Wednesday, January 11, 2012

on having an Arty Kareer....

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....

stay tuned.

(I'm not going anywhere!)



  1. i wonder how one can NOT be connected to country, or as i often say land or landscape. it is exactly why we all are making anything, at all, ever. that's how i see it.

  2. yes I mean for the word 'country' to be understood as 'land' 'landscape' 'place' etc.... and 'place' of course may be rural, urban, suburban etc...... its not all about being in the woods hugging trees (although thats good too eh?)

  3. Oh, I am soooooooo with you on this one! All the schmoozing and self-selling and trends and "who you know and where you live not what you do" have been constant teeth grinders for me.

  4. Yay Ronnie! Well said! Some of us city folks can also feel isolated because we're not interested in playing the game either. What happened to the artwork speaking for itself, creating its own merit, connecting and moving people in a meaningful way?

  5. Good for you Ronnie, I hope that you will find a way to encourage change. If it's any consolation, the networking/schmoozing mentality is everywhere in all kinds of vocations for those that want to get to that perceived top rung of whatever. Some will always have the gift of the gab, abundantly over-the-top confidence and a 'no holds bar' attitude to push themselves up 'the ladder of whatever to achieve whatever' at all costs (shock value or not)... and there will always be those willing to embrace them... to climb their own ladders...etc. etc.

    I still like to think (hope) that in the long run, Real Talent will always prevail ....ever the optimist hey!!

  6. Wow Ronnie, I'm at a bit of a loss as to where to start with my reply, so much covered in your first 'arty industry' post...
    So apologies if this reply turns to be a bit of a ramble.
    I'm on the north Gold Coast, not city and not rural either now, so I can't comment on rural art experiences, or how much they vary to city and city fringe artists.
    I'm often thinking about what makes art relevant today, and how do I connect with a broader community. Connecting is important, for what is art if no one sees it? An audience, viewer, engagement, response, whatever that may be, is part of what I enjoy about art and in some way completes or opens the artwork to further development and perhaps meaning.
    I feel the term Schmoozing generalises the process of connecting. I enjoy looking at art, visiting galleries, talking about art, discussions with colleagues, etc. All of this develops connections and makes me feel part of the larger community of art and artists. I guess I don't think networking is all about climbing the career ladder, sometimes it's about finding an audience or a place to connect with community. It has been an important part of developing my practice.
    There's so much more to discuss, but this will start.

  7. Having made the choice long ago to live a secluded life in an isolated rural place myself, this resonates. And now that I have physical limitations as well and can't travel out of the area... my opportunities to take part in that model you describe are getting to be very few indeed. I've decided that I like our alternate arts universe online. How fabulous it is that we can even be having this conversation from different corners of the world!

    Another aspect too that you touched on that grates is that whole craft/art divide--something book artists, even still, must deal with as well.

    And I know what you mean about schmoozing. Art openings are generally not my idea of a good time!

  8. I agree with Nicola on the subject of smoozing. My own work, playful or not is often inspired from connections I have with other artists (great artists or unknown). Sometimes, an artist makes art mainly for the purpose of nurturing oneself and sharing that inner sanctum through exhibit.
    Sometimes, we are aware of the hogwash but have no interest in paying much attention to the commercialism.Everyone speaks their own voice in their own way.

  9. thanks guys for taking time to leave such thoughtful comments.....

    ellen - I suspect many of us have had great art/craft/design divide discussions (just this week I chatted away with calligraphic mates - online of course - and my thoughts regards the state of play with CALLIGRAPHY have been published a few times .... you've reminded me, that's another topic I should vent on in here ;~)

    thanks nicola for your great thoughts (well thanks everyone of course!) .... whenever I put something like this 'out there' I do so not because I necessarily expect everyone to agree with everything - nor to convert folk.... (but perhaps to convince folk to to consider things? hmmmm)

    on the use of the word 'schooze' - I deliberately chose this as it has a small undertone of sliminess about it wouldn't you say? there's a whiff of the snake oil salesman about it..... 'networking' and 'connection' have a more neutral tone.... and for me 'community' connotes something mildly positive.... but 'schmooze' ooozes icky stuff from the pores - its the sort of non-genuine, smarmy, 'air-kiss' kiss arse, crocodile-smiling, 'stab you in the back' sort of 'networking' I wanted directly to allude to..... I think we've all had that experience....

