Tag Archives: the kinks

on art and making a living [part one]

Sunday 11 April 2010

These three small abstract paintings on postcards will be somewhere on display in the main galleries at the King’s Lynn Arts Centre from this weekend to the 22nd May 2010.

Kings Lynn Arts Centre - postcard artworks - Eastern Open
Three painted postcards

They will be for sale at £20 each, as are all the mini artwork postcards works on show.

I hope that someone likes them enough to buy them because I spent some time on them, trying to effect the bleak midwinter Suffolk landscape in abstracted form: dark clods of striated earth, the light dusting of a frost in the furrows, the dull yellowy grey-white skies. I like winter because it seems quieter (but it is not) and less fussy, stripped of all the showiness of nature in full bloom. Daffodils? Who wants to be given flowers with an ugly trumpet nose and no scent? Let them wilt and wither…

I sketched this tree yesterday, a wonderfully knotted, gnarled and probably quite dead oak tree, but still looking dignified in the middle of a lush green meadow near the river…

Sketchbook study - drawing of an old ak tree in a meadow
Sketchbook study of an oak tree, in wax crayon, watercolour and pencil

I have also been asked to donate an artwork to na art auction (not just any artwork, but a high quality, statement piece to attract buyers), which, if it sells (and all works will sell as they start the bidding at £1), myself as the artist will receive nothing.

In all other respects using art to raise funds for an organisation is a very good thing, but I am struggling to find the ‘ends’ let alone make those ends meet. If my work sells I would quite like to have a small cut, if only for the fact that I have invested both time and money into creating it.

Shouldn’t the creator, the artist also be a small beneficiary in the transaction? Would they perhaps like to bid on this page from my sketchbook instead – it only took a few minutes, and in time and money it’s not worth as much as the large painting I intend to donate.

Sketchbook drawing - Coppiced hazel near the riverbank
Sketchbook drawing – coppiced hazel near the riverbank, graphite on paper

Today I discovered a small artwork on the website Etsy (a drawing, not a painting) that I immediately liked and I wanted to buy it because: 1. I just knew I would enjoy looking at it day after day; and 2. I looked at the artist’s website and I quickly gleaned that this artist was earnest, sensitive, skillful and talented. They were not spewing out some random, vomity paintings (VPs with the sides neatly painted), or offering to create any painting to order (an example of the artist’s incredible range of styles).

VP rant aside (I digress), I knew that by buying the small drawing on Etsy that I would contribute to that artist’s wellbeing somehow, and it would motivate them to keep making new art, and it would further validate them as a professional artist. I also thought the drawing might go quite nicely with another piece of art I have. I have a very small art collection, but I’m working on it.

Some artists say that they work full-time but this is not to mean that all of them are making a living wage from selling their art, in excess of £15,000 per year, which is significantly below the current national average wage. Artists find other means of support such as in education and teaching (as I have done), or receive the support of family in their basic living or accommodation needs. Most artists are dedicated professionals and that often means doing other jobs to support the making of their work – but it would be too detracting to say you were an office clerk or a labourer for some hours of the week – professional artists are full-time regardless of the day job.

Dig a little, and you find artists have jobs in every conceivable employment sector, from supermarkets and shops (which I did, when a post-graduate student) to working in factories or warehouses (which I also did for a brief period prior to taking up teaching). My eight weeks working in the toy warehouse was the most tiring, mundane (and noisy!) job ever – any creative drive I thought I possessed immediately faded into the grey cardboard dust of the windowless storeroom. I created no art during this period. However, other jobs such as office administration or customer service do engage some of the transferable skills that contribute to the professionalism of the artist.

I once worked evenings in the call centre of a large mail-order company. I tolerated it because I knew it was only a temporary contract to Christmas, but I hated sitting still for hours in front of a computer. I had to learn everything in the company catalogue – all the special order/dept codes – which, as they were mainly toys and gadgets was perhaps not so dull! When they asked me back the following year I asked to work in packing and dispatch.

I also had a job working in a herbal dispensary where I had diverse duties such as weighing, measuring and labelling stock, packaging products for dispatch, processing orders, parcel tracking, stock-control – made all the more interesting with the support of a close-knit and fun team. Probably the most interesting job I have had was as an usherette at a notable music venue in London – when I left I had to give the torch back.

When I get the opportunity to exhibit my artwork it displaces any despondency I might have about not yet making it as an artist. However, the proposed changes in education funding mean that many contracted teaching hours are likely to be cut – referred to diplomatically as a ‘more for less’ policy. This has created some anxiety. In the meantime I will have to survive – many creative opportunities are lost this way – I miss travelling, seeing new things, meeting new people.

So, if someone says art!, is that a real job? what do you really do for a living?.. or even worse, is that really art?! my dog could paint that!, then I would have to reply gracefully – Yes, art is a real job, a job that requires skill, sensitivity and intelligence, and… your dog paints?

I wrote too much already, too much lazing on a sunny afternoon…