10/10: As is probably clear I am doing some work on artists’ engagements with the state, prompted in part by meeting, thinking with, and writing about Venus DeMars. Another audit case – an artist who is also an art professor – is big news at the moment, and because I think they’re instructive and know most people won’t wade through the court papers I pulled a couple of quotes from the court’s ruling on the question of the artist’s profit motive. The ruling for the most part leaves the specifics of the artist’s deductions to be settled separately, but there are a few useful asides on deductions and a few jarring glimpses into the simple realities of working as an artist. One clear and simple lesson from the opinion: artists really desperately need education about schedule C deductions, whether or not they use a bookkeeper or accountant. “Petitioner” refers to the artist, “respondent” to the IRS.

“Maintaining perfect sales records was difficult because galleries often neglected to provide her with all relevant sales information. In some cases she received a single check accompanied by a list of pieces sold, without specification of the purchaser’s identity or the sale price of each individual work. Ascertaining the purchaser’s identity was important because petitioner regarded each purchaser as a potential future customer. When petitioner received incomplete information, she contacted the gallery in an effort to obtain all relevant sales data. Such efforts were not always successful and, for that reason, petitioner’s sales records are not 100% accurate.
[…]
Respondent stipulated that the total value of works sold during her career is at least $937,150. Galleries usually took a 50% commission, and petitioner on several occasions received no proceeds at all because of financial distress or mismanagement on the gallery’s part. For example, petitioner had a solo exhibition of ten abstract paintings at Michael Steinberg Fine Art in 2009. Each painting was priced at $1,800 and all ten were sold. Petitioner never received payment for these works when the gallery closed during the financial crisis.
[…]
Petitioner’s theory for claiming deductions seems to have been that most experiences an artist has may contribute to her art and that most people with whom an artist socializes may become customers or otherwise advance her career. The trial established that a significant number of the deductions she claimed were not, within the meaning of section 162(a), “ordinary and necessary expenses” of conducting her art business but were “personal, living, or family expenses” non-deductible under section 262(a). The latter expenses appear to have included telephone and cable television bills, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, gratuities to doormen in her apartment building, taxicabs to the opera, museums, and social events, restaurant meals with friends and acquaintances, and international travel to gain inspiration from paintings in European museums.
[…]
Petitioner bears the burden of proving that she conducted her art business with a predominant, primary, or principal objective of earning a profit. […] However, “a reasonable expectation of profit is not required.”
[…]
The clear thrust of respondent’s examination was the notion that petitioner worked as an artist in order to keep her job as a teacher.
[…]
Petitioner practiced as an artist for a decade before she began teaching and for 25 years before she became a tenured full professor. For any practitioner who teaches–whether a lawyer, an accountant, an economist, or an artist–there is an obvious intersection between the individual’s profession and his or her teaching. But the two activities have different job requirements and entail different skills.
[…]
The trial established that Hunter College required or expected its art professors to exhibit their work; it did not require that they actually sell art. Many of the marketing and related business activities in which petitioner engaged were thus irrelevant to her teaching career. Respondent has not explained why petitioner would devote many hours to these tasks–some of them tedious or unpleasant–if her sole goal were to retain her teaching position. Indeed, during the tax years at issue petitioner was, and for the previous ten years had been, a tenured professor. Tenured professors were not subject to annual performance evaluations, and for them the requirement to exhibit art was at most an expectation that was not rigorously enforced.
[…]
… respondent contends that she lacks expertise in the economics of being an artist. But petitioner does not need an economics degree to know how to sell art.
[…]
…the mundane tasks that petitioner performed, such as marketing and networking with potential collectors, were essential only because she was conducting a business. They would have been unnecessary if she were pursuing a hobby.
[…]
For creative artists, the line between business and personal expenses may sometimes seem hard to discern. Petitioner is not alone in resolving doubts in favor of deductibility.
[…]
We find that petitioner’s enjoyment of her art activity–at least some of its aspects–is not sufficient to cause it to be classified as a hobby rather than a business. Petitioner devotes to her art activity a level of seriousness that takes it well beyond the realm of “recreation.””

