege into question. It also comes up in my personal life as I consider things like paying for childcare, the ability to be a stay-at-home parent, and as it relates to my own artistic practice…
As I mentioned in my previous post, the ability to access and view art comes is made possible by a certain amount of privilege. Fuck man, just making art can be a bit of a privilege (for which I realize, many artists fight). And that upsets me. I believe that artists should work to impact the world around them and to create experiences for their viewers. For their art to be seen and shared. Instead, I think that often times we work toward finding a place in a gallery’s stable of artists where our work can be shown, bought, collected, but those who have the money and access to go to galleries/museums/etc. Why are we making work if it’s not going to be accessible to the entire population? Why should our work only be available to a privileged few? Why do we continue to work within and perpetuate this stupid, outdated paradigm? Is it really the money? Or perhaps the potential for fame? Personally, I don’t want to make art that everyone can’t access, I could care less about actually making money off of my art (I have literally only ever sold a single print in my entire career thus far), and I hate attending my own openings because of social anxiety and introversion. These are sincerely things that I don’t understand, and ask from a place of curiosity, with a desire for discussion on the matter.
I struggle, though, with ways of getting my art “out there” and “building my resume”, so that one day in the semi-near future, when it comes time to go on the job market again, I can show I have been pursuing my practice and I would be a worthwhile addition to a faculty somewhere. I struggle with the knowledge that the vast majority of my work is not well suited for many galleries, museums, or art centers, and try to compensate by creating small bodies of work that can fit in those confines. For instance, I’ve spent the last few months working on a series of photographic images that are totally abstract and inoffensive visually. The only context or content is provided by what I say about them in an artist statement. Just so that I might get another line on my resume. And for every two or three applications I send out using that body of work, I send out another two or three of my other, more performative or conceptual work. Guess which applications are more likely to receive acceptance? What am I even supposed to do with that? In my mind, it’s ultimately an empty gesture because I’m making something I don’t fully feel invested in and so exhibiting it is pointless, and that’s on top of the fact I know perfectly well that I’m producing work that will only be available for viewing by those privileged enough to visit said gallery/museum/center.
Then I think about when I do performance or video work out in public, leaving behind the context of the art work or the white cube. Sure there are individuals out there who will appreciate it as art, smiling as they walk by, or nodding and saying “Right on” when they can relate. But there are also many people who will be completely turned off by it, because they cannot relate to where I come from, to my privilege as a college educated visual artist, a cog in the wheel of academia, as a white woman from the upper middle class suburbs. I can pull source material from Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me because I think her writing is beautiful and witty and valuable all I want, but again it becomes an empty gesture if no one understands the reference, is aware of Solnit’s work, or makes the connections I’m trying to facilitate about gender and society. It’s not everyone who has time to even acknowledge that gender inequality still exists in a major way, let alone contemplate the impact that has on society at large, and their personal lives in particular.
Even my contention that having art online makes it readily available to any one who wishes to view it is still premised on the privileges of having both access to a computer and access to the internet. Despite the fact that I often felt at times that I was one of the last people in the world to have internet connected in my own home, that is categorically untrue. And I have had the benefit of having regular access to some sort of computer nearly my entire life. This is not the case for everyone.
So then where does that leave me? I can be as radical or alternative in my practice as I want, but does it mean anything if it’s inaccessible to the majority of the population, the very audience I want for my work? Is it possible to create those experiences and effect that change I so desire if privilege blocks the audience?
Regardless of the answers to my own personal struggles here, I think its worthwhile to keep this idea of access and privilege in mind. You can decry the evils of vaccinations and feel like you are challenging the status quo and big pharma and helping to open society’s eyes to the dangers of vaccines all you want. But that view is not so revolutionary outside of your own context of the privilege to turn down what others would give anything to provide their children with. You can rage against the machine about GMOs and organic foods and how that’s all we should eat, but you don’t live in a food desert where all you can find are sodas and pre-packaged foods at the corner 7-11. You can bitch about Uber surge pricing ’til the cows come home, but you still have a smart phone and ultimately the means to get around while there are others who must beg rides from friends and family or walk, all relying on increasingly nonexistent pay phones, phone calls “borrowed” from who ever is around, or even a pay-as-you-go flip phone… We just all need to stop for a moment and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to consider the fact that reality exists outside of our own little bubbles.
I don’t know what my point here is or that I’ve actually said anything of substance, but yeah… Privilege and access.