    So much of our current culture is swimming in a sea of smarmy schmooze..... its not a pleasant sensation....

  10. What a BIG, wide-ranging topic Ronnie.
    Everywhere I've lived I see complex stories. Novels are full of angst either born of unchanging parameters or too much change & movement, where ties are broken or damaged.
    My lament is we often don't talk (or listen) deeply enough across perceived divides of experience, thus allowing false perceptions to predominate. Biographies and interviews to me are great cos they reveal vulnerability behind appearances. Achievers we know paradoxically come from very harsh stuff ... propelled by need to overcome. I read Steven Hawking stuffed around at Uni till his reversal of fortune. Howard Arkley wrote talent and blessings don't necessarily push people forward. He saw students w huge talent & little drive. And he actually took his life at the height of his international success.
    When my rented home in Melbourne burnt down in 2000 I moved to a NSW regional town where I could rebuild, aged 42, with no money and scant possessions of value... then worked tirelessly to turn things around. 8 years later, due to serious illness, loss of income and home, again, I moved here to live with family... aged 50. Without a computer, website or profile till 3 yrs ago I had much to do! Part of my rehabilitation was to get all that in place... with the support of family behind me luckily!
    However ... I've copped it from some who might read a post on my blog & madly decide I'm a fancy city schmoozer doing residencies, living the grand life. I dont have children so they could say I have it easy... believe me, a lot of married women have said that to me over the years from the comfort of their lovely homes, even when I was homeless. And after 35 relocations whose counting?
    Maybe some people do well because its all laid out for them ... often I find life infinitely more complex each time I get the real story though. I can only move on when I do authentic stuff that makes sense to me. I've given up worrying about old age. I have no confidence I'll be around then... so I get on with today. I work with what I can and try not to worry too much.
    A last thought ... I reckon failed communications come when people dont get the other. I think that happens all the time irregardless of where we live and what we do. I see it in everyday life, not just in networking. It takes effort to be real with ourselves, let alone each other ...we come from such different places and don't always recognise it or make room for it!
    For what its worth I would focus utterly on what you have that is already with you... just keep building that Ronnie. Three years ago I stepped into something that cohered 30 years of effort and focus. Before that the pieces were still separated... now they are working together. Stuff people criticised me for now is working for me. Get that! It only came when I did what I felt compelled to do ... not what was seen as a good thing to do.
    LIfe is pretty damn curious!

  11. i think what you are doing, how you are living your life, the choices you are making in regards to your career, are all positive steps toward what you want to achieve. since all of the big change begins on an individual level, and you are making it happen! thanks for doing it, too.

  12. thanks sophie for so generously sharing your story - I feel v. honoured and I appreciate all that you have written.

  13. Hi Ronnie – so many things to ponder, I’ll leave a few here. I’m not sure how to define career/kareer – if by that you mean success and recognition and loads of money; rather than life-long engagement and work in the arts then I agree its hard to do it without many of the city trappings and art world nonsense. I think it ends up being about who you know within circles and how you get presented, and how ‘now’ your content can be considered to be.

    For the life of me I don’t understand the faddish content that sells – it seems that the ‘message’ has to be some wild, victim, ugly or outside message, rather than simpler ones that make people feel better – like peace, reflection, family, country. Too often I see ugly and irritating work that scores point for outrageous; but not enough points ever get given for beautiful, calming, serene etc. I am for an art paradigm that says beauty matters as much as ugly.

    Re the city thing – I don’t live in the city but I am guessing that there are loads of people who do, and that many of them feel the same way because they aren’t the selected ‘few’. Many of them also remain outsiders.

    I think in life funding bodies of all sorts, not just arts, are by nature conservative and risk-averse, and tend to fund a ‘known’ or at least somebody that somebody else thought was OK! I’ll stop now.

