The Chicken Wire finds an informant – Many thanks to Karen Atkinson

Posted by on May 21, 2009 in The Chicken Wire

Hello Globatron citizens.  I am happy to announce that we have received our first official completed survey from our Welcome Mat/Chicken Wire project.  Karen Atkinson, a CalArts Faculty member, wrote a set of beautiful, provocative, and convincing answers to our survey.  She is obviously a person who lives very thoughtfully and consciously and represents exactly what we were looking for.  We hope you enjoy her survey as we did.  To all the other faculty members, we still hope to hear from you.
check out more about her:

Karen Atkinson
Los Angeles, California, USA

GYST Ink (An artist run company for artists)

reporting from the front:
Father Mapple Moab Adzu III



    May 21, 2009

    The Chicken Wire finds an informant:

  2. globatron
    May 21, 2009

    There are several great points that Karen brings up. So many that I’m only going to address two at this time.

    1. Her theory of the two types of artists, Horizontal vs. Vertical. I loved how she broke that down. And I think a lot of artists make their choice of being one or the other after years of trying to possibly find a place for themselves and their work to fit within the current power paradigm in the art world. I personally see myself as a horizontal artist and would like my work and ideas to spread like a virus as she stated into the community. I’m not talking about a revolution but just awareness and being perceptive of your intentions. If my local art community could get anything from my work here on globatron and my own artwork that would be the message. As far as being a vertical artist, like Karen I don’t make art objects at the moment and am not looking to sell my work or show it unless it’s online, so my chances for making it as a vertical artist are quite limited. I’m fine with that choice.

    2. Tenure in Academia. I agree with her opinion on tenure and find it to be one of the main reasons this project was not well received. People in all walks of life are fighting for their vertical position. Tenure seems to be a control mechanism that keeps people under the microscope for just enough time to snuff enough life out of them that once they make tenure they are part of the machine and do not tend to question the system in which they have invested so much time and effort in.

    Bravo Karen on toeing the line on the survey. You had so many great points and return questions, but these were the two that stuck out in my mind as one’s I could add some input.

    I appreciate your honesty and integrity in answering these questions. I am also very impressed with your work to educate and improve your artistic community through your different outreach programs. I downloaded the GYST demo yesterday and must say there is a wealth of knowledge there for any artist who is interested in making a career out of being an artist or craftsman. The idea of teaching artists how to be artists is absolutely revolutionary. Versus focusing on the theory and art history you have broken it down into a system of steps that any artist should be aware of in order to succeed. This should be integrated mandatory for any art education program I feel. It’s a shame that it isn’t.

    The two areas of interest in the program that could benefit artists I believe the most are the Grants and Proposals & Legal Issues and Contracts. I have had so many conversations on these two topics and it seems the majority of artists I know are absolutely clueless on them. I know I am.

    Keep fighting the good fight Karen. We’ll keep holding the fort here at Globatron and working horizontally.

  3. Akbar Lightning
    May 22, 2009

    before i present one critical idea i want to first say that Karen Atkinson is not only a deeply thoughtful and engaged person in the arts, but that she is engaged in a program of action that reflects her beliefs. that is something to be celebrated. her metaphor of the vertical vs. horizontal artists is a profound one and one that I think will inhabit the Globatron planet for a long time.

    i want to return to an idea i constantly harp on, perhaps because i am wrong in my basic premise, but nonetheless, her work with GYST, and her statements about the positive nature of 21st century creative freedom, although it sounds good, and it is possibly the best way of looking at things, i find it, again, ties the creative life too closely with ‘the market’ and takes us away from asking ourselves what art is. perhaps i am being stubborn here.

    i am not stating this here to be critical of her response to our survey, since our survey itself focused a lot on exactly those issues. it always seems there is a taboo against speaking about the ethical dimension when it comes to an artist’s personal process of art making. she was rather clear that the institutions have a rather conservative relationship that comes from their relationship with money and power, but how about those artists who are trying to become their own little institutions of one? i think what she is doing is revolutionary and absolutely necessary and achieves the same goals i am after.

    but eventually, we will have to ask ourselves questions like:

    if an artist is learning how to be independent and relate directly to his/her society, how does he/she negotiate the difference between what he/she wants and what his/her society wants?

    this tension is deep in everything that we have been discussing.


