First of all I have to come clean and tell you that I have never applied for a grant nor have I ever sponsored anyone. I don’t believe in grants. I’ll tell you why.
As pleasant as it would be to receive a lump sum or a regular income in order to pursue my work, I wouldn’t feel good about the obligation. I understand myself well enough to know that that kind of commitment is too easy to derail. Further, I’ve watched from the sidelines as the grant system fails young and promising artists. Perhaps human nature has difficulty handling payment in advance for goods the delivery of which may be in doubt.
Sure, there are many who get the cash and make a significant contribution. The grant may even help to open doors to opportunities such as teaching or curating. But the rule is that it seldom helps them to become artists. For many it’s the kiss of death. Why? Those that are serious about making a life of art are still stuck with the same old problem: How to maintain integrity and at the same time unlock the gallery system. Grants don’t teach this. When the grant runs out they are back to driving taxis. For most it’s short-term prestigious welfare.
Squeaky axles get grease. A friend told me she would paint if she only had the money. They gave it to her and she bought a Toyota. She flourished in ’88 and she’s waitressing ever since. The shy, the non-swift, the unsure, don’t even apply. To be fair, for every one who gets, there are a thousand who deserve. To politicians and benefactors I say, save us. Leave your spare change to Joe Blow who’s raising a family. The Blows may buy a work of art some day.
PS: “If I shall sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as many appear to do, I’m sure that, for me, there would be nothing left worth living for.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Esoterica: The act of art, with the exception of building a foundry, is not capital intensive. Three hundred dollars can get you the basics, $3000 can fit you out like a pro. What artists need is to be granted character. You tend to run out of bananas first.
The following are selected responses to this letter. Thank you for writing.
Evidence of value
by Dick Morris
The main philosophical question here is what about art for which there is no commercial market? Is it of no value to society/culture? And then the question is do artists have the right to make demands on the general public in order to pursue their whims? And also, to what degree do artists have to have money in order to do their thing? As far as I can see many of these grant getting projects just need to be done — without the imprimatur of public or benefactor support. If someone wants to write on and number the leaves on a certain tree, or hang hog carcasses in a milliner’s shop-window, they should just do it. It seems to me that most of these grant getters crave approval more than anything — and that in itself may be okay and some sort of evidence of value.
Depend on it
by Celery Salad, Idaho, USA
There are some of us whose work will never be commercially acceptable. And yet we do a service for society by giving a vision of something that the average person cannot see. I for one would not like to see the grant system end, because I depend on it.
Help in getting grants
by Helen Spencer
Various organizations offer support into the “art” of applying for grants. A properly filled out form is important. Ask Google “How to get art grants?” and you will get 352,000 leads. “The Fine Art of Getting Grants,” etc, etc, etc. http://www.govworks.com/news/NewsStory/0,1350,US%5E1%5E1000784,00.html
There’s no reason to go on living on bananas.
No free fruit
by Annie Wells
There’s no such thing as free bananas. Everything has a price. Everything is a saw off. No dealer will leave you alone once you become successful — he would be a dummy if he didn’t want more of the same. It’s a drag. And the problem with grants is that they pigeonhole you: “She’s the artist that examines body piercing, remember?”
Professional grant getter
by D C C
I have learned the ropes needed to keep going. Sometimes I have as many as five applications pending at any one time. When one is coming to an end I generally have another coming on stream. Since 1992 I have only had to go to work (at a grunt job) for a period of six months.
Learning to work with economic limitations
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I hate to think that poverty is a necessary part of a useful art education, but lack of money combined with a deep unwillingness to get a ‘real’ job did force me to learn lessons that I believe could not have been learned otherwise. Begging galleries for the money they owed me (and discovering how to write contracts and find trustworthy agents in the process), throwing ‘covered dish’ parties (and living off the leftovers for the next week), stretching canvas on wood scavenged from dumpsters, finding creative ways to use the materials on hand (and developing, along the way, new techniques)… I never had the luxury of simply throwing money at my problems, and what seemed (at the time) to be makeshift inventions and compromises, brought me to the simple, productive life I lead today.
Which is not to say that a lot of what I have hasn’t been handed to me on a silver platter; encouragement from grade school teachers, full scholarship to a great art school, support from my friends, family, students and community. Still, in retrospect, learning how to work creatively within strict economic limitations has been very useful, and I’m not sure having had more money would have really made me a better artist.
by Jim Rowe
I have had a corporate sponsor for 3 years now and will go back to general labor when it’s over. The method in which an artist receives money is nobody’s business, what matters is that paintings are produced. Artist/musician Joe Mendelson once said that the only rule in art is that there are no rules. Not everybody paints what the public will pay for and if it is not a saleable product then the money has to come from somewhere.
