Artists Who Pay the Bills

For years in art school, while I worked away in my studio, there was always a distant dark cloud on the horizon and pang of unease in my gut, brought on by a fear about my 'art future.' How the hell was I going to make a living once I finally got the third degree (MFA)? The only artists I knew who were making it were professors, but they didn't have much advice. The best we got was a short workshop on 'How to write an artist's statement,' as if a polished 500 word explanation of our work was the key to a steady income and health insurance.My default plan, like most MFA candidates I knew, was to cast my credentials into the sea of the academic art world and fish for a teaching position. But the hard truth is that there are very few teaching positions available in proportion to the number of MFA graduates entering the job market each year. In the year 2000, 1,941 MFA's were awarded in the visual arts.* But on average there were only 250 - 300 teaching positions open at accredited art institutions. This means that more than 80% of MFA grads had to find a different line of work.There are other jobs, of course. You could become a world famous art-star or use your skills, in the service of another's vision, at a magazine or design firm (while you do your art after work). And if those plans don't pan out, you might marry-up and be a stay at home artist / parent, go back to school to become a public school teacher, or do something like the guys at Peripheral Media Projects or their fellow Brooklynite Steve Keene have done.Straight out of Brooklyn Last week, by coincidence, both [Steve Keene][1] and the team from [Peripheral Media Projects][2] were at KU plying their trades and revealing a couple of very different alternatives for art school grads. Keene was brought to KU by Student Union Activities as their artist-in-residence for the semester. He set up shop in the Union Gallery [where he continues, through February 14th][3], to create paintings in rapid-fire, assembly line fashion.![][4] The toy store like display of his wares separates viewers / shoppers from the artist at work on up to 50 paintings at a time. Keene makes all sales by the honor system. The prices are posted - three small paintings for $5, large paintings $5 each. If you choose to buy one, you take it off the shelf and put your cash in the box labeled $. Keene says "I want buying my paintings to be like buying a CD: it's cheap, it's art and it changes your life, but the object has no status." Keene makes many multiples of each image he chooses to paint, the attraction being that each piece is 'original' and hand painted by the artist. A sign outside the Union Gallery proclaims, "180,000 Sold!" Ray Cross and Garrison Buxton of Peripheral Media Projects (PMP) were invited to Lawrence by the KU Printmaking Department. Over three days last week, they participated in classes, gave lectures, and collaborated on prints with students. They too make multiples, and are interested in reaching a large audience outside of the typical 'art world,' ![][5]albeit with a different message than Steve Keene. PMP is a group of designers, artists, printers and activists who are "...committed to promoting awareness and social transformation through the creation of art and clothing, both within and outside the gallery and fashion systems."An offshoot of PMP is the new [Antimart][6], a multi-use retail, gallery, and performance space, also in Brooklyn. Billed as "AntiImperialist... AntiEstablishment... AntiConventional... AntiPolittical... AntiExploitive... and AntiApathetic," Antimart's website states that " In a world with more cons than pros we have chosen to stand against these principles that keep us apart and preoccupied with spoon-fed culture. We dig deep for meaning and fight the powers that would sooner see us silenced than show us support."Steve Keene and PMP / Antimart have created new ways to make a living as artists. In the business world, their willingness to adapt and reinvent what they do, is called the entrepreneurial spirit. In the art world, it's just called survival. * Statistics from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, 2000-2001 HEADS Report, which was completed from a survey of 228 of its accredited member organizations. [1]: [2]: [3]: [4]: [5]: [6]:


Jill Ensley 11 years, 7 months ago

I was in screenprinting when the PMP guys were here. We were lucky enough to hear them talk, watch and help them work, and print some of their work on our shirts, etc.

Was going to write about these two events. Glad you did it instead. :)

Dave Loewenstein 11 years, 7 months ago

For those who would like to see more... I heard that some curious prints, which looked inspired by PMP, have been spotted in downtown's alleys, maybe around Henry's.

edie_ 11 years, 7 months ago

Dave I enjoy your blog as much as your other work. Cheers.

Kookamooka 11 years, 7 months ago

Yep! This is my favorite Blog! I get excited every time you write one. Anyway, as far as the conform/consume idea goes...there is an article I found in about how people will buy music that they think other people think is popular. It' s VERRRY interesting. We are like sheep, after all.(or that's what politicians depend on)
I also took my kids up to the Kansas Union to see the installation and they LOVED the pretzel!

ssmarsh 11 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Dave. Just to add to the MFA-employment files... I finished my MFA in writing last year at Columbia. Could've worked in publishing in New York, but moved back to the Heartland... Anyway, I won't really be a prime candidate for teaching at the university level until I get my book published. So I freelanced, bartended and starved for a while. Just started grantwriting full-time for a nonprofit in Topeka. Another example of the unexpected places MFAs take you! I would love to start some sort of network of MFA-holders in the Lawrence area, for the purpose of trading employment info, resources, loan-repayment tips, support in a world that got no love for us! Anybody know MFAers in the writing realm? Tell them to email me!

Dave Loewenstein 11 years, 7 months ago

Sarah - Truth be told, I never got the 3rd degree. I left KU after a year and a half to pursue itinerant muralism / political art, which was much different than what I was doing for my MFA. So, I'm technically (since most schools require a terminal degree, and my last degree, an MA, is missing one fine letter) out of the running for those rare academic jobs . I like your idea of a network. I'm sure there are many grantwriters, substitute teachers, and copy editors who would appreciate it.

chaungoloid 11 years, 7 months ago

i love steve's art. obviously someone else does enough to steal it from me. i had three of his pieces hung pretty securely (but obviously not enough) at the jackpot saloon and one of them entitled "GIRLS FIGHTING IN WOODS" was stolen on saturday night when the pomonas played. how rude. it was a gift from a dear friend who i no longer get to see. it was on loan to the jackpot downtown at tenth and mass. if anyone has any leads on this, please contact the jackpot @ 785.832.1085 or call 785.312.0969 and ask for justin. i just discovered this today, monday the 13th of february.

chaungoloid 11 years, 7 months ago

and yes i know steve's process and others like it exist but this one was special to me!!!!

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