The children have both started at school, giving me hours of creative time a week; the computer business I started, to make ends meet, now makes a reliable profit; many of my friends have forgotten that I was ever an artist … but I’m now coming up to my first show for 9 years. What happens now?
This is my last post for this blog. I thought the question of what to do next would require endless soul-searching, but writing the blog, and participating in other blogs has really clarified my issues, priorities and expectations.
I realise I’m in a very different life phase from most people writing AN blogs: many have either achieved a significant measure of financial success with their work, or are young enough for this still to be a realistic (?) possibility.
I must concede my work is going to remain forever on the fringes – I don’t think I’ve ever felt further from the mainstream than I do now – and being responsible for my kids, I have to earn money, something which wasn’t a problem 20 years ago.
I’m now half way through my working life, and considering retirement. I already need specs, get puffed out when cycling to work, my knees ache when I’m hill-walking … the spectre of old age is looming. And I really don’t want to end up in a council house in the bum-end of Oxford surviving on income support for the last 20 years of my life.
Money, and how to earn it is definitely my Big Issue. I feel quite content with my art practice, I don’t feel the need to reflect on it endlessly … ye gods know I’ve spent enough time doing that … but I wish I knew more artists who worked in similar ways, or in similar circumstances.
Reading through my blog, I’m wondering what, if any, contribution I’ve made to the wider community of artists and art professionals.
I’ve probably put everyone off the idea of having children.
I’ve worked to death the old chestnuts of financial success and survival, themes which everyone is probably already bored with.
I’ve made a foray into an argument about intellectualisation, and come out thinking that a bit is good and too much or too little is annoying … no big philosophical breakthrough there.
I’ve made contact with 2 or 3 writers with whom I intend to continue contact.
I have enjoyed seeing my own work on the internet, another contribution to the exciting diversity and range of work published on these blogs.
But I continue to be unable to grasp what most artists are talking about when reviewing their own work. It all seems to happen in a language that has no meaning.
Whether this makes me history, an amateur or dilettante, or a hopeless mystic I don’t know.
But I still cling to the notion that great art, or any art that’s worth making, must be addressing the question of “What is beauty?” … not “What is interesting for a small band of intellectuals?”, or “What will make a good investment for a small group of wealthy patrons?”.
When I first saw Picasso’s work when I was 7, I was entranced, fascinated: “Mum, what’s that about?”. My Mum wasn’t able to say much, but I’ve now been answering that question for myself for 40 years.
Wouldn’t it be truly Great if our work could do that for tomorrow’s children?
In 1999, after 10 years of reading Arts Council strategy statements, priority statements, policy statements and statement statements, I finally made a successful application – 20k for a collaborative millennium celebration.
Initially I felt flattered, flushed with success. But as the millennium celebrations proceeded it became clear that there were simply not enough artists to fulfill the government’s pledges for millennial festivities. Barrels were being scraped, and I was one of the scrapings.
If I had spent all those hours earning instead of fundraising, and saved £5 from each hour, I could have saved the value of the grant myself over the ten years. Over the two years of the project I earned about £3 per hour, totalling what I now earn part time in 3 months.
The arts economy doesn’t make sense. It’s a hotch-potch of bad ideas thrown together by a series of do-gooding culture ministers, only continuing to stand on its shaky foundations because of the illusion of free money … sell your paintings , publish your work, get a grant for research-practice development-go see-lecture, win a prize … but few artists seem to account for the true cost of the money. Nobody needing to earn money would entertain such a business model for a moment.
Occaionally I see a grant, exhibition opportunity, commission, whatever, and think “I stand a chance at that …”, and against my better judgement I make the application. Fool that I am. It’s the promise of free money. But when the rejection email arrives, I look at the hours I spent on the application: There’s another £500 I didn’t earn while making an application for a grant of £1000 which I have a 1 in 10 chance of getting. £500 traded in for £100. It’s madness.
