Don’t buy this: the irony of selling anti-consumerist art
I’ve always considered myself to be in the anti-consumerism camp, but gradually, I started to question myself. As I started to lean towards selling my work (or at least considering making some new art for sale, something I had not wanted to do for a long time), I wondered if I could still be anti-consumerist. How true can that be of anyone who offers anything for sale?Consumerism is about more than simply buying, though; it’s the buying into the incessant bombardment of products and services that we’re told we need to become, and then remain, happy and acceptable to others. I knew this, but my aversion to selling came from something else.
For years I’d been the charity shop regular, happy in my penny-pinching, eco-smug ways. I also had a period of intensive making for a craft business I ran, which eventually led to my shrieking and running away from all aspects of routine production and making anything for sale. I basically overdid it and ended up hating it, so any way that I could make a living from art that didn’t involve selling art sounded absolutely perfect.
Combining conceptual and commercial art
In time I came back around to the idea of making work for sale. I had to play around with the idea of purposefully making something for sale that expressed my dislike for both selling and buying.
It started off by developing a screen printed image from my handwritten instruction: “don’t buy this.”
The great thing about it was that whilst it was displayed in a gallery setting, it would make perfect sense. After the point of sale, would it work as a message? The message would have been ignored, but the art would exist in the process of a buyer seeing and acknowledging my message, and either accepting or ignoring it… the process of selling would be part of the artwork.
Maybe it would work as a warning not to buy into the message at all – the message of conceptual art itself.
By shifting the artwork from a screen print – the pop art cousin in the fine art family – to print-on-demand goods, the whole thing turned into a conceptual art exercise.
The simple message
Thanks to print-on-demand I have little control over the actual product, but the fact that my message is applied to a product links me to it, or embeds me in it. Perhaps that’s the purest form of a conceptual work of art – an idea that can embed the artist within anything.
Each one of us would take something different from a product like this, which is essentially a message. Too simple? Too convoluted? Recently, I’ve come to appreciate the quality of simplicity. Artists can tend to overstate the obvious out of fear of appearing to lack depth, but this often ends in a deep pool of artspeak.
Mass-marketed pop as random deep thinking
Perhaps the most exciting thing about using a print-on-demand service to distribute my work is seeing what it’s applied to in actuality.
I love that someone chose this for a laptop skin. I love the curious crossover of selling non-consumerist consumables.
Letting part of the artwork-making fall into the hand of the buyer is actually a lot of fun – I hope that’s true on the other side as well.
How to buy (or not buy)
Original screen printed work is available in my shop.
You can see this design on other objects here, on Zippi.
“I like other people’s hair better than mine.”
Isn’t it always the way?
What’s the weird compulsion to straighten our hair when it’s curly, or curl it when it’s straight?
A lot of the time we’re fighting against our genetic nature: striving to differentiate ourselves from our immediate peers. We put on a style to describe who we are and what we are, or at least what we want to be.
Life gets much easier when we just accept what grows out of our heads (or what doesn’t), and make the most of that.
By the way, I don’t really like other people’s hair better than mine.
Maybe I used to once… but I’ve grown out of it, and my hair’s grown out too.
How does your hair shape your identity and community? Read “Roots And Culture” for more.
Expat or immigrant?
Both are the same, of course, and I am both at once… but which word do you choose, and for whom? Your dominant affiliation will answer – how you see yourself and your authority in the world, and the authority of your country of origin vs the country you go to.
However, the history of the words and their applications carries much more than a personal choice.
Racism embedded in language
Many people think, with good reason, that the term “expat” has become synonymous with white migrant workers, whilst “immigrant” has been reserved for people of colour who go overseas to work. There’s more at work than just race. There’s nationalism and wealth to consider when we think of expat or immigrant.
Hierarchies of words
The words don’t need to carry these meanings, but they’re reinforced by the way we repeatedly address the hierarchical relationships between rich and poor, coloniser and colonised, expat and immigrant.
What feels even more strange is the way that we migrants – immigrants or emigrants – refer to ourselves. As a Bajan abroad, I’ve always thought of myself as an immigrant. I learned to frame my self in relation to my new country, not my old one, even though I carried my old culture around with me and only ever saw my travels as a temporary measure at the start.
It’s the weight of culture that tells us that we are immigrants when we go to a bigger, richer country. Perhaps it’s time to start defining ourselves as emigrants or expats in our choice of language and letting that seep into our identities.
Using art to talk about the expat vs immigrant relationship
Instead of using words to fight words, I’ve used another language to discuss this hierarchical relationship.
Fitting the medium to the message of immigration
Instead of treating these paintings with reverence, I’ve purposed them to be disseminated widely. They will only be available through print-on-demand platforms, and their imagery will be placed on somewhat incongruous surfaces for mass consumption.
A few years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “The Thought That Counts”, on hierarchical dualisms within academic and non-academic modes of thought.
In it, I tried to address all manner of subjects including conceptualism, craft, feminism and graphic novels, linking these through similarities within oppositional pairings.
The sprawling project did earn me my Master’s degree but also helped me to address my own practice, in the way in which I became interested in binding thought, language and writing with the image.
Mixing it all together
Personally, I’ve come to re-think my previous work on the gendered gaze, or the male as recipient of the gendered gaze, and try to combine visual and textual elements to be read as equal signifiers… or ignored, at the viewer’s pleasure.
The visual representation of thought is a concrete device of the graphic novel that I want to transport to the realm of the single-frame ‘fine’ art piece.
I’ve chosen watercolour for this kind of work precisely for its unfashionable status and attachment to now-repugnant understandings of art and middle-class respectability. (Think twee cottages and greetings cards.) There’s also the matter of its legibility – it’s familiar and understandable, and downright gorgeous at times.
I don’t know.
As my work continues I hope for it to provoke some internal discussion over the remaining hierarchical structures surrounding concept, word and image – will it actually succeed? .