What the people who work in artist-run centres know how to do.

Le Dictionnaire de compétences des travailleurs des centres d'artistes autogérés

Le Dictionnaire de compétences des travailleurs des centres d’artistes autogérés
Publisher : RCAAQ
Publication editor : Annie Gauthier
French, 60 pages color, CD included, 2008
ISBN : 978-2-923021-03-4

Does anyone really need read about how competent the people who work in artist-run centres are? Not really. Perhaps those who take such small non-profit organizations for granted, or don’t care about them do. Thanks to the RCAAQ in Quebec, this book presents an inventory of the remarkable skill sets typically deployed within Canada’s hundreds of artist-run centres, making an important contribution to our understanding of the visual arts sector. Sadly, the book is only available in French at this time.

What we know how to do in artist-run centres

Le Dictionnaire de compétences des travailleurs des centres d'artistes autogérés

Le Dictionnaire de compétences des travailleurs des centres d’artistes autogérés
Series :
Publisher : RCAAQ
Publication editor : Annie Gauthier
Author(s) : Annie Gauthier and collaborators
Artist(s) :
French, 60 pages color, CD included, 2008
ISBN : 978-2-923021-03-4


Do we need read about how competent we are? Not really. But others who take us for granted do. Thanks to the RCAAQ in Quebec we can now present an inventory of the remarkable skill sets deployed within the artist-run centres. Sadly, the book is only available in French at this time.

AA Bronson appointed to the Order of Canada

One hardly knows where to begin in considering the import/meaning of the Order of Canada. You think on the one hand that it must be an honour reserved for conventional people deeply tied to the mainstream, yet there are also within its ranks many people who represent contrary, non-mainstream values. You have to think about the implications but in the end you just shut up about any reservations and accept that there is something right about a culture that can celebrate accomplishment in all its many versions.

Congratulations AA! There are few ambassadors of Canadian art so dedicated and erudite.

AA Bronsonpic: AA Bronson in
Sex + Death
Galerie Frederic Giroux
Paris, May 12 – July 23, 2007

Diana Nemiroff on AA Bronson on the occassion of his Governor-General’s award in 2002.

About AA Bronson on wikipedia

AA Bronson’s website

List of OoC appointments in July, 2008

Lynda Barry writing workshops

Tonight on Q, Gian Gomeshi’s show on CBC Radio, cartoonist Lynda Barry talked about the importance of play, creativity and art. I love it when artists spin their expertise off in practical ways. Barry does writing workshops.

Who would know more about the ins and outs of creativity than an artist? But still you have to wonder why it is that most creativity coaching type work isn’t done by artists and often doesn’t even engage serious creative people at all. Maybe it’s because artists aren’t really taught how to talk about their processes. Maybe we’re too busy juggling five jobs. But really I think it’s because no one thinks to ask artists. So we have “creativity gurus” like Daniel Pink and Richard Florida championing the importance of creativity without actually having any substantial idea of what it actually is. They should ask.

cover of Linda Barry's What It IsBarry can tell them what it is. In fact, that’s the name of her new book, which she is on the talk show circuit promoting. What It Is is all about creativity. It’s published by Drawn and Quarterly (15% discount if you order from their site).

Best observation from the interview: Anxiety is an important facet of the art-making experience. Best tip for authors: After writing, don’t look it over for at least a week. If you have an experience while writing and you read it right away, you are going to be in hyper-critical mode.

And she is crazy about Canada eh.

Read more about the book on the NPR website.

What is a book? Open Engagement conference papers; European Cultural Policies 2015

I just received the conference papers for Open Engagement, a conference/art event that happened last fall. Having not been able to attend, I’m grateful that the organizer, Jen Delos Reyes, thought to send me a copy. It’s interesting to see all the various projects for sure, but what really captured my attention was the presentation.

Open Engagement Conference Papers

It came in a clear cellophane package, about 30 sheets on different colored paper with a card stock cover and backing sheet. No binding, photocopied most likely. Familiar and friendly. As good as any book.

Another “book” I came across this past week is called European Cultural Policies 2015: A report with Scenarios on the Future of Public Funding for Contemporary Art in Europe. Sound dull? Perhaps. But again the presentation and how I came across this book are interesting.

I learned about the book during a documentary film called A Crime Against Art, in which artist Anton Vidokle and curator Tirdad Zolghadr put themselves on trial, inviting various curators and other art experts to prosecute them. One of the “expert witnessess,” Maria Lund, held up the 2015 book (which she co-edited with Raimund Minichbauer) and proceeded to discuss the “crimes” of art having become completely instrumentalized, so that there is today no outside from which artists may take a critical perspective.

2015 book PDF printout

I obtained a copy of the book for free online in PDF format and printed out a copy. PDFs are not as readable as books, nor as easily stored/displayed, or lent and borrowed but imho they are eminently serviceable for research and personal use. (2015 is also available online in HTML format here.) The cover of the book is also interesting for including the book’s budget. The editors further explain how the book was financed in their introduction, as an “art project” at the Frieze artfair, where 10,000 copies were given away.