On Saturday I had the pleasure of teaching Dream Interpretation to a group of volunteer counsellors in Derby. What a great day! Genuine people making a real difference to their world, only intellectualising to the extent that it actually helps them work, helps their world. And because it counts as healthcare, and healthcare rates of pay are as exaggerated as arts rates of pay are diminished … I made decent money from the venture.
Tomorrow, the Rites exhibition at the Tavistock Centre comes down, and the paintings return to their dark and dusty garage.
And what now (After Rites)?
I’m quite clear, my priority is to get out of the computer business, and ART really isn’t going to facilitate that.
Teaching therapeutic psychology is a realistic alternative. I really enjoy it, it’s well paid, there’s a good market, and I’ll be able to do it part time. The rest of the time I’ll be able to do what I want – call it ART, call it THERAPY, call it mainstream, fringe or outsider, call it modern, postmodern, conceptual, history or contemporary… I just don’t care. I just want to spread a little kindness (Shock Horror), look after my kids, and have some fun with my friends.
“What are you reading, Dad?”.
“It’s called ‘Get Clients Now!’, it’s about marketing.”
“It’s about selling things”
“What are you selling, will we be rich?”.
Er …No. My daughter’s optimism is charming, but misplaced.
What am I selling? The book urges me to focus on this. A painter obviously sells paintings, and when I started out 20 years ago, that’s what I tried to do.
When I lived in Sheffield, I knew some artists who lived on the dole. They offered for sale painted grim grey cityscapes, and were convinced that fame, and fortune, lay just around the corner … but always the next corner.
When I moved to Oxford, I claimed the dole and started painting. Oxford’s prices are twice Sheffield’s, and it was hard managing. I sought out other artists on low incomes, particularly those who lived from their creative work. How did they do it?
I was surprised at their reluctance to share their secrets of economic self-reliance. But gradually I solved the enigma.
Some had managed to get onto the long-term sick, for mental illness. The extra £25 per week isn’t much, but when you’re living on £50, it pays for materials, evenings out and holidays.
Others benefitted from regular handouts from “Family Trusts”, inheritances carefully guarded by discretionary trust law or shady offshore arrangements.
Others lived rent-free, either in a family Second, or even Third home, or in their own inherited house.
Some were married, and bankrolled by spouses.
And there were those who, even in their forties, went cap-in-hand to parents regularly, with another hard-luck story, or with the continued promise of imminent success.
I got Arts Council funding to bring over an artist from abroad for an event. We chose a successful Canadian artist. Here was a man who really did live from his art. While he was here I picked his brains.
He was greatly talented, far moreso than I. He had a long history of commercial success. How does it work? Winter, making applications all around the world. Summer, a whirlwind of international commissions. I pressed him further, and he outlined his accounts, showing a pitiful profit. “OK”, I said, “I can see how that pays food and bills, but are rents in Canada really cheap?”. “No” he replied “I live with my mother”. Not something I’m prepared to do at 47.
The NAA reported, 10 years ago, that 95% of “Professional” artists, don’t live from their “made” work. Most of the above reckoned themselves in the 5% that did … so the true figure must be closer to 99.9%. Oddly, people who own a house outright don’t see it as income … but the rest of us can see clearly it’s an income equivalent to our rents.
So don’t bother selling pictures … it’s a waste of time, and often money too. Make the pictures, installations, sculptures, for the love of it, and treat your exhibitions as publicity – marketing creative-related services such as teaching, art therapy or grant-funded activities.
“Dad! Turn the music down! I’m trying to get to sleep!”. I’m lying on the sofa clutching a bottle of red wine, with Pink Floyd’s “One of these days I’m going to tear you into little pieces” playing LOUD … It’s the only way of erasing the day’s activities – 8 solid hours of configuring and testing firewalls on network routers. My son’s pleading forces my conscience, and I put headphones on, but it’s not the same without the floor shaking with the bass.
Loud Rock at home is a luxury: My parents loved opera and ‘the singing of the moorland streams’, beautiful, but not something you can headbang to. University was all diligent students in cramped halls of residence. Then I married a lady who was lovely in many ways, but had very sensitive hearing. After she’d had enough, I lived next to a predatory gay man, who took any loud noise as an excuse to come round, complain, and try to force himself upon me. Next, 3 years on a boat with no mains, so loud music meant doing without lights for a week. Finally I lived in a place in the country with no near neighbours, and had the bliss of excessive volume whenever I wanted for 3 Loud Years … before the children arrived.
