Q1. Why did you decide to become an artist?

Q2. Why did you decide, after realising what it’s really like to be an artist, to CONTINUE to be an artist?

Q3. And, after discovering what it’s really like, why didn’t you decide to become a teacher, a politician, a doctor, a scientist, or something else instead?

Q4. Can art really affect social change?

How many of us at some time (or even all the time, every day) have asked ourselves one or more of those questions. Skirting through a few of the recent blog entries on Artists Talking I am offered a plethora of reasons for a person’s engagement with art; as a form of enquiry, as a way of (sometimes surviving) life, as a lens/new perspective on the world, as a way to communicate and to initiate dialogues. Of course there are many reasons why we take up (and stick with) art. But it isn’t easy. Aside from the financial hardship, the pain of the unheated studio in winter, the uncertainty and the mountain of rejection letters there is also that persistent, yet all pervasive question of why?

Earlier this week I went to see the film Aung San Suu Kyi – Lady of No Fear at the Tyneside Cinema. Watching that documentary about one courageous ladies’ dedication to democracy and freedom in the face of governmentally institutionalised, violent suppression of the people of Burma, I found myself wondering why am I not doing anything worthwhile?

Well, maybe I was being a little hard on myself. But none of the projects I am working on are changing anyone’s social conditions, or petitioning a fight for freedom… “Maybe” I thought (as I often think) “Maybe I could learn medicine and join Médicines Sans Frontières? Or go back to university and study whatever it is you need to become a charitable project manager?”

As we exit the cinema into the cold air of a damp Newcastle night time, I am reminded however that A). I could not afford to go to University and, even if I could, B). I do not have the qualifications required for studying either Medicine, Languages or even Project Management. But, what I do have is a Degree in Fine Art, a Rogets Thesaurus and a community of dedicated and like-minded artist friends and colleagues. If politics truly is personal then that is where we have to begin. With the personal, with what we know, with the here and now of our immediate social and cultural conditions.

And this is where this blog begins, with a realisation that what I’m doing is worthwhile and an intention to make it more so.

Next Steps

With the next edition of CANNED we have decided to look at Collaboration, Exchange and Collective action both as a theme but as integral to the ethos and intentions of the magazine.

On the AA2A residency, I have begun to establish an open source Library of Ideas (meant to challenge the hegemony of the artist genius and to encourage the free exchange and collaboration over ideas).

Finally, I am curating a show at The NewBridge Project called SUPERCONDUCTOR which explores many of these ideas and intentions.

Whilst I hope these developments don’t mean abandoning my visual practice entirely* I am more confident to pursue them without worrying too much about what’s happening to my visual practice in the mean time… I don’t know whether Art can create social change (though projects like Orsay Commons & the Zero Dollar Laptop Project might suggest an answer) but I’m going to give it a damn good try finding out…

*(I still intend to use the print studio at Northumbria to do some lithography – making artist books etc)

11 for 2011 Artist Films (Iris Priest) by Turning Point North East