Artists are dealt a difficult hand. They have rare talents and harbour abilities that make a distinct and positive impact on our world. Despite this, they seldom make enough money. The unfortunate individuals who try to ‘make a go’ at a professional career in the visual arts are subject to a highly dense and bottle-neck shaped industry, and generally end up poor. We have a discouraging, winner-takes-all art economy that disregards the majority of artists, makes exposure and circulation highly competitive, and limits true expression. As a result, our world is less beautiful than it could be.
This doesn’t make any sense to me. Some of my fondest memories as a child include Sunday afternoon visits to the Vancouver Art Gallery, standing before great framed canvases of textured paints and interpreted landscapes. Entrance was free on Sundays, and I was quite small as a young boy, so I remember having to push my way through people’s legs to get at some of the more popular works. I would finally make it to the front, look up, and be absolutely dumbfounded. How on earth were they able to make that? I was so sure that these artists had a special sort of paintbrush that I ignored all my parents’ lectures regarding talent and hard-work. The first signs of an ego perhaps.
In any case, this sense of puzzlement has never left me. There is a raw feeling of curiosity that comes to the fore when looking at a special piece of artwork, comparable to seeing the world through the eyes of a child. I tend to ask myself, “What are they thinking? How do they see this subject in this way? What is the artist trying to tell me?” To me, these questions make for a richer experience. I gain insight into how the world may be interpreted, and how people’s emotions or moods change their point of view. It’s a reminder that people see things differently than I do, a welcome sense of perspective accompanied by an enjoyable aesthetic pleasure.
Without a doubt, museums are widely accessible to the engaged public. But the feat of actually getting one’s work hanging in one requires a precarious combination of luck, skill, business savvy, charisma, experience… the list goes on! What about those artists that produce beautiful work that is never really seen? Young introverted individuals that sit in their bedrooms scribbling away at a sketchpad or hunched over a canvas all day? These people lack some specific trait for the rare occurrence of success in the industry, and their work may never be ‘seen’ as a result.
But are these people’s works not valuable?
In order to survive, artists must constantly produce artwork that is bought and sold in the marketplace. For this to happen, artists need a cultural intermediary to mediate between the interests of profit and creative producers, whose services stagger artists’ potential income. Furthermore, these artists have to produce work that people want to own; potentially a far cry away from what they actually want to make. I’ll leave the Marxist critique of the industry implicit, but the problem is really quite obvious: The vast majority of artists do not make livable wages, and artists’ expressions are tailored to suit the interests of the market.
Centerfold is an idea – still to be fully realized – that was collaboratively and carefully conceptualized during the freezing Montreal winter of 2015. Together, we wanted to challenge the status quo of both the local and online art sense, so we asked ourselves the following questions: Why don’t visual artists receive compensation for hanging their work, just as a musical performer would for performing? Why are there such high barriers to entry in the art industry? Why don’t people get paid when others appreciate their work? We set out to flesh out the problem to the best of our respective abilities.
In a nutshell, the team behind Centerfold wanted to address this problem with the resources we had at our disposal. We’ve identified that: (1) talented amateur artists need to make money and gain exposure; and (2) Montreal is home to a very high number of people that love the arts and love to celebrate. By throwing one-night pop up exhibitions, we showcase local visual art where funds are raised for creators through the audience’s experience.
Attendees donate upon entry, and are asked to ‘vote’ for their three favourite pieces. This pushes the audience to engage with the artwork in a unique way, perhaps illuminating personal preferences that were hidden before. At the end of the evening, the donations are pooled together and distributed back to the artists based on the votes each artist had received. This is a decided shift away from the traditional gallery experience. Throw in idiosyncratic venues and late night dance affairs curated by talented underground DJ’s, and our events become a sort of all-in-one cultural experience.
Ultimately, our goal is to promote art and creativity by funding those who create. Since the project began, we’ve been able to raise over $3000 for local artists while elevating creative awareness within our community, and we are only just getting started.