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.