Art and healing and sustainable business

This is inspired by Andy's post below. He refers to an article by Kevin Kelly.
Look it over if you haven't. As I was reading it, my wife walked by the computer and said “oh yeah, that's an awesome article.” What I'd like to write about here is why she, an artist, and I, and acupunk, had both come across it, and why it's meaningful to both of us.

My wife, Amy Walsh, has totally changed her relationship to earning a living as an artist over the last year or so. These very conscious shifts have in no small way been informed by Lisa Rohleder's book about changing the business of acupuncture, and by helping me
start Philadelphia Community Acupuncture. In her own work, Amy is going this very direct route of cultivating an audience, or the “true fans” of which Kelly writes.

Two years ago, Amy was showing at an amazing amount of venues in Philadelphia and other places, collaborating with other artists, and earning great critical reviews. She was earning zero net money from this work. She watched her colleagues either quit
art-making, or fit it into the wee hours of time between income earning jobs. She, herself, was piecing together adjunct teaching positions, hoping to maybe secure an elusive full-time position within a few years. An occasional lucky compatriot of hers was able to make art full time while not being a New York art star; but, this was by virtue of inheritance.

At the same time, I was treating patients privately at 45 – 65 dollars per treatment. Even though I was having mostly great success with my patients, and even though they were telling other people, and even though I had virtually no overhead, I was far from earning a living as an acupuncturist. I worked a separate 30 hour a week job in addition to treating people.

So, there we were, for years, doing what we do quite well, and feeling like we'd always be broke, always struggle to even pay rent. I think we were both a little hopeless that it could ever be different, felt like that's just the way it has to be in the advanced capitalist world that places very little value on the non-technological contributions of fine artists and healing artists.

What this community acupuncture revolution has helped us realize is that artists and acupunks (other healers?) have a lot in common in terms of their relationship to the economy and to community. They both contribute something that is vitally important, non-negotiably central to a healthy society. The work of both has been historically undervalued and exploited. For both artists and acupuncturists of our generation, the rules by which we were trained to engage our clients were created largely by peripheral industries which manipulate profits by turning our work into territories of the privileged.

But, Amy and I are also realizing that we can both use the same recipe for taking power back, and for making a living by putting our work in the center of our communities and our communities in the center of our work.

To make big change, you usually have to give up on something to which you've been, whether conscious of it or not, committed. One of the things I had to give up on was being some kind of superhero healer, summoning unique therapeutic skills from my own solitary mind and body. On the other hand, I also had to give up on the idea that what I was doing would always exist on the margins, and that, therefore I shouldn't waste my time reaching out to everyone as potential patients.

It was a similar process for Amy. She had to give up on an unconscious dream that some abstract art establishment was going to recognize her brilliance and crown her a famous star. And, on the other hand, she had to give up on the idea that what she was doing would always exist on the margins, and that, therefore she shouldn't waste her time reaching out to everyone as potential audience.

What's most interesting to me here is that in both of our cases, there was a big chunk of unexamined classism in terms of who we were (and were not) allowing ourselves to imagine as our patrons, who we thought the acupuncture and the art were for. Of course we both had a belief that art and healing are human rights, but we couldn't find our way out of the behaviors that the overall classist economic system helps keep in place.

One interesting story is when Amy had some of her teachers and classmates and other colleagues from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts over for dinner. She was telling some of them about doing “a painting a day” and selling them on line. Several people in the room were visibly disappointed, and warned her not to use her real name if she wanted to maintain her place in the art world.

There's a lot to say about Amy's shift from making only installations for galleries and museums to also making art that she can sell and that people other than the very rich can buy. Lots of interesting stuff about the different people she's connected to as crafter, the kind of money she's actually able to earn, her rediscovery of creating beautiful useful objects from the most simple of materials, etc. I'd actually like her to do a guest blog entry because I think it shines a different kind of light on what we're doing well and not doing well.

*********

I also wanted to call to people's attention a wonderful resource which Amy turned me on to. It's a podcast of interviews of artist/activist/healers on the subject of art and healing. It's from the Art and Healing Network.

korben
Author: korben

I'm an acupunk and owner at Kindred Community Acupuncture in Pawtucket, RI. I co-founded Philadelphia Community Acupuncture in 2007, and moved to Providence in 2011 to be close to family after the birth of my son, and to work with the inimitable Cris Monteiro at PCA.

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.

Responses

  1. Wow

    This statement, Korben, is gold: “Of course we both had a belief that art and healing are human rights, but we couldn’t find our way out of the behaviors that the overall classist economic system helps keep in place.” It truly is a maze.  One the one had we can look at presidential politics and scoff, seeing the systems that kep the candidates from talking frankly with citizens and truly tackling the problems this country faces, but on the other hand what keeps those folks hog-tied, keeps us bound too.  Its up to us to work our way out of the maze. Hi to Amy!  

     

    -Skip ———————– Mal: Well look at this. Seems we got here just in the nick of time! What does that make us? Zoë: Big damn heroes, sir. Mal: Ain’t we just.

  2. and how!

    Korben,

    That’s exactly the comment that got me, as I remembered the discomfort I used to feel (and still sometimes feel) as my inner dogs fight with each other over which face gets to represent me.  This is one of the big reasons I value the CAN community so much.  Finally we realize that we’re not weird or wrong.

