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Blog it to flog it.

After my last two blogs there was a flutter of activity on Twitter and then I got an offer.

My blog about part time artists on a-n struck a chord with a lot of artists. It got a lot of attention, mainly on Twitter. I have started to feel connected to other artists through the blog and through all the surrounding retweets and responses.

Common ground

I have not met very many of the people I am communicating with through this peculiar modern medium but with the ones I have met I found the common ground established by the blog and it’s digital wash very useful as a basis for starting or rather continuing conversations. I think I am talking about networking, something I have never considered my strong point.

Strategy matters

I may have mentioned that I started this blog as part of a strategy. I currently feel that I have had quite a random relationship with career planning, my careers to date have tumbled rather than flowed. However, when I left Redlees studios in west London just over 2 years ago I did have an underlying aim which was to push myself out of that comfort zone and out into the (art) world. I was advised that writing a blog would be one way to start putting my name onto a sort of shared public agenda.

Small signs

What is interesting is that something has started to happen. I am getting more and more small signs that my writing is being read, that my name is getting around in a modest way that would be hard to do through personal encounters. The fact is that writing blogs and firing off tweets is a lot easier than getting your work shown. The amount of organisation, time, money and administration involved in getting works into exhibitions is phenomenal compared to the ease of getting published as a blogger and then telling the world all about it through social media.

The tools are here

The tools are at your fingertips if you are connected through the web. The main obstacle is believing you have something to say. I have been surprised at the richness of the material I have discovered by making this minor commitment to keep writing posts. To date I have managed about one every month on average. It is time consuming, I would have expected to prefer to be making but writing has it’s attractions – exercising a different part of my mind, building compositions and arguments with words is a challenge and it is creative in a very different way to making or drawing.

Meanwhile in real life

The offer I mentioned above is that I have been invited to contribute some work to a themed show. The connection is predominantly through this blog. I am sure this would not have happened if I had not put my head above the parapet in this way. I will be publishing details and tweeting all about the show when it comes to fruition but for now this feels like a Great Leap Forward, a plan that is showing tiny signs that it is starting to work. I am telling you this not just to show off (that may come later) but to encourage anyone that is considering blogging. Blogs can make things happen, if not in an entirely predictable way, certainly more has happened for me than was happening before I started to blog.

Blogging points:

I do not underestimate the barriers to starting writing, after all I have waited decades before I started but here’s some points to consider.

– Blogging can build your confidence by connecting you with other artists.

– Writing is a great exercise in organising your thoughts.

– The organisation involved in writing helps you when you are talking about your work.

– Blogging raises your profile in a way that is complimentary to showing your work.

– Writing is creative in itself and like any creative act, it makes other things happen.


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P/art 2

Of all the posts I have done for this blog, the last one about working part time as an artist has had the most reaction. Because it got such a strong response I want to look at what I have gleaned from those responses.

Part time art working is the norm

I now have a clear impression that the vast majority of artists are part timers. Zeitgeist Art Projects (@ZeitgeistAP) tweeted that

“We only know very few artists who work full time and we know thousands of them!”

I am heartened by this even if I wish it were not true, I now realise I am part of an overwhelming majority. But we already knew this from the a-n 2011 Big Artists survey and yet in my experience this is the last fact most of us want to divulge… Since I did start writing and talking about it however I am finding most artists reciprocate and that most are in a similar situation.

Rosalind Davis at Zeitgeist got in touch to add that “Part time artists include internationally represented artists, who sell work to major collectors, but due to the insecure element of the arts sector remain in part time work or even full time work in order to retain any type of security.” This is another perspective on this issue which indicates that part timing occurs at all levels of our profession.

Our (employment) status

Before I wrote the blog I was concerned about revealing my part-time status as if it was somehow ‘unprofessional’. I am no longer anxious about this, raising the subject has only raised the profile of the blog through shared concerns that are common across the sector. On reflection I think it’s a good idea to discuss this amongst artists and beneficial in the long run. By not being open about our employment status we might help maintain the myth that more than a handful of ‘star’ artists are making enough from their work to do it full time. This re-inforces unrealistic ideas about career prospects for new artists and art students.

This is not something I really want to encourage, although I think I have subscribed to it in the past by dreaming of being ‘discovered’ by the mainstream art world as so many of us do. Perhaps we do this because the myth of the shooting star artist is so powerful in our culture and so central to the stories our media pursues and purveys with monotonous regularity. These are stories with happy endings just like in the movies, but not like the ones the mass of artists are living.

Commitment

I also got a lot of feedback about the level of commitment artists feel however much of their time they can spend practising in their chosen medium. Like this from @TerriHHarper:

“Part-time artist? ‘Creativity’ is full-time, even when the ‘process’ is only part-time: it’s challenging!”

Redressing the imbalance

The burgeoning movement of artists initiatives seeks to redress this imbalance by taking matters into their (our) own hands. These bold assertions of self belief from the grass roots, seem to contain a more grounded ideal, a more realistic model of an artist than the art world could ever produce as it is so dependent on building and maintaining very few present and future star artists – aka investment opportunities. As @gillian_nicol tweeted:

“its a construct of the artworld systems that thrives on hierarchy and needs artists to be exclusive and elite thus their products are high value”

So what might the new model artist look like? I suspect dear reader that it looks pretty much like you, as diverse and rich as you are. That’s vague so I’ll try and clarify it a little ( – could this be turning into a manifesto?)

The grass roots model artist is:

Determined to keep making art. Making things whenever they can.

Defining themselves as an artist above all, whatever else they chose to or have to do to earn a living.

Rich in ideas and skills to realise them.

Someone whose work enhances our culture (whether invited to or not).

Could you add to this? Please feel free to respond.


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