Footnotes: the emerging artist

1. Provinces versus city

My first impressions have been how serious, and openly ambitious artists are in the city. This ‘can-do, must-do’ attitude is good for one’s artistic health, which is not to say that it doesn’t exist in the provinces, but Deptford is a vibrant city-based artistic community at an exciting time, where the do-it-yourself culture, started by the the YBAs in the eighties is now influencing a whole new set of graduates keen to build on the East End success but across the river in cheaper, grittier Deptford, South London.

2. Telling rather than showing

At a recent discussion [24 May 2010] focussing on opportunities for emerging artists at The Jerwood Space, David Rayson, head of painting at the Royal College of Art, compared an artist’s career to that of making a film, and how at the beginning, out of necessity, you play all the parts, you are the director, producer and actors. After making the film you have to find someone to show your film. And it is this idea ‘of finding someone to show your film’ that, after making the work itself, is at the forefront of what it is to be an artist, and David Rayson’s analogy sums up beautifully the challenge facing the emerging artist today – how do you get your film shown?

A while ago the phrase ‘professional development’ was on everyone lips, and much funding was aimed at ‘professionally-developing’ artists. However, what the PD schemes often lacked, at the end of them, were the exhibition opportunities, themselves. They were good at helping one to realise a film, but unable or unwilling to show that film.

In retrospect, was professional development not the job of the art schools we all attended? By the time I graduated from the University of Brighton in 2003 we had received only two short lectures on the real world of ‘being an artist’. And, no-one could foretell the isolation of one’s first year out. However, today finding a studio albeit, a cramped shared, just-affordable space, seems to be a priority.

In April, BBC4 screened a two-part television documentary series, Goldsmiths: But Is It Art? This followed a class of Fine Art MA students at Goldsmiths. Gerard Hemsworth, head of the MA course, had two pieces of advice for the graduating students, I paraphrase:

Take responsibility for your work

Be visible

These might seem rather obvious, but actually, in terms of ‘getting one’s film shown’ they are fundamental to the emerging artist.

3. But what is an emerging artist?

This was the question I posed, when participants in the, aforementioned, Jerwood debate [24 May 2010] were asked to send in questions beforehand. Disappointingly, my question was not on agenda that evening. However, in any debate, is it not important to begin with a definition, so that audience and panel alike are aware of the level of the discussion? I think the chairman, David Cotterrell, had quite a tough job, and it was not helped by the ’me-me-me’ graduate who said he was attending the ‘emerging artist’ debate in the hope panellists could recommend ten commercial galleries he could approach for representation. Oh My God, like Emily Speed*, I was cringing, too. What a selfish question, and after this, the debate was reduced to advice about the bare essentials of ‘how-to-network’. And in fact, there was no debate.

Question: Do you have to be a recent graduate to be an emerging artist?

Who confers the ‘emerging artist’ status and whose aspirations are projected? Is it just a practical term to do with age & experience, student or professional status? Or is the idea of the ‘emerging artist’ a more aspirational term that allows curators and galleries to edit-in or out those who don’t fit. As, indeed, artists, themselves, will do as they begin to assess their own place in the hierarchy of how to emerge.

* See Emily Speed’s a-n blog: Getting Paid. Post, 16 June 2010.