Rachel Mason recently wrote a very compelling piece for the Huffington Post – Artist as Applicant. In it, she reviews various possible outcomes of applying for grants – both objectively for her work, and subjectively for how she might feel about her work. It’s an interesting way of noting many of the questions and issues that come up in planning ambitious work. In my work, I’ve usually decided to plan projects in such a way that they don’t require a lot of funding. I’ve preferred to be able to go ahead and make the work even if I don’t get selected for grant funding. Having made this decision, I generally don’t even do the step of bothering to apply for grants.
One aspect of this is that I haven’t expected to be paid for my time as an artist working on the projects. I’ve funded my work-hours as an artist through outside employment, and more recently through support from my full-time corporate-worker partner. An outcome of these decisions and circumstances is that I don’t have many grants on my artist resume. As I advance in my “art career”, this will likely be something of a liability. Perhaps I won’t look like a good funding candidate once I do decide to apply for grants for a more involved project. Thinking about this leaves me with the question – should I be planning more involved projects – or expecting to be paid for my time through funding – just for the sake of applying for grants? Or, more interestingly, am I keeping myself from going after bigger ideas and more ambitious outcomes, because of my decision to make work that is financially accessible to me?
It has often felt like a decision against capitalism to make work that doesn’t require a lot of financial backing. In particular, my public projects have been intentionally low-budget. With a few clipboards and dollar-store markers, I set out to engage the public! ( Show Someone How You Feel About Something). But then, am I neglecting the opportunity to value my own time monetarily? While I don’t believe that capitalism is the best way, it is the way we have now. My work and myself as a worker deserve to be valued according to the system we are in. This is a larger issue of course – not just about my choice of whether or not to apply for grants, but also the problem that art production is not valued as well as other types of production in our economy – or it is only valued at its market value, and not for its own sake as a human endeavor that enriches our collective society.
Of course, the answer can be both – I can make “cheap” work on principle, and I can make “expensive” work and attempt to have it be valued for what it’s really worth. But do either of these solutions move us closer to what I really want? A world in which all creative work is supported and valued?
So what’s an artist to do? What have you done? How have you funded your work? Have you made decisions on principal, or out of necessity, about whether or not to apply for grants? How can we move forward to bring art-making out of the purely capitalist system, while we’re still living in it?