I have received two invitations to fill in an ’artists’ questionnaire’ for Region Uppsala. After crossing the rather alarming box ’age 46 – 65’(!) came a series of relatively simple questions that woke rather complex response in me.
In summary I found myself pondering the same question that I have been asking myself the past few months – albeit in more nuanced and bite-size pieces: what kind of artist do I want to be?
How many exhibitions (solo and group) have I had in the last three years. Did I receive the recommended artists’ fees for these shows.
How many commissions have I had in the past three years, and what were the budgets, including the artist’s fee.
Did I have other employment. If so what percentage of my time (in Sweden read this as percentage of a 40 hour working week) did this employment take. And what percentage of my income did I earn from this employment.
Am I an artist who earns a living from showing? For me me this includes the programmes of talks and workshops accompanying an exhibition as well as direct sales.
I would have to say that I occasionally supplement my practice with an artist fee – it happened twice last year and once the year before. This year I do not (and will not) have any shows where I receive an exhibition fee.
Am I an artist that gets commissions? No, not in the Swedish context of public art commissions where it is entirely possible to make living from such local, regional, national and even privately funded projects.
Am I an artist that has other employment? Yes – that’s me! Interesting the questionnaire did concern itself whether this ’other employment’ was in the arts or not …
… Toto I don’t think that we are in England anymore …
Together these questions were a less than gentle reminder that there are viable ways of being an artist, a full-time artist, in Sweden. Although the reality for many artists here is that they have ’bread jobs’ – employment that puts food on the table – there remains the aspiration and ambition that being an artist is a job in an of itself and that it should be viable and realistic.
I needed to hear this. I need to be reminded to let go of the (mis)belief that save for a fortunate* few us ’ordinary’ artists can never expect to make a living from our practice.
So (ii) …
Do I want to keep having ’other employment’?
No! I am grateful that I have an income and that that income is regular and that it is generated from working in the arts but that is not the same as being an artist.
I want to make my living from my practice rather from my ability to run kids workshops or organise events for other people’s creativity. It is both great and daunting that making a living as an artist is feasible and realistic in Sweden. Last Wednesday listened to an online presentation about working on public art commissions. It was fascinating to hear just how many types of commissions there are – from the smaller scale to the monumental, from that state to private landlords and developers. The commission process seems generally pretty transparent with the commissioners advertising opportunities on well known websites. Artists are invited to register their interest with a few examples of their work and their cv. From the long list of interest a short list is drawn up and those artists then receive a fee to develop a sketch for the actual commission (the fee is consummate with the scale of the project but more often than not it respects the recommendations of the National Artists’ Organisation in terms of payment). Usually one artist is selected for the commission. Occasionally, as has happened here in Enköping, a project is so large (a new swimming pool in this instance) that even though only 1% of the building budget is earmarked for art it is possible to commission two substantial artworks from two artists.
It was really interesting to hear about this way of working, not least to hear about it from an artist who makes a living this way. I am certainly going to keep my eyes open for ’entry level’ commissions … and I am also going to have a good think about how I might present and develop my practice to better suit these types of commissions. After all I would rather be in my studio dreaming up ideas of artworks for libraries, hospitals, housing schemes, town squares and even for corporate offices and headquarters than be in an office dreaming up projects for children other artists to do!
*right time, right place, right family, right partner …