“Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked.” -- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
I got myself in a bit of hot water this week.
I won't go into all the gory details, but let's say I pulled out of an important art event in St. Louis, hosted by a respected art institution, because I thought the space that the artists were asked to use was worse than substandard and disrespectful to the art and the artists. When I saw the space I asked myself: would this group ask a visiting artist to use this space?
When the answer came back "of course not!" I knew what I had to do. And I did it publicly -- but as respectfully as I know how to do -- because I wanted to start a discussion of how art and artists should respect themselves and each other.
Apparently we don't so much.
Within moments of my post appearing on a St. Louis listserv for visual and performing art, I was getting private emails and phone calls of support.
"I wish I had the balls to do what you did," I heard on more than one message.
But the public responses called me ungrateful and whiny, insisting that I was "biting the hand that feeds you."
Really? Artists are lapdogs who gobble up any scrap thrown from the big art table where the master sits and then wag our tails in gratitude? Or are we servants who dote on the master and do his bidding, accepting his blows with a "thank you, sir"? Or are we children who are to be seen and not heard?
When did this happen? Artists are supposed to enlighten, entertain, enrich and inspire. But mostly we're supposed to tell the truth! The hard truths. The ugly truths. The uncomfortable truths.
To do that, artists must be equals at the art table.
I demand to be an equal. Artists and art institutions and collectors all need each other. We have to understand and respect and try to meet each other's needs. Without artists, the museums are empty. Without collectors and art institutions that will show my work, I will starve. I get that.
Without artists, our lives are empty and bleak and hopeless. And pretty damned bland.
I AM grateful for the opportunities, but I have to tell the truth. I, and my sister and brother artists deserve respect. We have to respect ourselves and our work. We deserve a place at the table.
We are not lapdogs.
P.S. Thanks to one of my public supporters for the quote above. It sums up the discussion perfectly!