Not many publishers can afford to give away their books. Book financing is challenging and will be the subject other posts (no doubt many), but for the time being suffice it to say that there were many kinds of subsidization supporting the 2015 book.

If you see the movie, you can judge for yourself whether or not Vidokle and Zolghadr, or director Hila Peleg, are guilty as charged or merely guilty of making bad art. In any case I feel grateful again to have found out about a book and been able to get part of it’s message in such a unique way.

2015 book cover detail

Tanya Mars caught in the act!

Congratulations to our friend and colleague Tanya Mars on winning the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts.

Tanya Mars as Queen Elizabeth I in her performance Pure Virtue

Within the artist-run milieu Tanya’s energy and wit as an artist helped to forge, and continues to shape, contemporary art practice in Canada. Of particular importance to us was her enormous, tireless work editing Parallelogramme, a journal that tied the trans-national network of artist-run centres together between 1976 and 1989.

Congratulations Tanya.

Caught in the Act - Mars/Householder-2005

Mars, with her colleague, performance artist Johanna Householder, edited Caught in the Act – An anthology of performance art by Canadian women, published by YYZBOOKS in 2005.

Canada Council’s announcement of the GG award winners

Peter Goddard in the Toronto Star on the 2008 Visual and Media Arts awards

Tanya’s profile at the Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art (ccca.ca)

More about the book Caught in the Act on BlogTO

More about Tanya’s work on FADO

Coming from a good place – the book you walk into – Toronto collage party

Collage party at JMB Gallery, TorontoI was fortunate enough to be able to participate for a few hours this past week in a collage party at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at the University of Toronto (March 9 – 12, 2008).

The primary thing about this collage party is that it comes from a good place, a giving, non-judgmental place.

There’s the generosity of the gallery, which allows itself to be taken over and transformed into a working, instead of spectator, space, which pays the artist to set it all up, and provides some supplies and advertising. There’s trust between the gallery director/curator (in this case, Barbara Fischer) and the artist (Paul Butler who has staged over 30 of these events) allowing him to invite whomever he chooses to participate, and between Paul and the artists he invites, that the time they spend working there will be pleasant, colleaguial, respectful, and, when the doors were opened on the weekend to the public, between the gallery, the artist and the public, that this was a truly open event where anyone can join in, make stuff and put it up on the walls along with everyone else’s. All of this is, as we used to make fun of Martha Stewart for saying, “a good thing.”

The work produced during a collage party canvasses the best of 20th C art and moves into the 21st.

Micah Lexier at JMB Gallery, TorontoThe amount of work produced during a collage party and its overall quality is overwhelming. A entire museum collection could be assembled by a prudent eye in less than a hour and for less than a thousand dollars, quite possibly for free as nobody, including the invited artists involved, is overly concerned about value, market, etc. The fact that this does not happen… nobody really notices or cares about art history here, let alone museum collections… reflects a larger trend I think, toward a new era in which art will be accessible and popular in ways we (at least those of us born before 1970) can hardly even imagine. Pic: Micah Lexier’s “black things” at Toronto collage party..

Walking into a collage party is like walking into a book.

works at collage party at JMB Gallery, TorontoThere are works of art everywhere, unfolding in time as you move through the space, not unlike turning the pages of a book. You flip fluidly between modernist and post-modernist modes, where modernism is about combining fragments into a new kind of coherent totality equal to “the modern experience,” and post-modernism admits to the impossibility of creating an adequate simulacrum (or, arguably, resists the authority embedded in both the notion and the effort). [ ref ]

But in some ways the event itself supersedes the art. It comes, as I said, from a good place of trust, faith, openness. It’s naive and charming, not terribly self-conscious and optimistic. It’s a social space as well as a work space. It’s indeterminate, depending entirely (if not altogether unpredictably) on whether anyone shows up and does anything. The collage party event is a form of social practice, not unlike Harrel Fletcher’s work. It’s more Darren O’Donnell than Royal Art Lodge.

Zin Taylor at collage party, TorontoCollage is uniquely accessible among art media because pretty well everybody understand it whether they know anything about art or not. They know where the stuff (imagery, materials) comes from, how to put disparate things/images together and how juxtaposed images are to be read. People just “know” this. The conversion of the gallery into a working space with paper covered tables and scissors, paste, etc. available, and no inhibitions on littering the floors further robs the space, and the work being done/displayed, of formality and pretense. Pic: Zin Taylor’s eyeglasses at Toronto collage party.

I’ve spoken with Paul a couple of times now about the collage party and he said a couple of other things that seem important to mention.

works at collage party at JMB Gallery, TorontoPaul says a collage party is like art school, a group of people working away, side by side. It’s social, but not. You chat or you work on your own or sometimes you collaborate. There are no rules, no rights, no wrongs. It’s just time to create in a studio setting. That is a very hard thing to recreate outside of art school. Most artists will attest to that. Some are able to establish a studio practice outside of art school, working alone, making connections, etc. But many, most, have trouble with those things. For them (us I should say because I’d consider myself one of them) there should be a permanent situation of ‘art school’, a supportive, paid-for, critical environment. Pic: Paul Butler’s ‘Everybody” at the Toronto collage party.

