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Monday, 21 February 2011

Jack of All Trades

Aaaahhh, the life of an artist... Sitting in my warm studio, looking at the view of sea and sky through my large picture window, and with galleries and buyers knocking on my door every day. Great eh? Why would anyone choose to be anything else?

Sadly that dream is usually a little different from reality. Not to say that my work isn't in demand, but the time in between exhibitions and shows can be anything but plain sailing.

I've been having a good ol' think about this, as I've just left an Arts and Business event where I engaged in some full on networking to promote my May exhibition. At least twice I was asked about the amount of painting time I get in my studio each week, and I guess the answer to this is that some weeks I don't get very much at all.

The life of a practising artist is often less about the art and more about the business of art... something I was never taught in art school. There is nothing glamourous about it (well, ok, perhaps the occasional opening night is a little swanky), and there is definitely nothing easy about it. Indeed, the longer I'm an artist, the more I believe that half the battle to a successful career comes down to bloody minded persistance.

There is sometimes sadly very little art making going on in my studio, but instead there is a lot of serious business: marketing, researching, writing proposals, meetings, accounts, admin, packing and posting, the list goes on! Sometimes it feels as thoug my life could be filled with these tasks and I would be completely busy without making any art at all!

At first this can all seem pretty daunting. I wanna be an artist to create! I didn't sign up for an office job! But wait, what's the point of making art if you have nowhere to put it and no one gets to see it? Very few of us would say they had a fulfilling art career if their work never came out of storage. So that's why I ended gritting my teeth and getting down to the serious job of making myself into a one-girl business.

And guess what? I found that I enjoyed it! I'm an artist but I now I am also confident as a business. Let's face it, when looking for work, us artists are often also in direct competition with other arts professionals such as designers and architects, who usually have extremely polished and professional images. How can we expect to be treated equally, no matter how good the quality of the art we create, if we are not prepared to get our image and other skills up to scratch?

So why choose this life?

Do it if you are compelled to make art. Do it if you want to work really hard at something you love. Don't do it if you think it's an easy life or all about making art. Don't do it if you think it's a quick track to fame and riches.
New work for Artemisia show

I love to paint and I love to create so the fact I can work hard and turn it into a career has always been what I wanted to do. But to prove it's not all about the painting, here's a short run down of everything I've done today...

8.20 am. Studio. Design of new work for group show.
11.00 am. Studio. Completion of painting, mirror plating, wrapping and packing of work for this Friday's show, Artemisia at St David's Hall, Cardiff.
12.30 pm. Lunch. Respond to emails, make phone calls.
2.30 pm. Collect painting from framer.
3.00 pm. Deliver work to gallery. Meeting with exhibition officer.
4.30 pm. Writing of proposal for arts based training day.
5.45 pm. Arts and Business Wales networking event.
8.00 pm. Write blog!

Whew! An artist's work is never done! And not even half the day was spent actually painting! There are other days too, when I don't even get to my studio as I'm devising and running projects, workshops and arts training sessions elsewhere.

Are you bored yet? Surprised? Or does this little glimpse into a day of my life give you a new appreciation for the amount of time, energy and resources that actually go into a piece of art that you purchase?

I'm interested in the experience of ather artists too. Perhaps this blog can begin a larger dialogue about what it takes to devote your life to making art. What kind of support do you think is necessary for artists to flourish as viable businesses? How much, as a society, do we value (or not) art and the making of art?. I believe our contribution is critical, and as a society we need to do more to support the path of individuals who dedicate their lives to the tricky business of making art.


Laura said...

Dear Ruth. I loved reading your blog that was sent to me by a friend.

As a fellow artist, I feel heartned to read that there are other artists out there who have drawn the same conclusion as I have, on the ratio of creative talent needed, versus the business and marketing savvy required to make a living as a creative soul. I love how you describe yourself as a "one woman business girl". It is SO true, and as you quite rightly point out, the amount of time spent in the studio can be comical at times. When I finally DO get out to my studio, I often feel such time pressure to produce something worthy and groundbreaking in time for school pickup and in between dashing to the shops to plan out the families meals for the week ahead (as well as that trip to the framers before they close for the weekend). You are not alone in your thoughts, and I congratulate you for getting on with it with such gusto. I plan on taking a leaf from your book. I think you are right that being artist and business women IS possible. We are endowed with female multi-tasking abilities afterall, so throwing in "can also produce creative masterpiece in the time left over", should be a piece of cake! ps.I love your work. Good luck for the future.

Laura Cramer (Bristol artist)

Ruth McLees said...

Thank you Laura for your great comment. It does feel sometimes that I'm on my own so is lovely to find there are other artists in the same boat as me...