A Call to Reject Corruptions to the Artist


by Barbara Rosenthal
Contributing Columnist
NYC, Sept. 1, 2018

For this month’s column, I’ll quote three people, Beatrice S. Madregiore, Linda Montano and Lawrence Weiner. All are artists but none are any I’ve conversed with lately, as inspired my last few columns, and the first person isn’t even real. Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore, the artist character in my novel Wish for Amnesia, thinks “Nirvana” when something startling happens on pg. 219: “She stood still, eager to savor and monitor her first impressions and reactions…. Thus she could position her psyche aloof, blank enough to register as consciously as possible the sense of each sensation by itself…. In that way its natively abstract, descriptive power would flow through her nervous system directly into her creative subconscious. Nirvana, crossed the artist’s mind.”

The first time I came across the concept “creative subconscious,” or as I first heard it, “creative unconscious,” it was spoken to me by Linda Montano in the window of the New Museum at 583 Broadway on Palm Sunday, 1986. She read my palm for her performance piece, not knowing it was mine. She traced a deep line in my right hand and showed me “a direct link between outer reality and creative unconscious.” In a moment of joy and epiphany, I ran right home and had the idea for You & I Cardgame, created a prototype, and brought it to her for the following performance. In the years since, it has gone through several iterations and boxed editions, and they’re still pretty cheap at Printed Matter.

The third artist, Lawrence Weiner, gave words to the understanding that the art of art is the idea for it. Weiner’s famous Declaration of Intent (1968) implies that existentially a Work of Art is the idea, the inspiration (and the Artist need not even fabricate an artifact.). By extension, whoever generates the idea for a Work of Art is the Artist. In the ideal state, Nirvana, reality passes directly into the creative subconscious of an Artist and out again as Art. The idea itself is the crux of a work. Inspiration is venerated above all. Yet artists’ creative processes are under siege from within the profession. Artists are being corrupted by appeals to their hope for careers. It has been so for all time through history, but this is how it’s playing out nowadays.

Take a look at any list of “Opportunities for Artists.” Artists are offered “opportunities” to exhibit or publish work not yet created. “Opportunities” to produce ideas artists haven’t had yet are invitations to corruption. Artists are being directed to create per the specifications of others — a curator, venue, purchaser, or other patron. The patron is usurping the artist’s role as generator of ideas, disguising restrictions as opportunities. Artists who succumb will have been compromised. Artists who don’t resist sacrifice their calling.

How do they corrupt thee? Let me count the ways:


  1. Curatorial Directives. As my May-June 2018 column defined the job of a good Curator as spotting concepts by Artists and bringing them to the public’s attention, there is no problem with such means as theme shows under the basic conditions I wrote of then: 1. That the “theme” isn’t propaganda. 2. That the curator culls from works already produced by artists on their own. Otherwise, there is corruption if an artist is “inspired” by parameters generated by the curator (or anyone else). It’s corrupt because the “artist” is reduced to a lackey in service to an outside idea-generator, the curator who has become de facto artist.


  1. Commissions / Works for Hire / Deadlines. No problem if the work is described as such, “A Commissioned Work,” i.e., a bastardization and diluting of probably better ideas to fit someone else’s needs so artists can earn a living without giving up too much. Corruption danger lies in wasting or distorting good ideas in ephemeral service to others or using dubious materials. Commissioning an actual Work of Art, however, is a corrupt and oxymoronic notion altogether because a commissioned idea doesn’t originate with the artist. Artists must resist all outside demands for a new creation. Artists should resist offering patrons work anything other than those they previously generated their own ideas for and which is already in inventory or fully or nearly complete. No exhibitions should be scheduled for nonexistent work. Works of Art form best when free to interact with Artists during their gestation. The more deadlines determine completion the less the artist is free to, and therefore a deadline itself is corrupting. If an artist must accept an outside deadline, perhaps only agree to a “Title-as-of-a-Certain-Date.” An artist should not be made to fill orders. The best collectors select works in a viable stage of completion.


