Joseph Franklyn McElroy Cor[porat]e [Per]form[ance] Art[ist] on Mon, 15 Apr 2002 09:25:16 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Fwd: Re: RHIZOME_RAW: why art should be free 1/3: the costs of property

Quoting Jon Ippolito <>:

> "Where there is no gift there is no art." --Lewis Hyde

"Where there is no service there is no art." -- Joseph Franklyn McElroy

> market--are delighted at this prospect. But exchange economies tend to
> steamroll gift economies; if the art market does take root in cyberspace, we
> have to make absolutely sure that it doesn't overrun the precarious ecosystem
> that gave rise to the rich global community we call digital art. For
> property, intellectual or personal, is the enemy of art.

It is not the concept of property, it is the current market system that is the
problem.  The gallery/collector sytem gains power over artist by using the
financial markets to pay them to restrict access to their property, thereby
causing fragmentation, division and subjugation in the artist communty.  One
solution to the problem might be to eliminate property, however, this has
disadvantages and obstacles.   Another solution would be for artists
(producers) to form communities that "own" the marketers, thus establishing
power over the marketers.  In the Open Source Software world, is trying to do such a thing.  I am trying to do this for
artists...  Joseph Franklyn McElroy is an artist,  Corporate Performance
Artists are a community,  Electric Hands is a marketing organization.

> This essay offers neither a Marxist attack on personal property nor a rosy
> vision of George Bush writing artists a fat check every year. It is simply an
> acknowledgment of the fact that a gift culture dies if people stop giving.
> Making art into property helps plenty of folks--even a few artists. The
> problem is, it cripples artists more than it helps them, by covertly impeding
> their power to create, to get paid, even to give.

Giving power to the marketers is the problem.  Real Estate is
property...however you only have to pay a 6% commission to the person that
sells it for you.    In the gallery system, 50% or more is not uncommon.
Market conditions are admittedly much different, however, the thing most
galleries have going for them is location and perhaps a mailing list.  With the
Internet, both of those become severely less valuable.   In my opinion,
galleries are entertainment centers where artists pay both production costs and
visitor admission fees on purely speculative basis.  Galleries are at least
assured a percentage of every sale, artists gamble on their own limited
inventory.  It is the exploitive nature of our system, not property ownership
that leads to these type relationships.  Walmart doesn't make money off of
sales of products in its stores, it makes its vendors wait 6, 9, or more months
for their money and takes it profits off the float.  The point is that if you
are trying to establish that it is the concept of property that causes artists
to be exploited you are missing the boat, it is the exploitive nature of our
marketing system that is the problem, with producers unaware of the risks they
are forced to take and the marketers only to happy to take advantage of them.
The solution is either for marketers to get scruples, government to legislate
scruples, or for producers to get educated and take power into their own
hands.   However, if you wish to abstract away from the day-to-day life of the
artists, then seeing Art/Knowledge as a property (as you argue later) does have

> Artist Ilya Kabakov claims that our society needs artists not to create more
> information or imagery--we've got enough of that already--but to recombine
> and envision the culture we already have. Fortunately, today's artists have

And envison the culture we should have.

> tools that enable them to reinterpret culture as never before. Digital
> sampling has transformed music, data mining is a critical piece of Internet
> art, and the reinterpretation of classics is a rich source of contemporary
> literature. Yet as artists have been moving in this direction, lawyers have
> been moving in the opposite one, toward prohibiting the re-use of culture. So
> they've sued 2LiveCrew for sampling Oh Pretty Woman, Arriba Soft for
> re-framing Leslie Kelly's photos, and Alice Randall for rewriting Gone with
> the Wind from the slave's perspective. Property--intellectual property--is
> their rationale.

Here you are accurate.  Marketers, with their unfair advantage over producers,
are seeking to make their products more unique and thus more valuable.

> Intellectual property lawyers running amok have extended the term of
> copyright eleven times in forty years. It is literally illegal to write
> software to fast forward past commercials on your DVD. If Senator Fritz
> Hollings' bill prevails, it will be illegal to sell a fully programmable
> computer that can run multimedia.
> Intellectual property isn't all bad.2 We probably should fine those guys on
> Canal Street who sell hot copies of Photoshop for $30. The supposed attempt
> to protect *artists* via expanded copyright protections, however, is just a
> smokescreen for guarding corporate profits.
> The root of this problem is not the "intellectual" part of intellectual
> property, but the "property" part. For intellectual property isn't the only
> possible pollution of the creative ecosystem. The art market's presumption
> that art is physical property also serves as a smokescreen--and not just for
> digital artworks.