  14. Hi Ronnie I found your article on facebook through Nicola. Good on you! I see that if one does not value the likes of Hirst or Emin then one will not become a Hirst or Emin. However if one does not give a rat's penis about the 'Art Industry' (edited of course)then one may have a hope at creating a Career.We are the Art Industy we are all out there finding our own pace.Finding our own place. My biggest hurdle is myself. I was talking about the idea of success to another Mother recently who was also an artist and we discussed the idea of success.We were both afraid of success and aware of what it would do to the family unit. (this is what I mean about finding your own pace)I chose my path in life. I can consider that or not.I am my own Art Industry and it has to be that way and only that way. I also live in a small village away from the rat race. However this does not stop me from contributing to the art Industry. One can participate where ever they are the beauty of the Western World and the internet. Does place have signifiance? ( I'm talking about Western Culture here)Thanks for opening up this debate. Candicexx

  15. Good to see the energy that went into this post and comments Ronnie!
    I knew I was writing too many words the other day...even after I cut some out... so I appreciate that my two cents worth , along with everyones else's, contributed to a lively exchange!
    Thanks for your warm message!

  16. Wow Ronnie, I've been feeling just the same in my dance practice. I followed the route you described only to find myself faking work that was really describing the life and ideas of a young, white urban, homosexual, male. At some point the need to create authentic work became paramount. Largely inspired by the indigenous dancers I had been working with, who brought their children along to the studio, who danced with their spirit leading the way (rather than their muscles and intellect), who celebrated the older more experienced dancers, and who encouraged and applauded each other on their successes, I set about creating MY work. Getting out of the city was important for me in this process. I needed space to hear my own creative voice. Your words are very interesting and inspiring for me in continuing my quest. Thanks, Lisa

  17. A thought provoking read, thanks Ronnie. I am not good when it comes to being "out there" with my thoughts nor very good at expressing myself - been hit too many times - so I'll leave that to those of you who do it best. Stimulating and inspiring, thanks!

    What occurred to me in reading your post though and now all the others, that the reasoning behind what you (all) say is simple really. It is the time in your life/lives that you need to question and speak out about the time and (physical & mental) place you are at. This is I feel is a normal and natural aspect of our makeup. It is the time where we gather in the cafe & salons in Montmartre and point out, argue, squabble, have that conversation, beg, borrow and steal, etc. about our art ... & world. A healthy debate. Except our Montmartre is now a digital platform.

    I say ... where are the people who used to throw tomatoes and walk out on performances ... did you see the Hobart Art Prize $30,000 white, male, art school ... give me breath!

    Robert Hughes on Damien Hurst - for a good read:

    1. I LOVED 'our' hughesie's response to the likes of damien (hurts-so-bad)..... we need more curmudgeons like RH (ahhhh what a hole he has left)

    2. Robert Hughes, in his living in NYC interview does a brilliant job on Hurst. He walks around the sharkie cabinet with the foulest look on his face and his body language speaks volumes.

      But, to get to your point about country and relating to the land: perhaps we are coming to "country" our relationship as artists to "the land" at just the right and mature time in our own lives.

      Some will relate more to the land than others. Those like yourself Ronnie have a dependent relationship with sod/earth. As artists we should have something to say about our time and place and try to tell a story, conscientiously or not, about our time on (the) earth... and you do it so well.

      ... after all earth without art is just eh !@#$%$#@!

    3. quite a few folk have asked about my final statement "I want Art that is of and for and from an extended connection to country." and I've usually just replied individually (as I've received comments individually - and not always in this public form)

      its probably useful that I DO share what I mean by this ('cause what I'm driving at is far more than connection to land or earth or environment....) you may notice I purposely left out the word 'the' before 'country' ..... that's because 'the country' is read as one idea, while 'country' is a whole different ball of wax.....

      'country' is more than just WHERE we are.... it's who we are, where we belong, what we believe..... the whole pie. sooooo what I'm driving at is - I want Art that connects the maker to themselves, their community, where they sit in the world.

      'country' can be an inner city block....

      'country' (not 'nation' - blegh!) is integral to who we are.


thanks for all your lovely comments - your words are greatly appreciated xx