  4. David Stern
    May 22, 2009


    good to see that you finally got an answer to your questions. Maybe now that Karen Atkinson of CalArts has taken the lead other schools’ faculties feel a bit more comfortable and follow suit.
    It would be great to see a lively discussion of the subjects here.

    However, I would like to add to what Karen said about “making objects per se.”
    I believe that no true artist ever makes objects per se.
    Objects are a result of a process, which can be fueled by the search for truth, by neurosis, analytical research, psychosis, empirical effort, desire for social change or some other strong driving force, but never by the desire to make just that pre-conceived object. That of course will turn the process into craftsmanship.
    In that regard having someone painting your pictures, sculpting your sculptures or cutting up your sharks and cows is questionable.
    I believe Nietzsche (who has his own questionable moments) got it right when he compared the creative process to a consuming fire, with the remaining ashes as the art/object.

    keep up the good work and I wish that your survey turns into a lively discussion about these topics.

    David Stern

  5. globatron
    May 22, 2009

    David I agree with your statement of no “true” artist making objects. That’s been at the core of many of our discussions on Globatron. Namely our laws exercises where we attempted to get at the root of art by attempting to define it.

    But that statement contains the word true which as we have found out through our journey on this blog that many artists struggle with that word. Truth is nearly extinct it seems.

    And definitely if one is to make work merely for object making and for the mixing into a profitable art market without ideas or concepts behind it then it is craft. And I believe in many respects there is more “purity” in craft than there is in fine art.

    A craftsman has a fire to create too, but their end goal is separate from the fine artist as they are producing a utilitarian object that usually is required or in demand by his/her society.

    I currently don’t make any objects at all or anything that can be sold. I’m sure I’ll change my mind at some point but after having many art shows in a small art market I realized that art is in direct relation to its market. I’m not going to paint myself into a box anymore, have a show, then peacefully pack up my paintings and store them in the garage for the next ten years. I threw away ten years of paintings for the lack of storage several years ago and I don’t feel up to doing that every other decade.

    Where I live there is no demand for my work, so I’ve made a conscious choice to make only artwork that I can show digitally and will have no price ever attached to it. To me it was a liberating choice because I no longer create work thinking of what the viewer might think or if the art object might find a home above one’s couch.

    Some days I wish I could make really high quality custom furniture and leave it at that as this consuming fire that Nietzsche spoke of seems to be a curse at times not a blessing. And I often ask myself what is it to make objects or art that no one respects, desires or wants, but the markings of a madman?

    And Ken:

    if an artist is learning how to be independent and relate directly to his/her society, how does he/she negotiate the difference between what he/she wants and what his/her society wants?

    I believe your statement is at the root of my distress over my statement above. Where do artists fit in to society? After we are weened to believe (by academia mostly) that we have something special, a gift even, after art school many if not most realize that their gift will go unnoticed (for decades if not forever) or does not fit within the norms of their culture/society. And after we get our sh*t together who cares if there is no market place for it.

    One would have to make compromises to the market wouldn’t they if they were to really get their sh*t together? These are compromises I am not willing to make. I’d rather have a day job.

  6. hooboy_again
    May 22, 2009

    “After we are weened to believe (by academia mostly) that we have something special, a gift even, after art school many if not most realize that their gift will go unnoticed (for decades if not forever) or does not fit within the norms of their culture/society. “

    Now see, I think this is really an interesting idea, and perhaps a central underlying presumption in a lot of these statements, discussions, and assumptions on this site. I do not believe in the specialness of artists, and although at first I was going to disagree with you Byron, and insist that it is not academia that instills this belief in the artist’s superiority of feeling and thought, but only indulges it, on further reflection I think you’re on to something.

    Art schools, like all schools, need to justify their existence. More importantly, they compete for the students that show the most drive and ambition, because the name recognition of successful alumni will generate more income and even better applicants down the line for the institution. Commercially successful artists are able to donate more money to the school, MacArthur Genius Award recipients generate huge amounts of positive publicity.