Yes - Art is a service with different means of delivery, including physical
objects.  The Artist provides an experience or decoration or catharsis or
whatever emotion/intellectual stimulation to a Consumer who integrates it with
their personal existence for an enhanced (hopefully) life. Later institutions,
collectors, galleries, patrons attach myth, facts, events, provenance,
propoganda, branding etc to an artwork such that it acquires additional
abilities to provide an expanded set of services (such as religion experiences,
investment accrual, etc)

> In principle, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make a living as an
> artist. What's wrong is the perception that our society's art market will
> ever make that possible for more than a token few.
> The folks this market benefits most are the middlemen: auctioneers, dealers,
> critics, art school faculty. The meager salary I reap as a curator is
> premised on a plentiful supply of art to choose from, good and bad. If there
> are only three artists in town--no matter how good they are--you don't need
> museums and magazines to point them out to you. The plentiful supply of art
> in our culture is the product of the unrecompensed labor of countless artists
> working away in their studios. For no great art was ever made in isolation;
> indeed, good art plays off the expectations developed by bad artists. There
> is no way for a market-driven art world based on finding and immortalizing
> superstars to survive without a rich culture of art to draw from. Yet to say
> the art market helps the starving artist is tantamount to saying the lottery
> helps the poor: it profits a tiny percentage, and distracts the rest from
> their impoverished social position with dreams of sudden affluence.

Yes - the producers are exploited.

> Leaving aside artists as a class, the evidence that the market has encouraged
> art that better serves society is pretty scant. It's possible, to be sure,
> that the need to find a marketing niche is responsible for the pluralism
> apparent in recent contemporary art. Unfortunately, artists who find such a
> niche also find themselves caught in what Joseph McElroy has called "brand
> slavery"--the inability to sell works outside of a signature style for which

Yes - marketers enforce uniformity of product and brand from their producers,
because it is too expensive to rebrand a product for every show.  However, if
Art were recognized as a service and the artist as a service provider, then the
brand could be judged not on a consistent visual/interpretive style but on the
successfulness of the service in meeting its objectives.  Artists with a
consistent history of acheiving their service objectives will become a brand
without having to attach it to a particular style of product.  Much like people
are not concerned about what Microsoft services (software) look like, but what
they do.

> they have become known. The market also discourages artistic paradigms that
> depart from the model of solitary genius; I've had dealers admit to my face
> that they can't take on collaborative work because it won't sell.

There is a particular consumer base who buy art for investment value or have
particular tastes in object art.  However, there is a huge, untapped market of
potential art buyers who might be persuaded to purchase a different type art.
John Klima's Flock of birds (I don't know what he calls it) bought by a
Financial institution, is I think, a perfect example of an artwork that
explicitlty provides a service, displaying currency fluctations as symbolic
flocks of birds.  This type art has a huge corporate market that is untapped.
And guess, what, artists don't need gallaries or museums to sell it to

> Even those selected by the market can end up hostages to it. Musicians and
> writers gladly sign away their rights for the chance to publish with a major
> record or book label. Even terms written explicitly into a contract can be
> meaningless if the cost of litigation is prohibitive for the struggling
> artist.3 In my gallery experience as a visual artist, I've had to build
> pedestals, repaint walls, design, print, and mail my own announcements--and
> then lose 50% commission on anything I sell.4

Correct, but property doesn't create exploitive markets, exploitive marketers,
compliant government, and uneducated producers do.

> But what proof is there that artists would bother to make art--much less
> curators exhibit art and critics write about it--if there were no market to
> sell it and no copyright to protect it? It turns out there is a vast and
> vibrant artistic community for which the number of artworks ever sold to a
> willing buyer can be counted on one hand. Though scarcely a decade old, this
> community has produced more artistic genres and manifestos, public
> exhibitions, and critical writing than the market-driven artworld has in the
> past three decades. It's been more democratic and geographically diverse;
> statistics indicate that its audience is at least as large as visitors to
> galleries and museums. This body of evidence is right under your fingertips.
> It is the Internet.

And this also provides the means for the producers to start gaining control
over the marketers.

> The invisible hand is a theory. Copyright is a theory. The benefit of
> propertyless art is a fact--a global, instantly accessible fact.
> But that may change, now that Internet art is finally gaining a foothold in
> galleries and museums. Ironically, it is online artists who have the most to
> lose from the grafting of an exchange economy onto this extraordinary refuge
> from property. For market influences threaten to carve up their vital public
> sphere into separate domains of private ownership. Say goodbye to connective
> art like Shredder, Netomat, and the Impermanence Agent. Internet artists
> eager to usher sales of their work may end up trading their wildlife refuge
> for a zoo.5

Unless producers can gain control of the marketers.  Unfortunately, capital
will be needed to create and grow network based art beyond what the limited
resources of an individual can do.  We cannot stay as we are, for if we stop
growing, we start dying.   The Internet producers must start building the
economic models before the marketers, so that control is properly maintained.
Denying the inevitable plays into the hands of the marketers.