wage certified

10/10: Big day today. W.A.G.E. certification is live! Why? Because W.A.G.E. does not accept ambivalence or ambiguity as conditions for determining rates of pay, and because W.A.G.E. demands payment for making the world more interesting. I was lucky to be a part of the W.A.G.E. summit a while back and am really happy and proud to see certification go live – just in time for your next exhibition, maybe? Find out how much you ought to get paid here with the handy fee calculator, learn more about certification here, and send Artists Space a friendly e-mail congratulating them on their W.A.G.E. certification.  W.A.G.E. is also running its first fundraiser to help pay their dedicated organizers a living wage, so if you feel so moved make a tax-deductible donation here. Congratulations, everyone!

the enemy

9/24: I wrote some stuff about bad art over at The Enemy. It’s the closest to a polemic you’ll probably ever get. Enjoy!

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9/20: It is done.

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8/23: Aphex Twin’s new album drops next month. The awesome cover art is made up largely of references to production costs, including “Refreshments and lunch for promo team album listening in Paris”, “Website bandwidth costs”, “Online advertising in Sweden”, and “Taxis for planning meeting day in London”. Info on the deep web and here.

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8/8: Headed to San Francisco soon for ASA and Junior Theorists (for which I will miss all manner of other great preconferences) – I will be talking and listening at JTS (there’s a proper schedule and RSVP thingy here) on the 15th and again with some different stuff on the 17th in the morning on a panel with some pretty amazing folks (more info here). See you there!

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7/3: Some writing on Venus DeMars, art, value, and the state is up now over at Narratively, as part of a week of stories on making it as an artist. There are some great illustrations by April Malig and the editorial staff at Narratively are pretty amazing. As always, biggest thanks go to Venus for sharing her story. Check it out.

5/23: I wrote some stuff about some art and you can read it here. Thanks especially to the brilliant Helena, and to Shannon at the Arts Research Center and Kara and Patricia at Art Practical.

5/7: Looking very much forward to being a part of this workshop on social value in Boston in a couple of weeks. All are welcome. Hope to see you there.

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4/25: Just back from the Bay Area, where I was honored to be a part of Valuing Labor in the Arts, a practicum organized by the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley together with the brilliant Helena Keeffe. I’ll be writing about the event for an upcoming issue of Art Practical, and there will probably be video of my talk at some point, but until then you can read a few essays and workshop prompts in an earlier issue, and I’ll leave you with a little moment that was one of my favorites: Living genius Yasmin and Calicopie provided lunch and hors d’oeuvres. In the evening, little signs marked each of the small bites; one read, “EMPLOYMENT: Union-picked organic strawberries / Walmart banana cream”. Another, “EXPLOITATION: spicy corporate slaughterhouse chicken processed with minimum wage labor”. We stood around, drank from disposable glasses of wine, chatted, agreed that the food was amazing. Later, we all sat ourselves around banquet tables for an evening of talks, and Yasmin spoke very shortly about the night’s catering. She talked about parallels between the invisibility of labor in art and in food production, about the ways that aesthetics can disguise the conditions of production. She talked about the berries, and then about the chicken: “The chicken tonight is actually from Kentucky Fried Chicken, which pays its workers $7.63 an hour on average. Even managers only make $10.89, but they gross 4.22 billion dollars a year.” In a video from the event, she needs to pause after she says “Kentucky Fried Chicken”; there are audible gasps from the audience, muttering. Yasmin closed with a smile, saying, “it’s just an opportunity for you to.. kind of.. explore and enjoy these things.” The audience laughed, and later I overheard one woman reassure another: “Oh, she couldn’t possibly have gotten KFC in here. They’re very strict about outside catering.” It seemed to make both of them feel better.