    It’s primarily the marketing and development departments of the institutions that push this idea of “you are an artist, you are special, you deserve to have your special gifts developed by a special institution that recognizes your speciallllnessss.” I honestly can’t say that I ever had a professor who told students that as artists they were special citizens with special superpowers and the mandate to use those powers for good and not evil.

  7. Akbar Lightning
    May 22, 2009

    the word special is rather vague, but i will go out on a limb and say this:

    Artists are a vital part of any society, and artistry is a vital part of any well lived life. Vitality might be more specific direction.

    And when artists leave institutions with this feeling, it is because, speaking as if others feel like i did, they believe in the purity of the historic search for meaning through artistic practice. then the world, and politics, and injustice confronts the young artist, and he/she must ask a few questions in order to arrive at a meaningful compromise.

    Are artists just another part of the market? Are we producers of a product?

    Or, are artists something more, does art require something deeper, some intuitive and ethical relationship with culture?

    I think it is obvious that I have chosen to answer the second question in the affirmative, but i want to point out, that it is only because I happened to be an artist who had interests in many different areas of study. the freedom and diversity that we are often blamed for threatening ought to include a space for people who are interested in the philosophical underpinnings of the very exercise of art and thought.

    as far as careers, and marketing, and all that jazz, HEAVE HO!! i could not care less.


  8. David Stern
    May 22, 2009

    Search for truth is certainly a great fuel for the process of making art, as long as one understands that reaching it (truth – the absolute) is not in our limited capacity.
    Giacometti, or was it Bacon, who once said he lives in a state of “light-hearted desperation” understanding the paradox of the quest for the ‘absolute’.
    However, looking at the responses here I think it is important to clarify about one thing: ‘the market’
    To me the market means that it is a market -after the fact- , meaning the work has been done, a product of above mentioned process; then comes the process of selling it.
    An artist has to have the power of separating between his process and marketing the result (object).
    If he doesn’t have that power he becomes a manufacturer of things and can be successful or not, but it certainly isn’t art anymore. It fills a need, maybe a void, pandering to different social and cultural classes, but it has nothing to do with the necessary process of his individual valid search.
    All power lays in that separation, as with defining (naming) things. So, I am essentially saying that if the process is pure (driven by above mentioned or more far flung sources), bringing it to the market is an entirely different matter and has nothing to do with art, rather with marketing talent, better left to ‘the professionals’.

    David Stern

  9. Akbar Lightning
    May 22, 2009

    yo David,

    i think your description of the boundaries placed around the process, and the market is probably the most practical and useful way of looking at it, so my comment here is simple an act of dialogue. i certainly follow what you are saying and try to do that myself.

    one question i see, is how does one negotiate this transition if one feels their work to have ethical importance, or moral significance. is it too much for an artist to feel that art can play the role of social change? in other words, are there times when an artist cannot divide the marketing from the meaning because it is the nature of the work that it conflicts with the nature of the market? this is a theoretical question of course, not a critique of your comment. but i think underlying a lot of our work is the sub-conscious awareness of the market. what if we completely dissolved the boundary you talk about, that is there really, in some way to make the market a larger part of our life. in other words, is it really possible, if we intend to sell our work, to somehow eliminate that from our consciousness?

    another thing that occurred to me. and i must state i agree with your premise, i am merely posing a question. i often state, as a part of my presupposition about the universe that humans, being finite, are incapable of grasping the truth. this seems to be an agreed upon idea, shared among most intellectual people. when reading your comment i thought, what is the grounding for this? what if i can grasp the truth, what if I can be the truth? do i know that i am finite? and if so, how? what if i am one of an infinite set of portals through which the true nature of reality can be experienced? who knows, just some thoughts.


  10. David Stern
    May 22, 2009


    very quickly, doesn’t really matter what one feels of the importance of his/her work related to society, eternity or whatever.
    Fact is work’s done and society, nobility, intellectuals, spiritual people, in short others, will decide whether it has any significance to them. Give ’em time, a few hundred years usually do the trick.
    Still doesn’t mean you have to live on bread and water, hence there is the separation between the process and what comes after it.
    Yes, and limited by definition, we can’t look beyond our grave.
    Grounding of that definition is the Judeo/Christian philosophical universe, we seem to be part of a far larger concept, each of us carrying the spark and the possibility to see, but ultimately limited in our very existence as this blood and flesh creatures with all that mess of emotions, ambitions and the ME obstructing the view of the mountain (heavens).
    cheers and have a great Memorial Day weekend.
    David Stern

  11. Akbar Lightning
    May 23, 2009

    what if that way of seeing ourselves as limited is a vestigial limb left over from the religious view of ‘fallen’ man?

    i am not proposing i have answers to a lot of these questions, i am merely pointing out that we all live with so many shared answers, like the one about keeping the market outside of one’s process. there’s the answer that we are all finite. there’s the one about us not capable of living beyond our bodies.

    people in other times have lived with different sets of answers.

    as i keep moving forward on this Globatron journey, i see that so much of what is found here on Globatron is a disrobing of sorts, the ability to stand naked without any particular allegiance, except a commitment to curiosity.

    is it not possible to see ourselves like this:

    I am. And in being I experience the infinite universe, and in experiencing it I can express it, in fact, I can do nothing else. There is therefore no death, I am immortal, and so the value of my actions has infinite consequences, and awareness is no danger to me. the market is infinite too, every work of art is infinite, and the spaces where these two things meet is infinite.

    yeah, that’s probably all bullshit, but i wanted to play it out. he he.

    i read about half of that book by David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, before i decided to take the title of the book seriously which puts the reader in the strange predicament much like the villagers hearing the boy crying wolf have to make the decision to make him accountable for his actions. In the end I decided to take his title at his word and save myself from reading the other half and finding out that I was a fool. It’s a fascinating construction and I will always wonder if I made the right choice, or if there was a hidden irony that will forever elude me.

    sometimes I think Globatron is an infinite jest, but as one of its authors I confess that even I don’t know. It is possible we are onto something, and it is entirely possible that allowing our impulses and intuition to guide us is really a form of non-restraint that is destructive.

    isn’t life like an infinite jest? makes you wonder. i sometimes think, why can’t the afterlife be magical and perfect, with friends and loved ones and a young body, and eternal peace and happiness? how has it been decided that such thinking is somehow non-rational? is not the universe so complex that it might surprise us yet? are we the arbiters of celestial reality?

    i think as i become an older man i will begin to make less and less sense to those around me, and this will be a kind of infinite jest.

    jest some thoughts,

  12. globatron
    May 23, 2009

    Akbar I would would like to hope that your statements here:

    I am. And in being I experience the infinite universe, and in experiencing it I can express it, in fact, I can do nothing else. There is therefore no death, I am immortal, and so the value of my actions has infinite consequences, and awareness is no danger to me. the market is infinite too, every work of art is infinite, and the spaces where these two things meet is infinite.

    are attainable. That would be wonderful. It is the type of positivity I believe we all need right now. Even if you don’t fully believe all of it, it is empowering just to read it. Thank you for playing devil’s advocate and allowing us to see another option which is infinite.

  13. Karen Atkinson
    May 28, 2009

    Hey there, Thought I would weigh in on this fabulous discussion. First I want to address my idea of what “market” is and could be. In teaching artists how to “get their shit together” I teach them how the current system works, but also give them many ideas of how to negotiate that system, or create their own. The current “market” is flawed, but it is what we have. But that does not mean it works to the benefit of most artists. Not only am I interested in the idea of how an artist can create artwork on their own terms, but how that work is shared, distributed or sold. This often depends on the kind of work being made and the audience it is intended for.

    I think that artists should be able to sell their own work if that is their goal. I also think that artists who are not interested in selling should be supported. Why should artists always have to go through the curator or dealer who in a sense “anoints” the artist as worthy. By this very definition, marketable work is more conservative than not. Many artists have never been exposed to any alternative. Schools tend to speak “against the market” while at the same time those same professors have a gallery which “markets” their work. I believe that the old fine line of “selling out” is an antiquated term. It draws a line between artists who should be paid for their work, like any other cultural worker, and those that make work that is not sellable, because it is too progressive or does not hang on a wall. Or it is not collectable in the first place.