> Can't Internet artists have their cake and eat it too--sell their work and
> still have it accessible online? The problem is, dealers who play by the
> rules of property will want to offer collectors exclusive viewing rights.
> Even if artists try to sell those rights themselves--say, by offering art
> online via subscription or pay per view schemes--they may find themselves in
> the same predicament as their dot-com predecessors. Seventy percent of adults

There are successful dot-com predecessors.  There are many individual
entreprenuers who make 6-7 figures from the Internet.  A survey of by the
National Historic Trust of Main Street Business found that small businesses on
the Internet saw an increase in revenue on average of 14%.  Many had more. It
is not a matter of inability, but education.  Business is not a natural talent,
it is a learned one.

> can't see themselves paying for *any* form of online content.6 Conditioned by
> Napster, free e-mail, and open source software, the general public has got it
> into their heads that the Internet is for everyone. And they're right.

Yes, but it is only 20% of any consumer population that buys 80% of the
products and services.  This is not indicative of anything other than what the
markets have known for a long time.

> Property's apologists might insist that giving art the status of property
> doesn't impede its ability to be given away. Wrong. Artists *are* constantly
> giving, in the sense of working without pay--yet property law makes sure that
> artists aren't the ones empowered by giving art. If you make art to give

Artists are constantly taking speculative risks.

> away, you won't show a profit on your income tax return, and the IRS will
> reject as a "hobby" expense your attempt to write off your studio rent. Even
> if you show a profit, you can only write off the cost of materials for any
> charitable donations, whereas the *collector* of your work can write off the
> market value. So if Robert Rauschenberg gives a white painting to the Menil
> Collection, he gets a $100 tax break to cover the stretcher bars, canvas, and
> tube of titanium white. If he gives it to a Rockefeller and he gives it to
> the Menil, Mr. Rockefeller gets a $100,000 tax break.

Artists should form corporations that are seperate entities.  The artist
creates works that the corporations pays a service fee for.  The corporation
then can sell to collectors, gallaries, whatever.  It bears all the tax risks,
etc.  I bet it even gets the tax breaks.  This is not an argument for doing
away with property, just better tax laws.
> If you think artists don't get an even break giving away art while they're
> alive, just wait until they're dead. My father, a second-generation abstract
> painter, was well known in the 1950s, but his market shrank when he moved
> away from New York City in subsequent decades. Nevertheless he continued to
> paint prolifically and had hundreds of unsold works in his studio when he
> recently died. As heirs, my brother and I were faced with the dire prospect
> that the IRS could take his asking price for a painting, multiply by the
> number of paintings in his inventory, and then levy taxes on this
> multimillion-dollar figure. But paintings aren't chairs or bolts; you can't
> just liquidate them at the drop of a hat. I'm sure my father thought of his
> artistic legacy as a financial safety net for his children, but it has become
> a road straight to bankruptcy.

Can't you donate them for the full market value?

> Nor are there many options for artists and their heirs to avoid being saddled
> with "property debt." Establishing a foundation to support a dead artist's
> work sounds nice, but it requires gobs of liquid capital and entails
> self-dealing rules that prevent beneficiaries from being decision-makers.

Why not a for-profit corporation established before death?

> Non-traditional bequests are even more costly; gay or lesbian partners of
> deceased artists, for example, aren't allowed the million-dollar tax
> exemption of legal spouses. After participating in a conference on estate
> planning for artists, painter Philip Pearlstein summed up his assessment in
> the handbook published by the conference's organizers:
> "When I die, my studio will have to be emptied of all my paintings....once
> the stuff is in the moving van, where will it go? After all these years of
> painting, have I simply created a terrible burden for my wife and children?
> They will have to give directions to the driver of that van. It almost seems
> that the easiest solution would be for them to take a few souvenirs and have
> the rest driven to the town dump."

Again, why not a for-profit corporation?

> Unfortunately, even Pearlstein's draconian solution wouldn't prevent his
> family from paying inheritance taxes, for they're based on the estate's value
> at time of death. You can't give property away to avoid inheritance tax; you
> can't even avoid throw it away. Attorney John Silberman once asked the IRS
> how they would judge a body of works that were made purely for art's sake,
> with little commercial potential. The response was, "If you do not want to
> pay taxes on them, destroy them before you die." 7
> Which is exactly what artists should do: destroy their artistic property
> before they die. But how can you destroy artistic property without destroying
> art?

> [continued]
> + +you spoof, i'll toss rocks
> ->
> -> post:
> -> questions:
> -> subscribe/unsubscribe:
> -> give:
> +
> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
> Membership Agreement available online at

Joseph Franklyn McElroy
Cor[porat]e [Per]form[ance] Art[ist]
Electric Hands, Inc
Electrify your sales, Electrify your Mind

This mail sent through IMP:

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: