“Don’t give up. It’s really important to trust your impulses as an artist no matter what anybody else says.”
– Judy Chicago
Some time ago in a conversation with my colleague and an artist, he expressed his opinion that one can title herself/himself an artist when one earns her/his main income as an artist. It felt very uncomfortable to me since I was not supporting my second studies of art by working as a housekeeper and babysitter mainly. It kept me thinking long and stretched my anyhow skinny self-confidence of becoming an artist or even being a one. Long-time-cut-short, I see how each one of us who are identified as artists learn different definitions and fall into same traps.
I was privileged to study at what I feel, was the best academy I could study art at, Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Holland. The notion and importance of artistic process were extremely strong, important and present as we students were not taught to produce a product, though in the final stage of an assignment one finally showed a work to fellow colleagues and teachers. But it was rarely possible to go directly, to do something right out of the head without elaborate exploration and experimentation. We had to try out and try out, and re-do, re-try, see what other artists have done, or designers, or world, no matter who, but we needed to explore and get curious about the manifestation of an idea. Because everyone has an idea, but what you do with it, what you let them explore with you, is what you two become. Not the idea, the idea and you.
Photo: Ivana Filip, 2006
During our studies at the art academy, we rarely discussed the value of artistic work and money. As a matter of fact, only when we were buying art. In the last year, the invited artists talked about life after the art academy and their dilemmas, difficulties, advice. One said that art is a solitary work; you work alone, apply to calls and residences alone, read letters and rejections alone, do the work alone. It’s a lonesome job if you’re lucky enough to get there. And it is, but not in the sense of feeling sorry for one. At the end of course, we do it for ourselves because it feels good! And even better when we share it! But, have you thought about the hours that an artist spends during the process of not liking their work? And then still find ways to support this practice with one-after-another stupid jobs on a temporary basis? People generally talk about buying houses, expensive cars, nice art or hot artist art for their desk, something to have, something to own. That’s not an artist’s priority. Some sold their souls for cash, obviously. We do art because we’ve got to do it! Because it is so itchy and irritating that you have to give it a voice, an image, a colour, a taste, a line, a project, a space, a time… It is not a glorification of the art, but hey, what would we be watching and reading during this corona time, if artists were all working in banks, insurance companies, IT’s and governmental institutions? In the end, money is just a paper that someone addresses with fake value!
Art is a discipline where discipline is required. It is profession due to the system that pushes us to professionalise our work, own companies, do marketing, and act if we were all trained in some macho testosterone camp with fake PR’s of success and sleaziness! Art instead provokes you, like my professor said. It is almost, when you say that you are an artist, that people feel insulted, and provoked because the preconceived idea is still alive. You’re a lazy bohemian who lives off drugs and liquor. How dare you live and do what you care about? You should be punished with no money, ha-ha! For it seems to me that the more money one earns, the less pleasant their work is. But, but, but I’d have to check that with some of those who sell a painting for 10 million or more.
My early colleague was a performance artist whose work was grounded in immaterial, engaged and politically driven media. If we remember, performance art in 60’s opposed the society and art scene dominated by money and capitalistic values, and as such employed minimal resources, media, sometimes only body or artist’s body. It was a critique pointed at an exchange value based on the money of the artistic work and as such the work was an event to be seen but not an item to be sold. My colleague did not agree with that, but he nevertheless believed that one becomes an artist only when one supports one’s own life with money drawn from artistic practice. Fun and intriguing!
Consequently, in today’s schizophrenic world of bias and huge hunger to have more, instead of being more, we become having – Erich Fromm “To Have or to Be?”. I try to solve the riddle that many have solved before me, but each person must do it for him/herself. How can we continue our vocation, mission and curiosity and still live in the world, pay our bills and live an abundant life? We need to try. Maybe even try again. Sure, try at all times. And quit. And try again.
Love and thanks,