    The reason I teach artists how the system works is so that can negotiate between what they want and how it currently works. But I also teach guerilla and radical practices and share information on every other kind of distribution model that I can think of. I think that how the work is made public is an integral part of the work. It adds content like every other choice an artist makes. Same with audience. These aspects are all art supplies that make up content.

    So in a rambling sort of way, this is where I arrived at the horizontal vs. vertical artist theory. By looking at the whole practice, not just the artwork or objects that are made. It is not the medium, it is the message to quote a now historical phrase. If artists chose the system of how the work gets seen as much as they concentrated on the work that gets produced, we might come up with more creative, viable and workable solutions for artists and their publics, other than the purchase of work by collectors who often wrap it up for storage and hope that the artists “makes it”. This is why it is currently an “emerging artists” game these days. Collectors are not buying the work of older artists because they don’t have time for the work to increase in value for those that “play the market”.

    I for one am not interested in making more money for those who collect art. So I do work that sits outside that system. It is just my interest. So if I make parking meters talk and place them in public sites all over Los Angeles, or create work in slide form that is projected in commercial theaters in between the popcorn and trivia slides (in the 90’s) that has an audience of over 400,000 – it is a choice that I make both for the content of the work as well as a distribution model that works for my practice. It is also why starting a running a nonprofit organization, Side Street Projects, was the largest installation of my life. Starting and running a company run by artists for artists (GYST) is probably the largest public art project I have ever done. So it is a matter of how one defines a practice.

    I spoke a little about the hybrid careers of artists in the answers above. Why should an artists not have multiple trajectories for their careers? Why should we not be creative in all aspects of our lives, not just the “art” we make? If artists were to invent another strategy of how to make a living, I bet it would look a lot more hybrid than just working with dealers.

    OK, gotta run. But wanted to join the conversation and hope that my explanation of how I see the “market” might help with the conversation.

    Thanks to all of you who have contributed to the dialog. It makes my stepping out into the abyss of public commentary a little less daunting.

    Please, keep responding. Maybe someone else will also consider answering the questions, as I for one, am still employed.

  14. globatron
    May 30, 2009

    Thanks for the clarification Karen. I appreciate your thoughtful input.

    Your last point especially is a great one to me. You answered the survey and you are still employed.

    I wish others would have toed the line. Maybe we could shoot everyone a link to your survey answers that we sent it to as an example of an example of someone willing to answer the dreaded art survey questions.

    You answering it alone has given me hope that it was all for something. The valuable feedback we received from you alone has made it very worthwhile.

    It’s sad that so many felt that answering the survey would jeopardize their positions or was not worth their time.

    Also, I find your views on ageism in the arts very interesting. Being an emerging artist myself I had not a clue of this sort of activity as there are very few are willing to validate my work or dare collect it.

    Maybe by my having a terminal disease I’m in the same boat as an older artist or ,what I’m betting on, the right person hasn’t seen my work. I have chosen to take myself out of the race because these questions of marketing and “making it as an artist” are too hard for me and I doubt I will ever get an answer.

    “Making it” for me now is just being engaged and having these types of dialogues. Dialogue and the communication of ideas seems to be the root of why I got into the arts in the first place. Thanks again.

  15. Karen Atkinson
    May 30, 2009

    Well, I think we can post the questions on the GYST Blog site which is about professional practices and encourage other artists and artist teachers to answer them. Or one of them.

    We will work on that. If anyone else is interested in some interesting articles on Getting Your Sh*t Together, go to

    I will see what I can drum up in the way of responses.

  16. globatron
    May 30, 2009

    That’s a great idea. Please post the survey wherever you want to.

    I was just looking over a bit more, just now, and there is some very interesting content on it. I’ll keep an eye on it in the future too.

    Getting your response makes me feel we have just barely skimmed the surface on the survey and that there is a wealth of knowledge being suppressed. I’d gladly welcome new responses and see where that leads the project.

    Appreciate the support.


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