“A few centres support publishing in all forms as part of their services to artists, curators and as a contribution to the knowledge economy.” Ref. Reporter: Gina Badger. Notes taken at the meeting of the TXT—Canadian Art Publishing Network Meeting, 7–8 November, 2014, Artexte, Montreal.
“Authors who were able to support themselves or their families through their writing have been sufficiently rare in Canada to become the subject of gossip and legend.” Ref. Frank Davey,“The Economics and the Writer.”
“The publication IS the artistic medium.”
“Deeply invested in writing in connection to visual arts... looking at the book as a medium itself and recognizing its heightened popularity in and outside of the art world.” Ref. Reporter: Eryn Foster. Notes taken at the Art Publishing Forum,East of There, 23 June 2013, Saint John, New Brunswick.
Brief 03 ∞
THIS BRIEF considers the unstable economics of writing and publishing both within and beyond artist-run culture. In Canada and Quebec, fiction and non-fiction writers must learn to navigate the standard practices of multiple publishing milieus, all the while augmenting this activity with other sources of income. The essay,“The Economics and the Writer,” reproduced here, provides an overview of the systemic challenges involved and the adaptability required in pursuing a writing and publishing career. Longevity in the field requires opportunities for national and international circulation. The essay’s author, Frank Davey, is an academic, poet and small-press publisher who developed his career throughout the same late-twentieth-century period during which artist-run culture took form.
Davey’s essay allows present-day challenges in artist-run publishing to be understood as an extension of historical processes of systemic inequalities in domestic and international trade. These challenges are more often framed in terms of the impact that digital technologies have had upon traditional publishing sectors, implying that adapting to the digital media environment is the common-sense solution for success. Davey’s essay shows that this narrative of technological determinism deflects attention from the role of public funding for the arts in ensuring freedom of expression in a democratic tradition. This relationship between public funding and freedom of expression will be further expanded upon in Briefs 4 and 5.
Many of the statistical patterns Davey discusses mirror the data gathered in a recent survey,Waging Culture: A Report on the Socio-Economic Status of Canadian Visual Artists(2012). Essentially, these statistics show that the economics of artist-run publishing are dependent upon a complex combination of competition for public funding, sales and reproduction and exhibition fees paid to the artist or author for permission to use their intellectual property.
Receiving a grant is positively correlated to receiving artist’s fees. The relationship between grants and sales is less direct. Grants do not increase recipients’ living standards so much as buy time and resources for studio practice. Small grants (up to $5k) buy a little time in the studio; larger grants buy both time and resources.
The typical (median) artist’s income was $21,603, compared to the typical (median) national income of $31,320.
54% of visual artists generated income from studio practice. However, the typical (median) artist made $360 from studio practice.
41% of a typical artist’s studio revenue is from sales, 43% from grants and 16% from artist fees.
In 2012, the average artist worked 24 hours per week on studio practice, 17 hours on art-related employment, and 8 hours on non-art-related employment.
In the 2007 version of the same survey, 65% of artists considered spousal support necessary to cover basic living expenses.
Davey’s essay likewise recognizes that most writers, even when widely published and translated into multiple languages, need to augment their income through spousal support, patron relations, related work (freelance journalism, editorial positions, academic tenure), or non-related work. Public funding and arms-length agencies such as the CBC, Radio-Canada and the National Film Board emerged in the twentieth century as essential employers for writers (and artists) as they pursued parallel careers.
Davey also emphasizes the importance of copyright legislation to the economic life of the writer, as it is the source of the royalties (or artist’s fees) that compensate the writer as their work continues to circulate. Significantly, Davey stresses that copyright legislation was strongly influenced in the late twentieth century by the advocacy of writers’ unions and professional associations. This trend is paralleled in the visual arts by the advocacy and fee scales developed by groups such as CARFAC (Canadian Artists Representation/le Front des artistes canadiens) and its Quebec counterpart, RAAV (Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec).
Davey ultimately cautions that the role of contests and prizes has not been to secure a living wage for writers in Canada, but rather to gain visibility for sponsors; likewise, he suggests that individual grants to writers are conceived of as a reprieve from otherwise participating in the labour force.
