For the love of art

High production costs render artmaking a labor of love

Artist Nancy Floyd worries that people will think she's crazy. That's why she's reluctant to talk about just how much it cost to produce her newest installation, tentatively titled "Weathering Time." About the passage of time and growing older, "Weathering Time" incorporates photographs of Floyd and her family, video and a scaled-down replica of Floyd's home made of Popsicle sticks. The installation will appear in November at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

"It's not that I don't want to talk about cost," the artist confesses. "It's just that I think that because of the state of American culture, for anyone to make work that the intention isn't to sell it sort of makes you a crazy person."

An accomplished photographer and associate professor at Georgia State University, Floyd is aware of the stigma in a capitalist society, of failing to be financially reimbursed for your labor. So Floyd won't talk about just how expensive it was to produce "Weathering Time," though she does refer more than once to the equivalent cost of a new car.

"But a car's a car and this is art, and art to me is really about moving beyond the practical. It inspires people. It does things to our humanity that money and cars can't buy."

The high cost of making work is one of the dirty secrets of the art world. Even established artists with university teaching posts and a long roster of shows to their credit often produce work at such a cost that they may never recoup their expenses, even if the work sells.

"I think it's just the nature of what we do," says a relentlessly pragmatic Floyd. "Few people make money off of their art ... unless you're Cindy Sherman."

Though she admits the scale of "Weathering Time" makes it unsalable, Floyd counts herself lucky to have received a grant from the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, among others, to produce the work. A tenured teaching position, secured after years spent working as a waitress, is another advantage that makes Floyd feel luckier than artists who continually struggle to make a living while pursuing their art.

Sheila Pree is one of Floyd's students at Georgia State who will earn her master's degree in fine art in 2003, and she is already trying to imagine how she will make a living upon graduation.

Because Pree's work has already been seen in numerous galleries, she's had a taste of how expensive it is to be an artist. Pree was encouraged to make life-size prints of her work, which deals with black women and their sexual identity, recently on view in the group show Flash at City Gallery East, but the cost made that impossible. Pree ended up printing the work at a far more modest dimension of 5-by-7 inches.

"I think people sometimes don't realize how much it costs to produce work," says Pree. She's had to compensate for a lack of funds by doing the one thing emerging artists often can't afford to do: turn down shows.

"I've made a decision this summer ... I decided not to be in any more shows until I could do it the way I wanted to," Pree admits. "It might hurt me, I don't know."

From 1996 to 1998, Atlanta-based artist Jena Sibille lived in Papua New Guinea as a Peace Corp volunteer, teaching sex education to the locals. The artworks on display at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Gallery through Aug. 30 reflect some of the dark and fascinating realities of women's lives in Papua.Sibille's sensitive, finely rendered drawings and paintings of local women are executed on tapa cloth, a material synonymous with women's labor in that country. Tapa is fashioned from the inner bark of trees into cloth for burial shrouds and clothing. The resemblance of the cloth to skin gives Sibille's work its haunting edge, intensified by the melancholy expressions of some of the women from her host village depicted in the work.

Although the title of the show, From Inside the Women's House, refers to the segregated living conditions of women in traditional Papua New Guinea culture, Sibille found that the locals shared an emphasis on family and heritage, which is often lacking in our culture. "In a lot of ways, women really have this incredible bonding and connection" says Sibille.

Probably wisely, the Contemporary seems to have made its quest for the green stuff the first priority in choosing its next executive director, Rob Smulian, a Wharton School graduate who previously worked as vice president of finance and administration at The Georgia Conservancy. He joins the Contemporary staff Aug. 19.The distinguished home to art of a less contemporary vintage, Emory's Michael C. Carlos Museum, also will welcome a new executive director in mid-August, Bonnie Speed, formerly of the Dallas Margaret Crown Collection of Asian Art.

For Art's Sake is a biweekly column covering the local arts scene.