An art and economics philosophy blog by Emilia Telese
Call for artists: Contribute to PhD research
Were you an early or mid-career artist practising in the UK in any of the following years: 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010?
ACross the UK
Artists practising in the UK who were early or mid-career in any of the following years: 1980, 1990, 2000, 2010.
Artist and academic Emilia Telese is looking to interview around 30 artists for her collaborative doctorate study exploring artistic practice and the economy in the UK, with Loughborough University and a-n The Artists Information Company, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
If chosen you will be asked to answer 5 questions in a Skype interview lasting approx 30 minutes. Participants will be offered a fee of £30.
See the link below for more about Emilia’s collaborative doctorate study.
To be considered, email your CV to Emilia Telese by 20 December 2017.
Emilia Telese/Loughborough University/a-n
20 Dec 2017
I’m writing this from Maastricht, where I presented a talk and workshop on my ideas of The Artist As Entrepreneur for the annual creative industries conference organised by The Artist and The Others (programme here http://theartistandtheothers.nl/event/conferen…), an interesting Netherlands based organisation linking artists and business. Strangely, the Fine Arts Academy in Maastricht, which was hosting the conference, didn’t send any students to participate, even though they’d been told by the conference organisers a few months ago. Most people who attended were either from economics related faculties, EU finance and culture departments managers, or former arts graduates who had heard about this event from social media.
In my view this highlights and illustrates a profound and rooted problem with arts education institutions which is at the base of the discussion about artists and money.
In the XVI Century, Fine Arts Academies were created to give a philosophical framework to the former apprenticeship-based system of art education. The first one was the Fine Arts Academy of Florence, founded in 1563, which incidentally is also the one I graduated from exactly 433 years later in 1996.
In introducing the study of aesthetics, physics and other theory based subjects, aspiring painters and their professors sought to step away from associations with manual labour, which previously had been linked with painters in a disparaging way. Yet this also marked a semi-conscious detachment from the idea of “running a business”, which is also what artists do, especially now, if they want to make a living through art rather than do it as a hobby.
The thought that an artist should just spend all day making art, without thinking about the practical aspects of what they are doing, such as for example, being self employed, feeding their family and themselves, seeking and applying for commission opportunities, etc. is in my view ludicrous and riddled with the shamelessly class-system related idea that all talk of money is “dirty”. Only those who never need to worry about money can afford to completely dismiss all talk of it.
As a comparison, a 2000 statistic by the Arts Council of England said that only 2% of an architect’s time is spent drawing. The rest is planning, admin, thinking up new projects, and dealing with potential and existing clients. That doesn’t mean that Zaha Hadid was less of a genius.
Chatting to someone on Twitter just prior to the conference, my eyes had to read the odious sentence “But if an artist is doing things for money, they’re not a REAL artist”.
This sentence is odious for a number of reasons. In the first instance, it relates perhaps, in the mind of the person who said it (and presumably believed it), to the idea of “selling out”, a bit like those people who don’t buy Metallica albums post 1991.
Secondly, because there’s nothing wrong with artists wanting to make a living out of what they do. Doctors, architects and hairdressers all generally love what they do, but they still get paid for it.
And thirdly, because there’s a difference between artists doing some commercial work for need of money (nothing wrong with that either, if needed) some of the time, whilst still making art which carries forward one’s research threads , and the idea of an artist being like a post-modern Cindy Crawford in the 90s, not getting out of bed for less than $10,000 (as if!). I’m not advocating that all artists start to sell souvenir portraits of Prince George in the streets of London for a living, or even that they betray any of their principles or lines of research. Merely that there’s no shame in trying to make their current work financially sustainable.
Yet a lot of people still associate the idea of artists and money with negativity. Sometimes artists themselves do it. Sometimes it is an idea perpetrated by some art schools which (wrongly and shortsightedly) don’t place any importance on the practical aspect of making art, thus teaching students anything but running a business as artists, and preventing them in some cases from attending potentially life-changing training in professional practice, which in most UK colleges still only consists of one or two lectures at the end of the last year of studies and that’s it, off a graduates goes to flip endless burgers until the mind-numbing reality of trying to be an artist with no money sinks in and they decide to concentrate their artistic flair on writing daily specials menus.
This is a problem which affects most countries where artists exist, including the UK and northern Europe (supposedly “forward” countries), despite the fact that European statistics place the Creative Industries at the top levels of the GDP generating areas, with the Visual Arts alone generating 127.6 billions of Euros and employing 1,231.5 million people in 2012 (data: EY) and similar figures in 2014. EUROSTAT data states that the creative industries grow at a pace 1% faster than the rest of the EU economy.
But where are visual artists placed in those statistics?
The culture of shunning all talk of business in art schools contributes to a cohort of artists coming only from socially privileged parts of society, or in the best of cases, to new graduates scrabbling around to find information about how to be an artist, and quitting in between.
And it keeps artists poor.
In my opinion, one is no less an artist if they try to make a living out of being one. In fact, being paid for at least some of the work that one does, allows for more blue-skies experimentations, more crazy plans and ideas, and perhaps an a-cappella version of Death Magnetic.
