I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can make the art I’ve created work better for me. I’m not even sure what that means any more. I’ve been working at this since 2010 and will never make a profit and don’t feel I’ll ever get to the stage where I can give up the other jobs I have to be a full-time artist.
I’m no good at playing the game because I’m not entirely sure what the rules of the game are in the art world. I don’t think inside the box and am happy to tear down the walls which somehow frightens funding bodies and confuses galleries. I always thought art was about thinking outside of the box but apparently that’s not the case. I’m not the kind of person that can schmooze. I’m more of a recluse really. It’s for this reason that I made the decision a few years ago to only exhibit with people who didn’t want me to pay a fee up front. I mean, why should I? Galleries should be paying artists a lending fee for borrowing their artwork to put on their walls, not the other way around! If they can’t pay they should be reassessing their business model. A business isn’t a business if it is charging its supplier to supply it, making little in sales, and is reliant on grants to fund it. Galleries need to diversify and be more sustainable in their approach. We’re long past the time where galleries were philanthropic vanity projects for rich industrialists. But I digress…
I made the decision not to keep throwing time and resources at ‘opportunities’ which essentially go nowhere. I’ve been writing fewer blogs about my art because I’m not entirely sure anyone reads it, and if they do it hasn’t exactly furthered my art career has it? If you’re a regular reader of this blog have you noticed how sometimes I’m only writing one or two entries a week instead of daily like I used to? Instead I’ve been dedicating this space to the excellent photographs taken by participants of my photography workshops. People who are building themselves up in the face of what life has thrown at them deserve this space and I will continue to give it to them freely.
There’s only so many open exhibitions you can enter* and to stand a chance at other exhibitions you need to have the ‘right kind’ of CV. I’m not entirely sure what I mean by this but I know that something isn’t right with the art world. I see articles in respected art magazines championing the rights of artists to be paid for any work they do, whilst in the classifieds they’re running adverts charging artists a fee for the right to be part of a prestigious exhibition or opportunity which could enhance their CV. Meanwhile manufacturers run competitions for artists to get their art seen in unexpected places. Again, the prize is exposure rather than hard cash.
So how do I make my art work for me? Well, I keep making art but I’m selective about where it goes. I still make art but I don’t expect to sell it or make enough to live on. I’m not being defeatist, I’m being a pragmatist and realist. I still make art because it’s good for my soul. I am answerable only to myself and am happier to be working free from the burdens of structure. I am comfortable in being different. I am brave enough to say yes to what I feel are worthwhile opportunities and no to those which are likely to be a dead end. I am not being prudish or elitist though. I’ll continue to create art to give specifically to charity auctions. I am not a mentor, or social worker, or carer, for other artists or curators who don’t know what they want and can’t organise themselves. Giving people assistance to help them out and further their career is one thing. To be carrying others who should be more than capable given their skill set doesn’t help me and it just facilitates their dependence on others. Leeching off other people’s good will just because your CV is better is an awful thing to do. I lose count of the number of times I’ve been framing, installing, labelling, and hanging for my fellow artists just because they were unable to designate enough time to do it themselves. No. Sorry. Not any more. Just because I’m organised with my stuff doesn’t mean I have the mental or physical reserves to deal with yours.
Success is what I make it and it not determined by the contents of my CV. I set my own goals to achieve. Success is when I achieve those goals. I respond to creative thought influenced by my world but not dictated by it. The dream is mine to take, change, alter, and command as I see fit. Success is not more press, more prestigious shows, more schmoozing, more more! Success is internal goal setting and internal gratification. I am answerable only to myself. I will seek new directions that further my being rather than my social or professional standing.
I will work in the practical parameters that facilitate my basic existence. For the last few years this has meant working mornings and evenings as a freelance educator. This has been a problem for my interaction with the art world. I have existed outside of the social structure of the art world but my ability to be sociable shouldn’t have a bearing on whether or not my art is any good. The fact that others might frown on my absence from key arts events, or might lack understanding of my work commitments is their problem not mine.
So there we go. In summary, I’m still making art but I’m being more selective where to show it. I’m not bothered about whether anyone thinks I’m any good or not. I don’t really have a social life that involves the art world and I really don’t miss it at all. I’ve reassessed my dream and I know I’m headed where I need to be.
A little something I’ve been asked to create for an exhibition in Richmond on Thames later in the year.
*and they always charge a fee. This effectively makes open exhibitions fundraisers for the gallery. Charge the artist to pay for the chance to be in an open exhibition, then charge artists another fee to have a solo show there. Why does the artist have to pay for everything? A manufacturer sells (or loans) what it makes to a retail team. The retail team never charges the manufacturer for the right to put its stuff in the store. That makes no sense! Yet that’s how it works in the art world.
Also, if there’s no market for artists’ art other than the artists themselves then how is the general public ever to engage with art properly? Is it any surprise that the public think art is overpriced and would rather spend £100 on a night out rather than a painting. If the public are not part of the market or the process is it any wonder they continue to have outdated and stereotypical views of what an artist is. Without transparency then there is no accountability and no clear physical market matching buyers to artist sellers.