So you want to be an artist – i.e. to spend as much time as possible making stuff, learning how to do it better, making more stuff, … But how to live in the meantime?
Catch 22 #1: you can’t make a living as an artist until you are skilled at it, but it’s hard to get skilled at it while making a living any other way.
Catch22 #2: much of what makes the work worth doing is doing it for its own sake, but if you can make a living at it you’re now doing it for the money instead … and if you deliberately aim at saleable work it will probably lose what intrinsic value it had, if any, because you will have subordinated your own vision to that of an imagined, and necessarily generic, ‘market’.
Catch 22 #3: marketing is not the skill you have or want to develop but it seems to be at least as necessary for the ‘making a living’ thing, and even if you have it, doing it steals time/energy from making stuff.
(That’s what galleries and agents are for, isn’t it? – But you can’t get them to sell your stuff without selling yourself to them…)
Catch 22 #4: artists and would-be artists often lean to the left and identify with the unempowered, but to earn a living from your art you need buyers, and art buyers must have money to spare for unnecessary things like art.
Catch 22 #5: you secretly believe that the best thing about art is doing it, not having it, so how can you justify selling things? Clearly you should be helping other people be artists, making a living teaching or working in the community… But then you are back to Catch 22 #1.
[And yes I am in the middle of open studio weeks :D ]
I have just finished reading Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (borrowed from my daughter’s well-selected bookshelves). For this child of the sixties and seventies, it brought back dim memories of the three-day week, of candle-lit evenings by the Rayburn (it would be harder to cope with all those power cuts now), of the parents’ hatred of Ted Heath (though in later years he was somewhat forgiven in light of his opposition to Thatcher). It seems a very long time ago – the pits were still open and belonged to the nation; the trees we played among were grimy with coal smoke and the yellow sandstone and red brick of the house I grew up in were black. We lived then under the shadow of the Cold War, as we now live under that of climate change. Do you think MI5, MI6 and the CIA are secretly working to save us from global warming, or are they still mired in the conflicts of ideology and power?
(Thanks to the BBC for this image.)
They are building fences,
where there were trees,
brash and ‘functional’, unnecessarily high,
with none of the beauty that might follow function,
just a barrier to the eye,
to keep in dogs whose highbred bodies cannot jump.
‘This is ours,’ they say,
this pile of turned earth, this parking space,
‘and we do not care how much our boundaries invade your space or shut down our view.
This is ours.’
With a closing, a turning of the back upon the world beyond the pale,
these wooden walls turn neighbours into ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts
(With thanks to The Dancing Professor for a reminder and a trigger.)
Warm September morning
The geese are back, noisy and disorganised
on their daily commute.
A haze lifts from fields glistening with a heavy dew,
and eastward, above a band of bright cloud,
the felltops float.
The hedge is red with haws
and, bright against a pyramid of tight black silage bales,
a robin pauses in its insect hunt,
poses, ready for its close-up.
Swallows and martins still climb the air,
swerve and stutter,
pin-sharp against the clear sky,
training for the marathon to come,
but the swifts are already gone.
Copyright © 2014 Fliss Watts
Home again, to the quiet house.
Bemused again, by the fact of travelling,
by the power of a decision, a map,
of roadsigns and lines
in green and blue and white
to take us from this weathered gate
(redundant chickenwire on peeling wood -
a particular knack of opening),
to that unmetalled track, between orchard and sheep field,
that tilting gangplank, that home from home,
a country’s length away.
Then moving on (or rather back),
orbiting the unseen city,
to arrive at another place, a numbered house on a named street,
its quirks yet to be discovered
(bus stop debris by the front steps –
backyard littered with hazelnuts donated by a neighbour’s generous tree).
Each destination a particular, precise point on an itinerary,
chosen from uncountably many possibilities,
joining the dots
to come back at last,
after endless, rolling miles of indistinguishable in-between,
to the beginning,
marked by a lingering absence,
to pick up the waiting threads again.
Copyright ©Fliss Watts 2014