This will be the first time I have used this blog in the way it’s meant to be used, as a log of a project, or in this case an exhibition. I am showing in the ‘Recursive’ show, curated by Jane Boyer at the No Format gallery in South East London this October.

This blog is part of the way I became involved in the show. I targeted my promotional tweets to a few artists and curators I was following including Jane. She later got in touch with me with an outline of the show which was actually initiated by another of the participating artists Hitomi Kammai.

Working with a curator is a new experience for me, it’s a nice contrast with working on my own and it brings me into contact with new and different ideas and approaches. Sometimes it’s a negotiation or a trading of ideas and intentions other times I just have to remember to communicate what I am thinking.

Having a show to look forward to is changing my thinking and behaviour, to some extent it’s a focus, it’s a fixed point in time so I’ve got to get things prepared and I have to get myself ready. I guess it helps you take yourself more seriously as an artist when you get to show your work to an audience. My shows have now been so far between that this one’s giving me a greater sense of delivering the work to the point where it’s ready to be seen. It feels more like a launch than taking something to market which it also is. I am trying not to get carried away with the expectation of selling things, but my fingers are crossed just in case.

The show is called ‘Recursive’ which is a interesting twist on the concept of repetition and is defined thus: “Relating to or involving the repeated application of a rule or procedure to successive results in time” I see recursion as a cycle much like the creative cycle where you go through a series of stages which do not all feel like progress but which bring you back not to your starting place but to a place where you have assimilated some learning, thus you progress if you are lucky, but not in a straight line.

Recursion is also a term used in artificial intelligence where a robot goes through a cycle of experience and learns from it so that the next time it goes through the cycle it is better informed and can do it better.

So what does recursive mean in terms of my work? In ‘Autobiography”, which is a series of nine, wheeled ceramic vehicles there is some repetition in that each one has four wheels (producing the wheels was certainly a production line). Beyond that point the piece takes mass production as a theme with variations, each vehicle is as different in character as possible, the very opposite of actual car production where the variations are extremely constrained by commercial considerations. In the recursive model I would be learning from making each vehicle, incorporating what I learned into the next cycle of making – which is exactly what happens all the time with tacit or craft skills like clay modelling.

Repetitive obsession is really common among artists. I think if I had more time to spend in the studio I would make a lot more iterations of the same idea than I do currently, just to help work out the technical and aesthetic issues each idea brings up. I seem to have started working faster and more roughly to aid in this. It’s partly because I think I am becoming less precious about the work, I no longer think it’s very important that each piece proves that I can do my job, it’s more important that I get the idea across and often the fastest way of getting it down has most authenticity about it, the most freshness.

This is an eternal conundrum, so often the sketch is the best stage of a work.

Recursive at No Format Gallery,
London SE18 Oct 9th – Nov 2nd


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Value, meaning and the crowd

I am thinking about how our artwork acquires value, how does it move from having an entirely personal value to having value to society in general and measurable value in the market?

My work has value to me because it has significant meaning. I make things that are full of meaning (to me) on many levels, they are rich with layers of ideas some of which are clear and direct, others of which are less clear and more ambiguous, or just not yet consciously identified. I judge my own work by the degree to which it seems to hold a set of meanings that are intended, if the work accrues other meanings by chance or whim during the making process then this may be to my advantage or of course it could spoil the work by distracting from my original intention.

As I work I make a whole series of incremental decisions that are individually difficult to identify but which add up to specific meanings embodied in the work. These meanings give the work its purpose and its character.

Inner meaning and investment

The processes described above are all about meanings that come from or through the artist, these only carry across into the outside world if the meanings are successfully embodied and discernible by others in the work. If this is the case you might expect the work to immediately start accruing real value as something desirable and profitable to trade: “if you want this meaningful work, please invest £xxxx which is the monetary equivalent to this meaning.”

From meaning to commodity

Grayson Perry described in his recent Reith lectures the process whereby a consensus of opinions confers value onto an artists works. To paraphrase his words, broadly this means that an artists works become assimilated into the art canon by an informal art crowd showing an interest and approval gathering around an artists work. For this to even begin happening the artists works have to appear on the art crowds’ radar through the kind of attention that shows, awards, articles and reviews can give. Firstly you have to make a body of work, then you have to bring it to the attention of a number of key people such that it starts to build you a reputation as a serious artist. If you can keep this marketing process going it should gradually imbue your work with increasing real financial value to the extent that your artwork becomes a commodity that can be relied on to grow in value so it can safely be invested in. This process represents the successful transfer of (some of) the meaning in an artists work from the individual to the collective and from an idea embodied in an object to a tradable commodity.

Art as a mountain

It has taken me a lifetime to understand that this is how the process is supposed to work and now I find myself still right at the beginning of it, perhaps the foothills are in sight for me but if the actual mountain range (a career as an artist where I earn the majority of my income through making art) remains a distant vision at least I now know where the path is which I did not when I left art school. A few years ago I was advised* that 80% of artists never progress their careers in art beyond the stage they reach at graduation from art school so I guess there must be a lot of artists, ex-art-students and latent artists in the same boat.

Are meaning and value equivalents?

So what conclusion could I draw from these thoughts, and what if I am wrong, that meaning is not related to value? What if value in art is entirely randomly attributed as it so often appears to the world outside the art business? I suspect there is a lot of guesswork and speculation involved in valuing art just as there is in valuing shares. Although in theory I would prefer it if value was fundamentally linked to meaning, I know this is too simplistic. Value in art is created and maintained by a consensus of ideas which evolve over time and can only be tested by history

my own work is driven by my need to make things and that is directed by my ideas and the meanings I want to convey. I also think some meanings emerge from the unconscious whether we artists like it or not, both these processes, getting ideas from our conscious and unconscious minds out into the world is what artist do for society -it’s why our work has value at all.

*Matt Roberts Arts