Paul says he does collage parties so he can get his work done. He feels the same things I’d wager all the artists who participated felt before they arrived, anxiety, competitiveness, wariness, and during and after the event, shyness, apprehension, envy at all the incredible work other’s are producing, but then the event happens and the trust experience makes it possible to work, to play, to be an artist and not be Van Gogh lonely, and for that we are truly grateful.

Robert Labossiere at collage party, Toronto - You are what you seeCollage parties involve trust. Paul invited me and I went and I had a good experience, a great experience in fact. The collage party is honest work, not “work” as in “art work” because the event itself belongs in some in-between space of social practice, like Fletcher or O’Donnell, it is no longer “art” as we knew it, it is “art” in a new, broader way, familiar, engaged, interactive, cultural. Pic: My own “You are what you see” with John Bowley’s “Can you figure this out?” collage puzzle in the background at the Toronto collage party .

Collage Party catalogue - Paul Butler

Now there’s an art catalogue about Collage Party, launched at Printed Matter in NY, announced on Hustler of Culture, introductory essay by Wayne Baerwaldt, co-published by Illingworth Kerr Gallery & Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.

You can buy it from Printed Matter.

Listening to readers – Ram Charan

Ram Charan on listening to your audience

Executive management consultant/guru Ram Charan in his new book What the Customer Wants You to Know says low price is not it… what customers actually want you to know is that they value a product if it helps them to do what they do, and will pay appropriately for it. It’s about putting the customer first.

Applying Charan’s thinking to publishing, I’d say this means putting your readers expectations and needs ahead what you think you need to do: publish so many titles a year at such and such a production cost. It means looking hard at what you are doing, doing fewer books, doing a better job of the books you do choose to do, and charging a price that reflects your efforts… not what you think the customer will pay.

Books are, imho, way under-priced. The average book should cost and is worth about double what publishers currently think they can charge. Blame globalization, mass market books that are pretty to look and of not much value to anyone but are so cheaply priced they become, mass-market-wise, almost irresistable. Publishers, especially the small presses have to stop trying to compete with books that sell in the hundreds of thousands through the big box and online mega-stores.

There’s no shame in small press runs of specialized books; such books are extremely important to the people they are addressed to and they should be priced accordingly.

More about Ram Charan.

Buy Charan’s book from your local bookstore, or (if you must) in the online jungle.

Btw, Charan’s book has brilliant cover design with a familiar flavour:)

Ram Charan book cover Campbell's Tomato Soup

Thanks to Harvey Schachter for his consistently good reviews of management books in the Globe and Mail.

Jack’s Publishing – how publishing is depicted in movies

The Shoe Fairy (2006) directed by Robin Lee

Publishers are represented in movies as much as anyone I suppose. In The Shoe Fairy (2006) directed by Robin Lee, the protagonist, a girl named Dodo, works for Jack, a publisher of children’s and pop-up books, who is always folding origami. Dodo does all the menial jobs in the office from cleaning toilets to picking up drawings from the reclusive illustrator Big Cat. There are two others in the office who never look up from their computer screens. As publishing goes, sounds about right.

The Shoe Fairie is a lovely movie, imaginative and touching and totally beautiful to look at. It’s in Chinese with English subtitles.

Read a review.

View trailer.

Oscar Song “Falling Slowly” demonstrates why artists are poor

Artists buy into the idea that great risks earn great rewards and consequently give up their common sense judgment about real career prospects. So Hans Abbing argues in his book Why Are Artists Poor?. Art awards, Abbing says, promote the idea that success is a real possibility when it is clearly not for the vast majority. And the fact that a handful of artists have risen in recent years to rock star-like celebrity further fuels the magical thinking of thousands of artists, encouraging them to not merely endure but enthusiastically embrace low wages and dismal financial insecurity in exchange for the slimmest chance at “fame.”

“The fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this, it’s just proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible,” Marketa Irglova said at the Oscars after she and partner Glen Hansard won Best Song for their tune “Falling Slowly.”

So ripe was this moment with art ideology that Oscar producer Gil Cates asked Marketa to come back onto the Oscar stage after she had been “accidentally” played off after Hansard said his thank yous. As if Hansard’s “This is amazing. Make art. Make art.” had not already done enough damage. [as reported by AP]

As I’ve said before, I don’t entirely buy Abbing’s arguments. While there is no question that the vast majority of artists embrace poverty, I doubt they do so blindly or because they are misinformed about the odds of success.

Everyone knows the Oscars are an extreme, none better than people like Martin Scorsese who went for years without that high honour. Bob Hope and many others used to joke about it. Not so much lately. Is that because the industry has become so bloated that most actors really don’t care so much because the pay is just so much better now?

Someone might argue that awards fanfare actually increases interest in the arts, encouraging the flow of money and that more artists will do better than before but that someone isn’t me, yet.