Artists and the Short End of the Stick / by Jeannine Cook


Every time one listens to the news these days, in no matter what country, it seems that someone is trying to damage or destroy someone else, or else trying to take advantage of someone else or another group.  It really is a time when one can count oneself very privileged simply to be able, in peace, to listen to bird song, see a lightning storm dance across the sea, see the flutter of leaves in a poplar tree. Even in the art world, alas, increasingly, artists seem to be getting very much the short end of the stick.  Of course, there are exceptions. Nonetheless, I have found, over the years, that many museums and art galleries have scant regard for contracts signed, agreements made or arrangements undertaken with artists. Expediency and politics rule. For the benefit of the administrative side of the art world, of course.

In the metalpoint world, there have been some surprising moments when museums have reneged on agreements made with artists for exhibitions, often almost at the last moment, when artists have pulled work from galleries for the show, thus losing potential income. Another version of mistreatment is demands and yet more demands made on artists working pro bono to prepare a show, so that the museum does not need to expend any monies at all on curatorial staff. When the artists finally say "enough - we have to produce art and function as professionals too", the show of course is then arbitrarily and high-handedly cancelled.

What I find fascinating is the chorus of understanding comments made by all the artists involved in such an exhibition. Everyone knows personally, I am sure to their individual cost, what I am talking about, namely that the administrative staff in art institutions have very little regard for artists nor any sense of honour nor obligation to them.

If one is logical about such behaviour, it becomes a very ironic situation.  Without artists and the art they produce, in whatever form, down the ages, there would be no museums, no galleries, no concerts, etc. Not one of those administrative staff members would have a job. Period.

Somehow the cart and the horse have got placed backwards in the order of things.  And, sadly yet understandably, so many artists are just so glad to be involved in the art establishment in some way or another that they take the nonsense dished out to them by the administrative "powers that be". So the dishonourable treatment continues and is exacerbated as time goes on.  In the hard economic times we live in generally and even more so for most artists, they are obliged to continue taking this form of treatment.  Very seldom can one really express the scorn and disdain one feels for such behaviour on the part of museums, galleries and other art institutions.

I am not surprised that artists have, for the past 25-odd years, seized eagerly on every means offered by our new technological advances.  They emancipate artists to some degree from this 'short end of the stick" situation vis-a-vis the art world administrators. However, the playing field has not yet really evened out when it comes to the higher echelons of top galleries,museums, etc. .Somehow those good people need to acquire some ethics, and in truth, some humanity towards their fellow-men and women.

Art is, when all is said and done, a spectrum of celebrations of human passions, interests and beliefs. Their creators should merit respect for daring to put themselves out in the wide world, frequently courageously baring their souls and hearts to others, in a way that the administrative ilk of the world would probably find frightening and hard to do themselves.

Artists need less of the short end of the stick and more an equal half of the proverbial stick. Everyone would be better off, morally, psychologically and probably economically too.