My creek home is far from the centre of the arty world (it's a fair way from the centre of MOST things). Over the decades that I've lived in my funny little house on my funny little farm I've wondered about how to reconcile my connection to this place with being An Artist. (Oh, I don't mean the daily practicalities of making art and of being an arty person - arguably a studio is a studio, wherever/ whatever it is - and I happen to live in a glorious place that I love)... no, I mean what it is to have An Arty Kareer in the Country.
Before I launch into the following spiel - I want to issue a quick codicil and an invitation - This is my simple subjective story - in telling it, I'm not judging others (welllll I AM judging the likes of Damien Hirst and Co...... but not YOU!) oh and I'm ever ready to hear an alternate view of things - so feel free to chime in and tell me where I've got things wrong (I don't bite.... except if you're Damien Hirst and Co.). Are we cool?
Here's what I've seen is the typical country person's Art Kareer path (steps may be completed out of sequence - some steps may be omitted)
step one: leave your home and family, go to a city, complete a visual art qualification (or two... or three...), get yer-self urbanised
step two: schmooze all the right people in all the right places (in some circles this is referred to as 'networking'... )
step three: get commercial gallery representation or join a hip (city) ARI and/or make a critic/ curator/ arts writer fall in love with you (or your work at least!) - get noticed.... become 'someone' (schmoozing ability is a definite advantage here.... as is being in the right [eg city] place at the right time)
step four: win awards and/or receive grants and/or gain residencies and/or have work selected for Big Important art events and/or pedal your wares (including your skills as a tutor/teacher) to far flung places......(schmooze ability and city location in pivotal early stages is unquestionably useful)
Hmmmmmm - I've had a lot of trouble with pretty much everything in this model....
Yes, I've been able to deal in part with the education thing (hello distance education! I love you!)
As for the rest? Wellll they aren't all that conducive to stay-put, grow-your-own, creek-farm-forest living are they? My attachment to place aside, I have almost zero schmooze-ability, and all sorts of problems reconciling my ideas of what it is to be ecologically and environmentally responsible with most Art Kareer examples.
For the most part, I can't help but notice that the Art World is a city-centric, institutionally bound, capitalist creature - and most Important Art (even when it has its heart and soul in the forest or field) speaks of and to an urban(e) audience.
I can't help but notice that the art(ists) who REALLY get noticed rely (usually in no small part) on 'the cult of personality' - and just like in Hollywood - it helps to be young and pretty and to smile nice for the cameras (ps also just like Hollywood, the cameras are only in the cities).
I can't help but notice that art success begets art success - receiving an award in one place is the basis for granting a residency to another and a grant for playing the game so well! (and around and around and around we go!) ... ps - have you noticed how few residencies cater for a family unit? (it is a known fact that artists don't have children - or at least you'd think so according to the Art Kareer model...)
I can't help but notice that work is only deemed capital 'A' Art after it has been ratified by institutional power (the gallery or the university or the auction house..... in the city, city city).
I can't help but notice that trends exist in art just as they do in clothes and music..... at least with music and clothing we can look back and laugh at some of the things we once thought were cool (monster shoulder pads anyone? blue mascara? how about the 'Macarena'? hee hee hee) BUT with Art, no one dares laugh at the $squillions investors and public galleries have forked out for laughably dreadful, once trendy, 'Art' (anyone for Koons 'Michael Jackson and Bubbles'? or how about a nice dead shark in a tank? very smelly stuff indeed!)
Now, I hope I'm not coming off as completely bitter and twisted - because truth is, I have a solid sense of humour about these things (I dare you not to laugh at Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' - the art statement alone is liable to induce uncontrollable laughing spasms that will cause you to snort coffee up your nose....) Of course at times I get a little depressed or a little bit peeved about the citified machinations of the art machine, but every now and then I get quietly and optimistically philosophical (no, not that I'll be the one and only wrinkly, old, country witch who will be plucked from the paddock to the arty pedestal - I'm not THAT optimistic - and I'd rather poke my eyes out with a tomato stake than be deemed the next Damien Hirst) ....
Nooooo, I get optimistic when I see hints that the end of the old art paradigm is nigh
I recently spied this older article from Jonathon Jones:
"I've tried to resist this fact for a few months, but I'm done with illusion. Art as we know it is finished. It is about to be exposed as nothing more than the decor of an age of mercantile madness. On what bedrock might a new art arise? "
I can certainly list some of the things I want a new art paradigm to embrace-:
I want Art that snubs its nose at post-bloody-modernism and bling-bling art stars;
I want Art that circumvents the corporatisation of culture and cult of personality;
I want Art where value is determined by what the art gives rather than what it makes at auction;
I want Art that engages community and is egalitarian in spirit and execution;
I want Art that respects and values fine crafting (where appropriate) without falling into the trap of nostalgic connoisseurism;
I want Art that understands that you don't need to be a Western, white, city boy to make stuff worth paying attention to;
I want Art that is of and for and from an extended connection to country.....
How is this to be achieved? (ahhhhhh - that's the crux of the matter and the $64 000 question isn't it) Well, I've just completed the first step by writing out what I see are the problems and conjuring an optimistic future......
As for the rest - well that's going to be a work in progress....