On this blog I aim to discuss my ideas and frustrations about being an artist and the arts rather than my practice.
It is not often I am so hurt and outraged by someone or something that I feel compelled to write about it, talk about it or even mention it. I would normally just brush it off or go sulk in private.
How can you say to an artist that in their work “it’s not obvious how it might promote critical dialogue.” and that “It’s not clear to me how the work can acquire meaning”. I thought at all work could generate conversation (what I understand to be critical dialogue) and meaning, some meaning, any meaning. No matter how small to somebody, somewhere, somehow! How can works simply have NONE.
The culprit of this outrage was founded from an email conversation with a small-scale London based curator, which turned into a beast. Initially I had emailed the space explaining that “I have been trying to look for more information about yourselves and methods of programming. I would be really interested in finding out more.” I was searching for more information besides what appeared on their website, it appeared a very interesting space.
I had a response very quickly, this impressed me as sometimes you can be waiting weeks, or end up never getting a reply. I liked that this person was organised. I love organised.
They explained that their programme is “haphazard and opportunistic and not planned far in advance.” Great, this means that they might be responsive to what is happening around them and to the wider art world. This could mean that they are open to artists coming to trial brand spanking new ideas within their space and asking peers for critical feedback. They went on to say that “the content has to be at least as good as half a pint of beer and we don’t take abstraction seriously. The shows are quite short, sometimes very short”…. oooookay! – If I was a curator I am not sure I would be explaining my curatorial objectives as only having to be “as good as half a pint of beer”! I would want the work I showed to be as good as the best real ale you can buy and a full pint at that. Anyway, the conversation continued…
At this stage I feel I need to show you a full transcription of the email dialogue. I do not publish this readily, I feel nervous showing you, but I feel that I need to in order to generate discussion about whether this is really acceptable conduct and behavior. I love that the art world is subjective – it means that there is something being made for everyone tastes. If we all thought the same, life would be pretty dull and boring. The gallerist is of course entitled to their own opinions, and I would not be hurt had they just explained that they did not like my work, but it is their narrow-mindedness and disbelief of whole movements of art that upset and worry me.
Being a full-time freelance artist requires you to self motivate daily. Rejections are fully acceptable and tolerable, they are part of the territory. It is really helpful when it is further explained why you haven’t been chosen and how you could improve said works, this aids in the development of new work. This feedback, however, was far from being helpful or meaningful, it was damaging and thoughtless.
I am all for being honest! Bloody hell… my middle name is honesty. I respect it as a trait in people. However, I think there is a difference between being constructive and being destructive and this person was definitely the later.
I hope you had a good weekend? Thanks for getting back to me.
I am looking to develop my practice by engaging in critical dialogue with other artists and curators. I am looking for opportunities to present my work and receive open feedback. I am looking to get out of Manchester and open this dialogue further afield, *** ******** **** seems like a suitable and productive place to maybe encourage this?
Are you open to receive proposals? If so, could you offer me any advice on your selection process, so I am not totally off track with my ideas! You can view my work on my website: www.liz-west.com . If not, I would love my work to be thought of for inclusion in future shows/events. I often make work where I respond to the space site-specifically, but I am also developing a new series of sequential colour studies/photographic works.
Many thanks and best wishes,
We’re open to suggestion so by all means make one. It might be best to visit first, then you’ll have a notion what it might mean to do something at *** ******** **** rather than anywhere else in London. Glancing at your portfolio, it’s not obvious how it might promote critical dialogue. All the colours are agreeable and seem to be applied indiscriminately. It’s not clear to me how the work can acquire meaning, or at least meaning that could be discussed critically. I do know of various doctrines on the meaning of colours but they tend to be dogmatic.
All the best
I do give myself rules and use systems in the application and choices of colours and making or arrangements; they aren’t and have never been applied indiscriminately. Its a shame this is not evident within all of the work. Food for thought and something to work on for me.
I am a little confused about your statement; “it’s not obvious how it might promote critical dialogue”. What I am interested in doing is getting and hearing peoples opinions about the work and starting a conversation about it; its origins, its process, its rational, its form, its concept, its aesthetic, etc. I was under the impression from my experience that any work could be discussed critically and therefore encourage critical dialogue (as in a crit at art school) as long as the artist is willing to hear it, respond to it and then perhaps implement the advice and feedback.
Surely, most considered art work has meaning and therefore can be discussed critically? Of course, it depends what you understand as ‘meaning’, but I believe meaning can be generated from what a viewer sees in the work, whether this be; formally, aesthetically or conceptually, and how it makes people feel; emotionally, psychically, mentally and sometimes spiritually. People often have very psychical and emotional responses to my work as it impacts on the given space creating whole environments, does this render is meaningless?
Art, being such a subjective career, is a tricky one. I know it would have been easier to say ‘I don’t like it, thank you very much’, but I appreciate that you have considered your response.
Thanks for taking the time to write.
Sorry for making my comments perhaps too brief. What I mean by indiscriminate is that you don’t select the colours, but prefer to show some of each in arbitrary arrangements that are likely to pleasing and mostly immune from criticism. It’s not important whether I like it or not, but there’s nothing much to say about it. Artists used to believe that primary colours represented spiritual values or qualities and could induce particular effects in the viewers of a synaesthetic, quasi-religious or magical nature. I don’t believe it. If I did believe it, I could only refer to the work to assert my doctrine, but that’s not my idea of a conversation.
All the best
This did not warrant my replying.
Did I mention I hate writing when its really just ‘art bollocks’ I needed a dictionary to translate some of what they said.
Being an artist has certain pressures associated with it, not everyone understands these pressures, of course. It is only those working within creative fields that seem to ‘get’ it. Finding enough drive to lead your own self-initiated activities on a daily basis can be a struggle to say the least. It takes willpower, determination, ambition and the knowledge that you may never live the life of a millionaire to become a creative.
