Making Ends Meet – where purpose and economy collide

As part of my M.A. in Curatorial Practise at Sunderland University we were invited to submit proposals to the Reg Vardy Gallery, at Ashburne House the home of the Art School in Sunderland since 1934. I put forward a proposal that examined the practise of creatives when they were making pieces specifically to sell or make money quickly in order to fund their main (less profitable practise). I was interested in the creative dynamic that is forced by economic necessity (that dandling mother of invention).

This was chiefly inspired by my own experience of making things to sell in Glasgow in order to raise living expenses, but also by stories I heard told by artists such as George Shaw (of Humbrol Enamel photographic depictions of surburban Coventry fame) making and selling bags at school, as well as friends doing illustrations for money and of course Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas’ Shop.

Below are extracts from the text and presentation submitted to the Reg Vardy Gallery curator, Rob Blackson back in 2008

Making Ends Meet

This phrase is normally understood to mean finding enough money for everything you need. On closer examination where an end might be read as a purpose, the phrase can simultaneously read as “making your purposes meet”. This exhibition will explore the work of artists done on the periphery of their main work at art school or outside their practise, that is, objects made or commissions undertaken to fund their main practise. These may start out as “means to an end” but I want to explore the event where these become the end in themselves. I also want to examine the creative impulse behind objects made to generate a sale (or monetary transaction) in relation and contrast to the artists’ main (often non-saleable) practise. These works despite being made for fast money still play an important part in the development of an artist’s main practise.

Baudrillard makes the distinction of:
Symbolic exchange
Economic exchange

Baudrillard noted the shift in the 1960s from “the primacy of production to the primacy of consumption” (Passwords 2003)

In Society of the Spectacle Debord laments the shift of focus from “the living” to “the having”.

There have been philosophical and ethical pressures on the mindful artist to make art that is non saleable. To make works outside the consumer bracket; to even comment on society by making auto destructive art. So whilst art students might be idealistically following this path in their main practise, I have seen their creativity working overtime to make cash to fund this practise.

While these two quotes might deter artists from making saleable works, they can in a way work in reverse too. If the exchange between artist and viewer through the medium of art is predominantly symbolic then, here once again is the primacy of production. We might think of the much used catch word “process”. This defends the art object’s existence since it is likely to be the product of the individual experience of the artist, distilled and reworked to produce the item. So the punter might have bought the painting/bag/ print but the process of the artist defends the predominance of symbolic exchange over economic exchange.
The shift too is back to production, since the item has inevitably taken a lot more time and effort to manufacture than any non artist made object.

Below, some prototypes for bags that I sold in Virginia Galleries, Glasgow, c. 1996.

test card bag c. 1996 blow up bag c. 1996

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