Casually browsing Facebook this afternoon, I noticed a debate kicking off regarding the anonymity of UpStart posters. A writer had posted up a photograph of an UpStart poster with her poem printed on, and one friend of the writer commented on the post venting their frustration at the fact that artists’ names are not printed beneath their works. This is a perfectly relevant debate – and one of the key aims of UpStart, after all, is to inspire debate over cultural issues, this being no exception. As it happens, the topic particularly struck a chord with me because, as a member of the UpStart blogging team, I had just started to write a series of posts discussing the contributions of individual artists, and the works they have submitted to UpStart. This, naturally, ‘reveals’ the identity of the currently-anonymous contributing artists, and though I intend on continuing this series, reading the debate over anonymity on Facebook made me reconsider what I had previously thought of as a straight-forward series of posts.
The reasons for wanting artists’ works to be credited is an obvious one: artists should be given recognition for their work; they are entitled to having their efforts acknowledged. I don’t think many people would argue with that point. However the case ‘for’ anonymity raised some issues I hadn’t really considered: omitting names from the works encourages spectators to focus solely on the works themselves, and their formal properties, rather than the prestige (or lack thereof) attached to the name beneath it. Press coverage and public attention is thus not monopolised as a result of art-world politics.
Coming from a journalistic point of view, sometimes picking out the ‘big’ names is the simplest way to approach a collaborative project such as this one. You don’t intent to be elitist, sidelining unknown artists in favour of bigger names who are not necessarily ‘better’ than their lesser known counterparts. But if you only have space to feature, say, five artists in an article, you’re probably going to lean towards the five people you’ve heard of, or whose works you’ve come across before. When names are not known, however, viewers and journalists are nudged towards concentrating their attention on the works which stand out to them on a visual or verbal level. Anonymity can thus create equality.
This doesn’t override the need to credit the creators of artworks, however. The UpStart team have dealt with the accreditation issue by pledging to announce the names of contributors (and the works which can be attributed to those names) once the election is over and the posters come down. That way, everyone gets fair coverage while the works are on show, but the artists and writers get their dues in the end. There is also the important factor of consent: all contributors to UpStart would have been aware of the anonymous nature of the project when submitting their works. The fact that so many decided to submit anyway suggests most artists either agreed with the anonymity of the project, or at least weren’t sufficiently bothered by it to bypass the opportunity to contribute.
But is this enough? The propagator of the Facebook debate I stumbled across argued that far from widening the gap between successful and unknown artists, crediting contributors from the word ‘go’ will help smaller artists gain recognition. Onlookers might be more likely to remember a name they’ve seen on an eye-catching poster than on a website, jumbled in amongst many other names. Whilst I do feel that publicising the names could monopolise press attention, as far as the public is concerned, I’m inclined to agree with this view. Getting your name printed alongside your creative output is one of the most basic and effective ways of earning recognition, especially if you’re new on the scene. Divided press attention or no, it would probably be in the best interests of the artists’ careers/reputations to publish their names throughout the duration of the project rather than just afterwards.
What is perhaps the real issue at hand is whether or not this is relevant to UpStart. The UpStart project is one which is political at core, the central objective being to turn peoples’ attention towards creativity during the election period (and beyond). Considering that the project is based around the reclaiming of election campaign spaces, replacing promotional objects emblazoned with names and slogans, it makes for a refreshing contrast to see posters that do not wish to promote any objective other than the importance of creativity and culture to society. Artists are allowed to promote their endeavors independently as much as they wish, and as previously mentioned, a full list of the contributing artists and their works will be published on the UpStart website soon. As such, my series of ‘artist in focus’ posts will continue – though I’ll try not to focus exclusively on well known names in my choices!
What’s your take on the anonymity issue? Should the artists’ names have been printed on the posters? Or should UpStart have gone one step further and even removed their own web address? (Bearing in mind that the name of the person legally responsible for the posters has to be printed by law). Get commenting with your thoughts!