BEWARE… ranting, sweeping statements and controversial opinions lurk in the text below:
My involvement in arts education as a (sometimes loosely defined) teacher has taken a sort of scatter gun approach, but has taken in every stage from pre-school to post graduate, and in all sorts of settings, formal and informal, universities, schools, sheds, galleries and the occasional village hall and church.
My focus as an educator these days falls mostly into the post-grad. I find I get less snot on my jumper that way.
I’m currently in the processes of organising an event for artist educators, through the Artist Teacher Scheme at Birmingham City University.
(I’m not writing this as an advert, but if you are interested, the information and ticket booking can be found here:
Prompted by this, a conversation has started about all sorts of things around the education of artists including how to actually exist and earn a living. The Arts Council England’s new application portal has come in for criticism too. Sonia Boué’s “Barcelona in a Bag” blog continues that conversation and includes a very handy video about applying for funding. But the common thread that crops up over and over is “Why aren’t we taught this stuff?” I suspect, in part, because the people doing the educating don’t know either, because they are in Education. So many of the artists I know don’t apply for funding because it is such a foggy issue… what exactly ARE the secret words/ knocks/ handshakes? The ACE form when I filled it in for Nine Women was very very time consuming and difficult and although I got lots of help and advice it took me six weeks to collect all the information I needed, sign up all those crucial names and numbers, and then write the right words. Six weeks is a long time. Good job I had nothing better to do like, ermmm, earn a living!
So… transparency… I had a successful ACE application, just the one. It was difficult, but ultimately brilliant. Well worth the time I spent doing it. But that has now run out and I find myself still without a studio and without much of an income. But if anyone wants to talk about the process, I’m happy to help.
Don’t get me started on the whole “do more teaching” thing, because if I did more work for someone else, I wouldn’t make the art. Everyone decides where there own line on time/money has to be… and it moves throughout your life.
Applying for funding is a horrible thing to spend time doing. If I weirdly find myself in the mood, I apply for everything I come across all at the same time. This of course then results in all the rejections arriving at the same time too, but hey ho!
Young artists (well, some) graduate thinking it is possible to earn a living just making the art. I can’t think of an artist that I know who isn’t getting the money from somewhere else to support their art habit. I am teaching in universities and galleries and the occasional school (see snot reason above). Most of the people close to me are earning a living doing arts-related jobs at least, but many find this rather soul destroying and a couple have said they would rather do something in Sainsbury’s then at least they would be able to think about their own art while they stacked the shelves, rather than their students’ or someone else’s.
We have to start teaching students the Business of Art. We have to live, in the real world, bills have to be paid. It shouldn’t be the case that a woman in her middle age has to scurry about asking important people stupid questions… but that is what I did.
This education has to continue. The letters CPD trip off the lips of teachers on a regular basis, so much so they lose their meaning. But I WANT CPD! I want CPD that helps me to continue along this path I have chosen, and will provide me with the means to generate some cash. I promise to spread it about to other artists – I already did. I want to learn more, and develop in a continuous, professional manner. I don’t want to do a PhD, but that is what is expected post-MA. It isn’t right for all of us.
All of the current issues about art in the curriculum and so on are inextricably linked to this. How can we expect others to value us if we don’t value ourselves? How artists earn a living is currently not transparent. It needs to be. No wonder parents don’t want their children to “Do Art”. If we swan about, not earning money and not being professional, it will only get worse. If we have this wishy-washy attitude to exactly HOW an artist can earn money, and have little cliques of people who have a little pot of money that they won’t tell anyone about for fear of it getting stolen, no one learns or earns anything. When actually, if you have a bit of funding, spread the news, tell everyone how to do it, and spread the cash too. A little bit of arts funding goes a long way, and has more of an effect than the economical. We need a micro-economy here… lend/give someone a fiver. Charge no interest. Support a kickstarter campaign for a couple of quid. I guarantee you will get it back when it is your turn.
It doesn’t have to be a big project, it might be manageable in whatever the rest of your life is doing. They key is getting on with it, but treat it professionally and conduct yourself as such.
Be a Professional Artist…
…even if for 40 hours a week you are stacking shelves in Asda. Get used to telling people what you are doing, and who you are.
So… it was important to me personally, when talking about what sort of event we planned for Artist Educators next month, that we talked about arts practice that didn’t just sit in The Studio. This event is about artists that do it in their school lunch times at their desks amongst the marking, on their laps in front of the tv with their children, on their laptops, on the train to work, and while they run… and into their dictaphones in the car, and on the back of the gas bill… and on their phone…
…and in their heads.