A staggering 8 years after the last post on this blog, I wondered whether what I was writing in 2008/2009 is still relevant today. Essentially I was asking: Where do we stand, as artists, within the UK economy? How do we relate to society?
Personally, I have evolved as an artist since I graduated in 1996, and through much, much toil managed to exhibit in places that were only in my wildest new graduate dreams : The Venice Biennale, The Louvre, the Freud Museum, ZKM. St Petersburg, Milan, New York, Paris. Enormous joy.
But these opportunities did not always come with money attached, and somehow there was the sense that being able to make art at all is a privilege, notwithstanding painfully low incomes, battling with local authorities’ decades-old perception of how much you should be paid (with diligent mention of a year 2000 brochure on paying artists) and the necessity to always stay focused, lest you lose that momentum where you’re flavour of the month and end up living in a skip.
In my career, I tried to point out to whoever was commissioning/curating/funding my work at the time, that being paid is not only desirable but a genuine right, since most of my work is not object based but ephemeral in nature: installations, performances, sound art, digital media. At different times, every time I mentioned payment I got the following responses: empathy, shoulder-shrugging, hostility, hilarity, approval, disapproval, lengthy quotes of Marx, lengthy quotes of the Bible, laughs, camaraderie, and invitations to conferences. My friend and fellow artist Alistair Gentry made a fantastic book about this: Career Suicide, Ten Years as a Free range Artist. It should be on every artist’s bedside table, in fact I invite Alistair to distribute it like a Gideon Bible, in the drawer of every artist’s studio desk. Get it here
In my personal life, I got married and had a beautiful daughter. Just like many fellow women artists, this complicates things a bit, but not in a bad way. A different, more majestic kind of creation is at work. Having made my beloved daughter allows me to appreciate life itself even more, and as a person who notices the finer details in life, made it so that I could look at every atom, every blade of grass, with a renewed love and knowledge. yes, I am very privileged in that sense. Even more enormous joy.
But how can I create a life/work balance with the challenges posed by both my career and parenthood, as well as the ever-fragile income security that comes with being an artist?
One of the things that I have started in the years since my last blog post here, is a PhD in Cultural Policy. The Artist As Entrepreneur, in collaboration with A-N and The University of Loughborough (originally awarded by the University of Warwick, the PhD was moved with my Warwick supervisor Eleonora Belfiore’s new role as Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough).
The PhD gives me the opportunity to study in depth the role of the artist in the UK and offer – to myself, to fellow artists and to the “industry” as a whole – insights into the evolution of such role and what it means in this country. It is essentially the expression of my lifelong interest in arts and economics as well as a great opportunity to delve into the ginormous a-n archive since 1980.
You can read a description of my themes here on a-n:
On this blog, I will chart the progress of the PhD and hope to generate discourse around it, as well as documenting what happens in between.
This also nicely links with a-n’s just launched five year Valuing Artists campaign, which was recently in the news: a much needed structured look at what we do, how we do it and why we are worth it.
A Class Act: Towards The democratisation of the Artist
The relationship between making art and social heritage is a complicated one in this country.
At Seeds of Change, one of the NAN Roadshow events exploring the art maket, which I organised at the ICA, London curator Fred Mann (director of East London gallery Fred, and formerly one half of Rhodes & Mann) stated: “In the UK, much of the art world is connected to the class system. Artists should be careful what they wish for, as some of the early artist-led initiatives have now become Thatcherite models in order to fit in with what they perceive as the art market. Where is the art debate when that happens? How much are we prepared to compromise?"
The democratization of art goes hand in hand with the democratization of the artistic profession. Creating an infrastructure where individual artists are able to be self-determined and apply directly for financial support is essential to both, in countries where making art is considered a luxury of the few who are not struggling to survive.
I believe that in the UK supporting individual artists, as well as organisations, contributes to the perception of art as relevant to society, as opposed to it being the preserve of the affluent.
(A Class Act, part II)
In Italy, the perception of an artist as a socially valid professional has been socially accepted since the times when Renaissance artists would have their "bottega", their workshop right in the heart of the city. Even though you couldn't afford a painting, you could see an artist at work, perhaps even have a chat with them about the meaning of their art, or the price of bread. Their bottegas' presence amongst the other traders and in full view of any passer-by, demystified the process of making art and had the side effect of creating a culture in which being an artist and enjoying art would not be just a the preserve of the rich, generating the democratisation of the artistic profession.
Italy is an extremely difficult country for contemporary non-commercial artists to receive public funding directly, which means that artists have to work mainly in a commercial way to make a living. But bottegas still exists, and artists act as direct agents of their own work, alongside the curators of the galleries who they work with . The difference is in the public perception of art as socially valid, which -in the right political climate- would mean that if Italian artists were publicly supported the public wouldn't scream outrage at the loss of hospital beds in the name of art.
But are the UK public really screaming outrage? This is what the tabloids would have us believe, but in the UK there is a lot of evidence that public interest for contemporary art has improved a lot in the past fifteen years. Arts Council England's research Taste Buds pointed to that, saying that the UK has the potential to double its art market.
Here a crucial distinction must be made: allowing the art market to grow to improve public perception of artists' value in society is one thing, supporting and fostering individual artists operating in a non-commercial way to allow them to exist is another. The two are not mutually exclusive.