Home > Article > Houston Artletter > Corporatization: A Way Out?

Driving the kids to school, I was thinking about the role of artists in contemporary society. It seems to me that the model of the artist as an arch-individual has its drawbacks. I wrote of Chiho Aoshima and the KaiKai Kiki organization that it was "as if the Surrealists had formed a corporation," and I asked myself why they did so. What can a group of artists do better as a corporate entity than they can as individuals? I don't think insight or creativity is additive, so banding together isn't going to augment the group's creative powers, or its members ability to generate fresh insight. What it can do is provide financial, technical and promotional support far beyond the power of an individual, and keep that support free from outside influences. When dealers or patrons support artists, they do so to fulfill their own needs and desires, which may or may not parallel those of the artists. When artists band together, they set the agenda themselves.

Ontario Society of Artists Jury, Painting and Sculpture, 1959...Photographer unknown

It struck me that the demand that good art be innovative and individualistic is at the root of the problem with contemporary fine crafts, and a lot of bad art. Given the "tradition of the new," talented people are unwilling to merely follow tradition, making the incremental refinements that eventually evolve new forms, yet very few people have the genius or luck to leap forward with truly meaningful innovations. This leads valuable, sensitive, talented people to make grotesque novelties through trying to be avant-garde. Instead of making something good, they must make something new.

Maybe corporatization is a way out. Artists groups like KaiKai Kiki can foster, encourage and enforce a stylistic tradition on their members. Since the group itself is avant-garde, the members don't have to be, and can work to evolve the group's traditions without losing face.

Something of the sort is happening, informally, in comix. Artists accept the conventions of the form in exchange for an instant audience, a relatively well-defined set of critical norms, and a pantheon of subcultural heroes, leaving behind the seething, fathomless chaos of the larger artworld for a place where they can focus on excellence, rather than raw innovation.

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