Staying away in droves
by Linda Armstrong
I agree with you about the problems of grants. Grants are a way for agencies to endorse and encourage directions in art which agree with their ideas of what is right and good. Because this money does not come from the people who actually care enough about a piece of art to buy it and live with it, these directions may or may not prove useful. Quite often the work endorsed is that which “stands out,” i.e. that which is weird or offensive or both. I have seen this happen with both poetry and painting. The more grants there are, the more irrelevant the work becomes. Witness how many major venues of serious contemporary art in New York are currently displaying photography. People are staying away in droves from the paintings and installations grants have wrought. I would like to see grant money used for art education in schools, support of community art centers, seeding the development of cooperative artist workspaces in old industrial buildings, developing safer and exciting new materials, subsidizing traveling exhibitions, especially “The Art Train,” scholarships and fellowships to artists colonies here and abroad for talented artists of all ages, development and support of artist colonies everywhere. My experience at the Woodstock School of Art and as an attendee at writer’s conferences has convinced me of the value of live interaction between artists. Grant money would also be well used to support websites for state art agencies where purchasers and patrons could access slide databases. Artists need to get back to what they enjoy doing instead of trying to create something bizarre to qualify for a chunk of money.
by Ila Quin
Well, yet another letter which provokes me beyond my silence born from the inexplicable chaos. I have dreamed of sending an ad into the ether which brutally states: “Wanted: Patron. Funding for one year of peace in which to paint without guilt and fear. $1,500 a month will cover supplies, shelter, food and isolation. Please note ‘isolation.’ Patron’s funds are welcomed and nothing else is wanted. The visions and their meanings already exist and shout to be granted form and voice. Take what you will at the end of the time. Your ‘generosity’ is whatever you want to make of it and the creations are by demand of a power which has nothing to do with either of us.”
by Michael Swanson
Government grants are like cheese in a mouse-trap, they are the joy stick in political power games. The real problem that artists have is that they don’t know how to make a business plan. If they learned how to value their work (and public image) properly, grants would not enter the equation. All artists owe it to each other and the craft to be as professional as possible in their day to day lives, in creating their work and in dealing with their clients, galleries etc. Those that can’t manage this should stay in the realm of “weekend painters.”
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut, USA
A total physical disability challenged me much too much, even with my best efforts, so I found the understanding of grantors to help me catch up financially and artistically very valuable… a big change for me… I am fine now, but with all the dollar needs in putting a normal successful creative life back together, the grants concept is a big help… The ArtsOrgs here support your theory… they will grant for any specific project of worth, but prefer their artists to strive for their basic startup moneys, so as to enjoy integrity in the work. I am keeping records and notes of it all, since I usually “help the kid behind me” with what I have gained, and hope that my gallery will have a secret function for discrete help for the disabled/gifted — called “dual exceptionalities.” My life has been dynamic and self-actualizing, but I was the beached whale from my disability adventure. The efforts of some years seemed lost… a private organization and two heroes are turning it around for me, whereas, alone, I thrashed and anguished and turned everyone off with my tacky struggling.
The concept is different from that which you quote, but working with my feelings to achieve it successfully was a Painter’s Key of another sort. Attitude, as you mentioned, took development, but was worth it.
by Gerald Liu
There is one more reason that I think artists should not apply for grants or loans. Art has a value. The more it is admired by people, the more is its value. Upon receiving a grant, the artist will be bound by the sum of money in all activities and the value of his/her arts will be limited. The moment a grant is received, the mind of the artist will immediately change. These questions will likely occur in his/her mind: How long will the grant last? How far do I go? What if I fail?… all of which should not have been related to arts.
by Chris Rose
I always felt that grants are not the answer to achieve a goal. Grants are a little bit like prostitution to call it mildly. It bothers me when arts councils push as their justification for existence to be the vehicle to find grants or distribute grants, rather than being the drivers and promoters for the need of the arts as the soul and conscience of society. My mother told me at my age of twelve, just before she died: “God helps those that help themselves” — the best advice I received in my life. I worked for 45 years but kept my freedom to be an artist. I agree with you let us not become a bunch of artistic cripples.