Those not involved with the arts seem to think our career choice is a walk in the park. The common misconception is that we get up at whatever time we choose, work from home perhaps; think we have total and utter freedom…
… We do have freedom, to an extent. But in order to be successful, you can’t just sit around all day at home after a nice lie-in. If we lounged around all day we would never progress, never make any money and certainly never win any supporters. We need to be seen to be doing things, getting ourselves know by; blogging, making, going into our working studios, being public about our activities and engaging with the public. Sometimes though it is not possible to maintain such drive.
After a major exhibition, commission or project I often find it hard to get going again. I don’t think this behaviour is unusual. I hope, or presume, this hardship isn’t just felt by me? When we have poured blood, sweat and tears into a project, it can be exhausting. There is no wonder that it is difficult to pick up where we left off.
Last year I made a solo exhibition of large light-works in a vast industrial unit in Manchester City Centre. I prepared for the show for approximately six months; I secured funding, worked through new ideas, made lots of work, prepared promotional materials, marketed the exhibition, had lots of people come to look and critique the new work, then… then it was all over. I had an overwhelming feeling of pride, yet also felt incredibly hollow. That emptiness came from not knowing exactly what was going to come next, I was secretly terrified. Where was my next pay cheque going to come from? When was the next time I would have the opportunity to show my work publicly again? Where were my new ideas going to come from?
With all this in mind I decided to set a daily project. I was initially given the idea for this project by an art college tutor, she instils drive into students on a daily basis and therefore is well versed is helping people when they feel stuck. That tutor also happened to be my mother meaning she wanted to help me for more than just professional reasons.
She told me I had to make, document and take apart a new idea everyday I went into my studio. This sounded simple and easily achievable. Not too scary.
I took these instructions as a starting point and then twisted them to fit my own agenda. I gave myself a set of rules for how to make the work; I had to use make-shift methods for construction instead of perfect craftsmanship; I had to use materials that were already available to me within my studio space, therefore I could not buy anything new to use; I had to clean my studio completely so it was clean and fresh ready for the following day; I would try and sustain the project for as long as I found it helpful and necessary (this turned out to be 25 days); I would write about each day on my blog, this helped contextualise the new idea.
On the very first day of my project, I felt extremely nervous as I travelled into my studio on the bus. I had no idea what I was going to create, no idea of the materials I would choose and no clue about how people were going to respond (including my dear mum). When I told people what I was doing, they thought it was exciting and liberating, by the end of the project I found this to be true.
I arrived at my studio, procrastinated for a while (this involved; making a brew, listening to the radio, re-arranging and tidying my belongings, writing a to-do list and chatting to fellow studio holders). The time came when I knew I just had to get on with it. Grabbing the nearest thing to me, which happened to be lengths of CLS timber left over from a past installation, I decided to wind some tape around top to make a tripod structure. It seemed easy so far, what was I so nervous about? I got into it. By the end of the day I had created a swinging light structure using red, green and blue fluorescent bulbs that hung from my impromptu tripod and created multiple shadows of rainbow hues.
This initial nervousness (sometimes fear) turning into delight (and relief) happened everyday for the next 25 working days. I had produced lots of new ideas and multiple configurations for new works. I nicknamed this output my ‘Construction Project’, as I did exactly that; construct.
The deliberate selection versus the final placement and position of my materials made me think in a different way. I now feel liberated and able to think freely.
I have just finished a series of thoughtful and time-consuming commissions; an outdoor light work for Kendal Calling music festival, a series of workshops and artworks for Blackpool Illuminations and the design and fabrication of a crazy golf hole for a curated project in Croydon. In the past I would have felt unsure about the future, instead I am excited and raring to get back in my studio, knowing I have the constructs and knowledge of how to sustain my practice as an artist.
For further infomation about Liz West’s work please visit http://www.liz-west.com
A word on creative blocks
When you rely on your creativity to pay the bills and build your reputation, you can’t afford to be short of ideas or the energy to put them into action. When you can’t get over it, under it or round it; what do you do? Often in an artists career we come to a dry patch, its hard to think of ideas, we get stuck, we hit a wall. Whatever you want to call it, it can seem impossible to overcome it.
Recently I hit a creative dry patch. To get my practice moving again I took on a self-initiated project whereby I constructed, documented and deconstructed a new idea for a work everyday I was in my studio. I set myself rules, e.g. that I could not buy any new materials, that I had to use what was already in my studio and that I had to leave a clean empty space ready to start again the next day. I set myself a time limit of three weeks to undertake this project. You can read abotu how I got on here: www.a-n.co.uk/p/3636906/.
What tactics have you employed to get over this hurdle if we have ever encountered it?
· month, week, day projects to kick-start
· discussed our work with others
· stopped practicing for a while, until the ideas naturally return
· worked on something else mindlessly before returning to work
· returned to education (MA, PHD, etc)
· got another job
· try a different approach
· visited somewhere to inspire our thoughts
I would be interested to hear from other artists and what tactics they have used to get over it???
“It is no good getting furious if you get stuck. What I do is keep thinking about the problem but work on something else. Sometimes it is years before I see the way forward.” – Stephen Hawking
“The best cure for a dry period to simply to keep at it. Good things are happening, soon to be revealed.” – Eleanor Blair
“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” – Barbara Bush
“The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality…” – Pema Chodron
“As well as many subspecies, the main blocks are fear of failure after previous success, fear of success due to a sense of unworthiness, lack of potential venue, jaded attitude, crisis of confidence, evidence of persistent poor quality, lackadaisical motivation, and common everyday shortage of ideas.” – Robert Genn