    Lumiel

  3. Nice.

    …my favorite sentence, “For both artists and acupuncturists of our generation, the rules by which we were trained to engage our clients were created largely by peripheral industries which manipulate profits by turning our work into territories of the privileged.”
    (If I were to magically become an awkward teenage heavy-metal kid all over again, that’d be the name of my band – Territories of the Privileged)
    Too true. And how the dismantling of certain ill-begotten engagements as acupuncturists *just feels so damn right*. Viva la CAN!
    As artists, I can imagine how organizations like Etsy.com have opened up avenues of financial possibility and contact with so many new fans/folks. I’d love to hear from Amy on the greater topic at hand – that is, the working through The Maze.
    I also hope she wouldn’t mind me posting a link to her blog (and companion piece to Korben’s work), that I happened to stumble upon tonight.
    https://amywalsh.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/03/art-healing-and.html
    Upward, Onward,
    Andy

     

    ================================================

    “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” – W. Allen

  4. sustainable business – sustainable world

    Hey Korben, did you help Barack Obama write the speech he gave in
    Philly today? Or did he help you write yours? Anyways, I’m sure that you both inspired each other via the great web of Chi that connects us all. 

    I’m inspired by
    all this talk about a more perfect union, breaking down class divisions through our work, and of course, the audicity of hope.

    Of course, as both you
    and Mr. Obama, and probably many of us have mentioned…talk is talk. Nonetheless, inspiring talk forms the foundation for inspiring deeds. Needle on.

     Jordan 

     

    Cynicism is a smokescreen for laziness and fear. Clear light mind awaken! Pierce through all layers of doubt and delusion! Inspire me onwards in ceaseless waves of selfless activity.

  5. Who are acupuncture and art really for?

    What a great post, Korben. I love how the connections between art and healing keep emerging in your writing — and in PCA, and in your neighborhood. Thinking like this is such a blessed antidote to all the dead hopeless craziness of trying to sell your work to/be accepted by that tiny sliver of the population that has a lot of money — and that may not even want acupuncture or art or all the beautiful things people have to offer —  and that so many other people without a lot of money desperately, desperately need. This is how the world changes…

  6. Obama’s Philly speech

    Oh, Jordan. What an incredible speech that was. Wow! Amy and I watched the whole thing and cried a lot. A potential president talked about racism not like its some thing that some people are and some people aren’t but that it’s the world we’ve all inherited and have to face while loving one another. And, he stood up for his friend and his different people and made it clear that that was standing up for everyone. A lot of great and hopeful figures got killed or otherwise snuffed in the couple years before I died. I remember watching Shirley Chisolm speaking with my father. Since then, no politician in my life has ever inspired me as that talk yesterday in Philly by Obama.

  7. I loved this post so much I could not even comment till now

    …it just makes me think of so many things that are super important to me.  And I love love LOVE Amy’s work (we have a cat who thinks he is a bat, so I really liked the animal mashups).

    And I’m psyched to have more podcass to try…

    Thanks! 

  8. Yes, Nora…

    …but that means we’ll have two drummers because that’s the only instrument I can even REMOTELY play at all.  Nice way to start the band though, right?
     

  9. Obama’s philly speech

    Thanks for sharing Korben.

    “A lot of great and hopeful figures got killed or otherwise snuffed in the couple years before I died.”

    Are you talking about your previous incarnation here, or did you mean to say “born”…

    It was interesting, today I had a chat with our neighbor about cultural diversity….we didn’t even mention Obama’s speech as the conversation started from a different, non-political angle…but it was as if that energy of confronting racism – with compassion for everyone – was in the air.

    I am still probably reeking of white privilege without seeing it, but Community Acupuncture gives me opportunities to see it every day….and to practice just being open and inviting to everyone….without being a door mat, but loving everyone from a place of power that knows everyone’s innate goodness, my own included.

    Tomorrow is a new day, here’s to the power of hope (and action).

  10. Love this new dimension just revealed

    and so so sorry we won’t be going to Philly to meet you, as our hostess has helped us realize that two hours driving either way are four hours we could be visiting other Important Places, and since I’m only one third of the equation during our time there, I’ll have to stay local.  Devoured the photos and the Amy art.  I’m wonderstruck.

     Lumiel

  11. in the sand

    Thanks for sharing Nora…Cyber-artists for Obama are at it again.

    It’s hard not to harbor fears that sooner or later the bubble will burst and sooner or later, the evil machine that controls America will once again end this little charade called a democratic election and then it’s time to get back to work feeding the machine…..or some similar gloom and doom story.

    Then, there’s hope, possibility….

    So it’s up to us where we wish to play the old tapes or listen to a new story. Clearly, Obama’s story (not so much his personal story, but the larger story he weaves for all of us), is so much more inspiring than any of the other candidates (IMHO)….web sites like this are part of that story…

    It only takes one candle to eliminate darkness…

  12. Art installations

    This discussion about art obviously trickled down through the cracks, into my subterranean dream world and then bubbled up again into waking consciousness this morning.

    It was one of those powerful dreams that lacked a long story line, but in a brief moment shattered my usual way of looking at things:

    We ARE art installations – that is, this life, and specifically this body we inhabit – the phsycial manifestation of that art. The underlying message here is that the installation is temporary, and therefore, is nothing to hold on to or overly identify with. Meanwhile, we have fun with our art – as community acupuncturists, or visual artists – and even make a decent “living”, until the installation is removed.

    river

     

    Cynicism is a smokescreen for laziness and fear. Clear light mind awaken! Pierce through all layers of doubt and delusion! Inspire me onwards in ceaseless waves of selfless activity.