Many artists explore literary writing modes within their creative work; however, when artists pursue writing as a form of supplementary employment related to their visual arts practices, they are generally writing in non-fiction genres, or creative non-fiction (i.e., exhibition catalogue essays, criticism, reviews). This is why it is possible for funders to classify artists as non-fiction writers (critics), rather than as authors who are producing comparable genres to prose fiction or poetry in a literary field. This distinction can be frustrating to artists and visual arts publishers, who wish to be funded for their creative exploration of the discursive properties of a non-fiction publishing or writing genre as an artistic medium. Or, in poetic terms, the book as a unit of composition.
For some artists and writers, this overlap between visual arts and textual production is not simply a means of supplementary employment, but has actually produced a genre of art writing, which the poet Lisa Robertson describes as a parallel text tradition:
“There’s a tradition of art writing in Canada that gave me the space to develop what I do–it used to be called the parallel text tradition. One created a text that was parallel to an artistic practice by discussing with the artist, by taking on some of the artist’s research materials and research means, and making a textual object which could parallel the installation or video or painting–whatever the medium was. That’s being going on in Canada at least since the ’80s. In recent years, in the international art world, art writing has been developing as a genre, and it seems to basically resemble what I understand to be the parallel text tradition that we have in Canada. And so the kind of writing that I do for art has been welcomed more widely.” ∞
Further Readings ∞
Frank Davey,“Economics and the Writer” in History of the Book in Canada, volume 3, edited by Carole Gerson and Jacques Michon, University of Toronto Press 2007.(Reproduced with permission of the publisher)
Traversals: Five Conversations on Art & Writing, ed. Anna-Sophie Springer, K. Verlag Press, Berlin, 2011-14.
Anne-Marie Ninacs,“Écrire sur une œuvre ou faire œuvre d’écriture? Quelques réflexions sur la place des auteurs au sein des centres d’artistes,” in Tiré à part : situer les pratiques d’édition des centres d’artistes, Actes de la rencontre, ed. RCAAQ, 2005.(Abstract in English)
Next brief on April 26, 2017. ∞
Moral and Legislative Economies of Artist-Run Publishing /4a—The fourth brief reflects upon why there is a growing movement to explicitly recognize artist-run publishing as a public good, a dematerialized art object, a practice of community building, of knowledge sharing, or as a “gift” to readers. This brief proposes that artist-run publishing is presently responding to a legislative environment in which creative activity is defined as an economic resource, that is, as intellectual property, which necessitates an oppositional relationship between copyright owners and copyright users. Within artist-run culture, the legislative frameworks of intellectual property law and related public funding policies are increasingly perceived to restrict or shut down cultural exchange—further disillusionment sets in as artists struggle to make a living.
The Grey Guide to Artist-Run Publishing and Circulation is produced by Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference(ARCA) in collaboration with le Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogérés du Québec (RCAAQ). Composed of a series of seven briefs written and developed by artist, critic, cultural worker and art librarian Felicity Tayler, this publication will first be launched through a bi-weekly e-campaign, from March 1st to June 7, 2017. The briefs and reference material will then be available for consultation on ARCA’s website, under the “Grey Guide” menu. A small run print version will be distributed for free to members attending the plenary assembly at the Flotilla National Conference on September 24, 2017, in Charlottetown.
Following a series of meetings of an ad hoc committee of independent publishers from Quebec and Canada, this guide seeks to trigger high-level debate about the role of publishing in artist-run culture. Combining theory with practice, the Grey Guide also offers practical guidance in this complex field, so that a new generation of artists and cultural workers who wish to professionalize may do so, while others may opt to remain resolutely DIY if they so please. Either way, somewhere on the continuum between adopting an entrepreneurial strategy and advocating for sustained public funding, this guide offers insight into the advantages and disadvantages inherent to a diversity of approaches.
ARCA wishes to thank all meeting participants, the staff at Artexte, and Michael Maranda for their astute feedback, as well as ARCA’s members for their confidence and ongoing support. This publication has also benefitted from the support of l’Association des groupes en arts visuels francophones (AGAVF), the RCAAQ via its program for promotion of publications as well as support for translation from Canadian Heritage.