Music has always been core to my life: Beyond mind-numbing Heavy Rock, I find music essential for getting from one space into another – relaxation, housework, catharsis, or simply a good bop. I also find great inspiration when I’m deeply absorbed in music, it reminds me I’m human and alive, and as long as these remain true, there’s still the possibility of pursuing my creative vision.
I’m fascinated by the process of making music. My parents owned a piano, and as a child I spent hours trying to work out what notes liked each other. The consequence was 6 years of crushing classical lessons, after which I merely achieved an elementary certificate. But the theory side of things gave me some interesting answers to what notes might get along together … enough to start improvising, which for me continues to be a process of experimentation.
This was not something appreciated immediately by others. “Stop that bloody racket” was a common response when, bored in a pub, I would sit down at the piano and try out something more interesting.
When I was helping nurse my terminally ill grandmother, I agreed to forego the pleasure of improvised music for 6 months, to allow her a peaceful death. Half an hour after she died, I played an improvised lament, and oddly enough nobody has ever asked me to stop playing since.
But where do I go next with this? There is great potential combining music with ritual, some of which I have explored … but it’s too easy to fall into the simplistic arena of chants, hymns and community singing … the possibilities are so much more expansive, but do I have the imagination to expand?
Thanks, Barbara, for doing me the honour of reading my paper. Although the paper you’ve read focuses on ritual as applied to therapy, the underlying theory applies to any ritualisation, and was developed from my experiments with ritual as a context for multi-artform events, and my explorations in ritual as a form of visual art.
I agree, I have experienced “Spiritual” ritual as confining, crushing all but the tiniest opportunities for creativity, originality and self-expression. However, I have a spiritual approach to life, in which my creativity is rooted. Further, I enjoy ritualising my spirituality creatively. How so? … the thrust of my research has been the attempt to square this circle.
Mary Douglas analysed ritual in terms of its effects on communities. She sees social and religious ritual as mediating “Grid” and “Group” within a society. “Grid” is about how people take on roles in society, the inflexibility of roles, and the difficulty of changing role. “Group” is about the cohesion of a group: to what extent group needs dominate individual needs.
I’ve taken her work, combined with Catherine Bell’s work, and moved it into psychological theory. From here it becomes evident that strong “Grid” is maintained by strong external authority. Conversely, a society in which individuals follow their own aspirations and define their own roles, is characterised by an emphasis on individual responsibility.
Many of the psychological techniques I’ve identified as being used in rituals, are associated with the placement of authority. For instance, “Traditionalism” (identified by Bell). This can be used in two ways: “It’s always been done this way, so that’s how you have to do it”. Strong authority, strong Grid.
Or: “It has been done this way, that way, and another way, let’s explore combining these elements and try this”. Weak external authority, emphasis on individual interpretation, weak Grid. But still a potent ritual.
There are also techniques that promote, or diminish, community cohesion. These can be delivered “Inclusively”, emphasising human commonality; or “Exclusively”, emphasising difference. For instance, communion wine can be presented as representing the blood of Christ – drawing an exclusive distinction between Christians and others; or as representing the blood that flows through all our veins, promoting an inclusive community.
My aim in my creative work is to empower individuals: raise awareness of roles and inter-dependencies within communities, and the world at large, and provide tools for change: “Enabling people to orientate themselves in the world”. To do this, I focus on the psychological techniques that promote individual responsibility, together with those that promote inclusive community cohesion.
My “Technical Analysis” relates to ritual in the same way that the laws of perspective relate to representational painting. Suddenly there is a toolbox, which can be used, not only in designing Ritual Events, but also in designing any kind of event, such as a private view or a performance. Since every human activity contains ritual elements, every activity can be organised in a way which empowers individuals, while maintaining, or strengthening, inclusive community cohesion.