Artists for a Better Image (ArtFBI)

Bumper Sticker: Support Our Artists

ArtFBI produced a number of bumper stickers to publicize the importance of artists in our society. This one was modeled after the Support Our Troops sticker that was popular during the Gulf War.

Artists for a Better Image, Inc. (ArtFBI) is a non-profit artist advocacy organization whose purpose is to promote the process of being an artist (rather than the products we make). Most active from 1988–1998, we did this through a number of programs and activities.

The Ironic Curtain

In February 1990, during attacks on artists by Congress, including Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano and the elimination of artists grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtFBI, along with artists in the Washington, DC area protested these actions in front of the National Capitol with The Ironic Curtain. A few months before, the Iron Curtain came down across Europe, symbolizing the end of the Cold War and the end of totalitarian efforts to curtail freedom of speech. ArtFBI found it ironic that just as freedom was being restored to Eastern Europe, these very rights were being threatened here in the United States.

The Art Market is not The Art World

Picture of T-Shirts

Click on photo for larger image. Buy a shirt!

The focus and dialogue about art should be on the meaning of an artwork and motivations of the artist. Art as commodity is, quite simply, a separate issue. Unfortunately, the art market is often treated as synonymous with the art world. Artists are often categorized as “first tier” because of their sales at Art Basel or other art fairs. Saleability is not why most artists invest time, energy, and their own money into their art.

ArtFBI has just produced women’s and men’s t-shirts The Art Market is not The Art Market. Let’s wear our priorities straight!

TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes: Media Representation of Artists

Using depictions of artists from television and film I traveled throughout the country to discuss stereotypes of artists, our roles in society, and why we presently find ourselves in the positions we do in our culture.

ArtFBI remains interested in repositioning artists to a more central position in society in this new Information Age. Read more about it.


ArtFax was a monthly “zine” of arts + advocacy information, published 10 times a year, from 1995 to 1998.


An example of ArtFax. Download a sample copy. (PDF)

In the mid 1990s the Internet was becoming a conduit for the quick dissemination of news and information. But access to the net within arts communities was slow to develop. Like the rest of society, adoption was expensive (one needed a computer, an Internet connection, and a modem) and the benefits were unclear. But ArtFBI saw the importance of not only linking up with these developing news sources but also with other artists who were “connected.” Those years were the beginning of the online arts community.

The initial reason for publishing this “faxazine” was to send important art information culled from the Net to people who had no access to the Internet. Subscribers could get each issue faxed or mailed to them. Now, of course, the web is much more ubiquitous and ArtFax is no needed.

Artist-related Bumper Stickers

Let people know how you feel about being an artist using this popular mode of expression! We’re collecting stories on how these stickers have promoted dialogue about being an artist. Here’s one:

“I was driving down the freeway at about 60 mph in my ’79 Honda (which had ArtFBI’s bumper sticker: ASK ME ABOUT BEING AN ARTIST) when an 18-wheeler pulled up beside me and motioned for me to roll down my window. I thought: Is there something wrong with my car?! Great! And I just put $500 into it. When I rolled down the window the trucker yelled: ‘My son, he draws really well. What should he do?’

I thought: do I get into a philosophical discussion on what it’s like to be an artist at this speed?’ I decided if I wanted to continue being an artist I’d better not. So I yelled back: ‘Call the Maryland Institute (where I taught art).’ He gave me the thumbs-up and drove on.”

Each sticker costs $3. Volume discount rates are available for 25 or more in any combination. For further information contact me.

The Cultural Working Class List

In order to counter negative stereotypes of artists, in 1992 ArFBI sent out a call for artists to whom art and community are synonymous. What resulted was the Cultural Working Class List of artists (published through ArtsWire).

The Stereotype of the Week

During the 1990s ArtFBI presented weekly artist stereotypes and hype ripped from the pages of print media.

From the July 21, 1996 issue of Parade Magazine comes this Q&A from Walter Scott’s “Personality Parade:”

Question: What can you tell me about Alexandra Nechita, the little Romanian immigrant who became an art prodigy? I understand her paintings sell for a small fortune. –R.D.B., Toledo, Ohio

Answer: Alexandra Nechita, 10, who says she is inspired by Matisse, Pollock and Picasso–has sold paintings for as much as $50,000 and reportedly was paid $600,000 for “Outside the Lines,” her new art book. Yet most critics question whether Alexandra, who lives outside L.A. with her parents, will develop into a serious artist. “Her career exists strictly through marketing,” says Christopher Knight, of the “Los Angeles Times.”

From the October 6, 1995 issue of Entertainment Weekly’s Quote of the Week:

“If you really want to hurt your parents and you don’t have nerve enough to be homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts.”

Kurt Vonnegut, at a symposium held at an artists’ colony outside New Albany, Indiana

And, just to make the point that in the intervening decades nothing much has changed, in January 2014 President Obama made this statement about art historians:

“Folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”

Here’s the video of the president’s comments:

In fact, the president did get a lot of emails in protest and later apologized.

ArtFBI is a non-profit organization studying stereotypes of artists in
the media.For those who may have lost their sense of irony and humor
in these difficult times, ArtFBI is not affiliated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation nor any other government agency. We remain as independent as it’s possible in the early 21st Century.

© 2001-2018 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074