  1. Site-specific projects. No problem with artists who totally select sites that inspire them. Otherwise, if the site is controlled by others who invite an artist to create a piece for it, the more the site determines the piece, the less the artist is free to, and to that degree therefore the offer of the site is corruptive. And it demeans the artist, like it would do anyone who accepts a bribe, by assuming they will create on command under the direction of those in control. Artists might engage in many types of games and puzzles with their work, but it is corrupting to be offered such by others. Any idea not generated by the artist is corrupting.


  1. Sociological Curatorials. All exhibitions and publications that seek to include or exclude works based on any factor other than the quality of the work (even as defined by the curators) and its relevance to esthetic and/or conceptual parameters are inherently corrupt. Ethnopoliticallysexual collations only stereotype the artists included and discredit their talent and independent works. They corrupt artists by encouraging specific cohesions, focus, and group-think that are antithetical to the independence of mind necessary for the genesis of High Art. Exceptions to this might be valid in the case of severely restricted populations whose persons or artworks might have more in common with each other than with any artmakers outside the cohort.


  1. Collaborations. Collaborations are not inherently corrupt, especially if the collaborators riff on each other. But they are in danger of inviting corruption if they become overly literal and/or objective-driven, or overly or too-early cerebrated.


  1. Residencies / Grants / Applications. These take oodles of time, and are often so specific that they demand artists invent whole projects they likely would never produce otherwise. Such pressure must be resisted as much as the Curatorial Directives (above). In Nirvana, if artists and writers want these things, they should ask for what they need to do more of whatever they do, on the basis of what they have done, and not submit to submitting freeze-dried raw ideas to slaughterhouse judgement beforehand. Artists should resist being questioned ahead of time about plans. And never accept these bribes to skew a project toward what’s in anyone’s mind but than their own. Artists must insist that all largesse be based on past work they felt passionate enough to have finalized or are at least closing in on, not on questionable proposals. And artists must permit no strings attached to any new creations.


Rarely, when I hear artists talk Politics, do I hear Art Politics. But it is all around us. These Sins against the Artist are so pervasive they are rarely even questioned. So keeping these three premises as pillars, perhaps we can keep the Temple of High Art standing, and artists not give away their prerogative to generate their own ideas. Lawrence Weiner, that the core of art is its idea. Linda Montano, that an artist can embody a single direct link between reality and inspiration. Beatrice Stregasanta Madregiore, that an artist can achieve this embodiment by a kind of suspended animation. Anything that comes between an artist and the artwork is corruptive.


Ed notes:

Capitalization: Capitalization: A reminder on reading, first-letter capped expressions denote usages to which Rosenthal has assigned specific definitions as may be found in her evolving Glossary.

Pronouns: Barbara Rosenthal has been using a pluralized form of appropriate pronouns to specify gender-nonspecificity since 1960.


Barbara Rosenthal is an idiosyncratic New York artist/writer/performer/philosopher whose latest book, the novel,  Wish for Amnesia (Deadly Chaps Press, 2018) explores themes of idealism, innocence, esthetics, dimensionality, thought and corruption. She is particularly interested in the intersection of art and life.

About the novel:

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Bi-MONTHLY COLUMNS: Barbara Rosenthal, A Crack in the Sidewalk:

Sept-Oct, 2018: Impositions or Independence: A Call to Reject Corruptions to the Artist

July-August, 2018:  Process vs Product: What is the Point of Art / What is The Interplay of Elements and Considerations in Artmaking

May-June, 2018:  Roles, Ideals and Job Descriptions: The Artist; The Viewer; The Naif; The Collector; The Curator; The Critic; The Art Dealer

March-April, 2018:  The Production of Meaning in Art Fabrication: What Are You Doing? Do You Know? When? Before or After? 

Jan-Feb, 2018:  Is There a Universal Esthetic? Naifs, Innocence, Education, Esthetics

Nov-Dec, 2017:  Journaling

Sept-Oct, 2017:  by this first sentence here now, back upon the Earth.