Sunday, March 31, 2013


"Work harder! there's a 100 people that want your job." said the corporate fat cat to the proleteriat.

I'm starting to think I should join a union. An artist union.

Seriously, why is it the arts that any graduate or amateur holds an expectation that they won't earn any money unless they are the best of the best of the best. That the job itself is reward enough and that they'd gladly 'do it for free'

my friend Leah illustrates this cognitive dissonance here, which really kicked this post off.

my friend Harvard, also a photographer linked today to this article. Which follows on from one of the concluding statements Leah made about amatuer photographers being willing to work for free/$50.

And then one of the artists' whose blogs I follow has been on a spate of posts regarding this issue culminating in this most/more recent videoblog.

I'm increasingly convinced that Stephen is right, there is plenty of work, everybody needs artists. It's just that it has become accepted now on all sides of the market, that you don't get paid.

It's ridiculous. I know it's a scalable profession, a winner-takes-all profession because every artist is differentiated. But it still holds true, there is plenty of work for everyone.

While any time Banksy and I applied for the same gig, Banksy is going to get it, the fact is that Banksy and I will never apply for the same gig. Banksy I suspect doesnt, but also simply can't do all the gigs on offer to him. So while the winner-theoretically-could-take-all, the winner-literally-can't-take-all.

There are still plenty of clients that will have to take the artist they can get.

But here are some disturbing market realities that have arisen that Amatuer artists need to stop capitulating in:

1. crowdsourcing - client opens up for submissions to design album cover, shoot video clip, do poster, design building etc. and offer some nominal prize. These prizes can even be substantial, but the fact is the client is saving huge dollars by getting a 'crowd' of amatuers to produce a lot of work collectively that they can cherry pick off the top of. Crowdsourcing is effectively trying to get a pro-quality job for free playing the law of numbers.

2. foot-in-the-door - a publication offers for you to go to a restaurant, pay for your own meal, write a review and take some photography and they pay you - jack shit, or $20 or whatever pissant amount allows you to produce content for them at a loss to you. Before you the amatuer artist take on such a gig, does the 'employer' actually pay anybody to produce content for them? Are there a hundred other people inline behind you to take the same 'opportunity' the moment you start trying to get compensated for your work? In other words, is the door you are putting your foot in, actually there? or is it just your foot in a desert? If most of those that took the job before you 'graduated' to working for different clients that actually paid, they aren't really an opportunity at all, shoot your own portfolio, publish it on your own blog, don't let a third party ride off your back.

3. landlords - I'm not opposed to gallaries per se, having a gallary scene, and applying for ever increasingly prestigious spaces to show at. I'm opposed to grossly disproportionate market power between artist and gallary. Most artists have little business training, thus if this post applies to you, I'm going to ask you to trust me when I say markets reward risk taking. Thus a gallary can seek compensation in two ays, it can take the reduced risk up charging a high gallary rental up front, where the artist concievably can recover their costs by selling art and keeping the proceeds, here the artist, not the gallary takes the risk. Or if the gallary wishes to express confidence in the artist they are displaying, they can forego or reduce the upfront revenue's of the rental fee and instead opt for a higher commission on sales. Many gallaries though do both. When a gallary has already covered it's costs and made an operating profit on the rent, skimming the cream off your sales is just greedy.
Amatuer artists can capitulate in two ways - the first is by pushing up the rents by applying for gallaries with unsellable art. The recent trend of installation art for example is generally speaking unsellable. People may have some wallspace to purchase art, few have a spare room to install a giant inflated donkey dick. The number of art-school graduates doing installations is just intense at the moment, and while it's understandable that gallaries taking on installation art need to get compensated in the absence of commissions, many just leave their commission policies in place. So the high rents have to be absorbed by artists working in the more sellable mediums of painting, illustration and photography.
The second way is by cutting their own margins so as not to price themselves out of the market. If you are routinely taking a loss at gallary shows, stop showing in gallaries. Go figure out a way to cut your overheads and sell your art at a price your audience can afford.
Displaying in a gallary is a two way transaction, artists need to make sure they are getting something while paying something. In both cases while the gallaries need to be compensated in order to survive as businesses themselves, they can only justify rents and/or commissions if their are people at your shows and buying your art that you didn't bring there.

The unfortunate thing is that there are far more artists in any field than their are clients willing to pay anything at all. Compounding this is that often you are dealing with clients that have a monopoly on the opportunity, gallary spaces, festival organisers, record labels etc. so you have intense competition for opportunities that don't pay at all.

But somebody is paying, either you, the artist, or your parents or something.

It seems like with technology lowering the barriers to new competition, piracy and globalisation intensifying the competition (such that not even the world leaders in art are getting paid for all their work that is used) that things can only get worse.

There was a time though when blue collar jobs faced the same kinds of problems and exploitation. They managed to organise and stop the exploitation and their own willingness to be exploited.

That's why I in my capacity as an artist am thinking of joining a union.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ready To Die

I think I finally know the feeling Biggie was feeling when he boldly and foolishly proclaimed that he was ready to die.

I don't want to die, but just briefly, briefly while walking my dog today, I felt as though somebody could stick a shiv in me and I wouldn't even flinch.

It's a good feeling.

here's to living as long as I possibly can.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


It's friday, I started writing invitation last Sunday afternoon. It's been a full time job. I suddenly feel very tired and run down, but it's totally worth it. This is the third time I've gone through the process and I always forget how time consuming it is. After my exhibition I will write thankyou notes again.

It would be so much easier not to do this, but the fact is, as tired as I feel now, it will be envigorating later.

I live paranoid that I might die and people will make shit up about how great I was at my funeral.

I would like that shit to be as close to the truth as possible.

play the long game.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Missed Opportunities

Abound. Missed opportunities abound. It's funny how shit folds back on itself, the learning cycle - unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence - and so forth.

A couple of years ago I determined that all the artists' I respects advice boils down to 'Do the work'. After a long toil, and perhaps a lap of that learning cycle, I have come to the same conclusion. Here's why:

In certain situations you can say that two errors can be observed, type 1 - saying 'No' when you should say 'Yes' and type 2 - saying 'Yes' when you should say 'No'.

Broadly this could apply to any opportunity, but let's look at creative arts - a type 1 error you can see anywhere virtually any day of the week, unrecognised talent - that really cool piece of art on the back wall of the bar you are drinking in, or the really cool band playing in the bar you are drinking in. The big-time in both cases hasn't found these artists, and said 'Yes' to them.

Type 1 errors aren't controversial, everybody recognises the struggle in the arts, that few make it, and you should concentrate your efforts on getting a respectable job and paying off a mortgage.

Type 2 errors though contribute to the creative environment and it really fucks shit up, few people think about or understand them, even though you would have conversed about a type 2 error many a time. In a regular office this commonly happens when a manager makes a bad hire, they pick the wrong person for the job, I could write pages of speculative theory as to all that is wrong with recruitment, business and education.

I'll instead get back to the creative field, people who are successful that are not very 'good'. One reason it doesn't get discussed, debated or talked about much is because any core meaning to the error will be thrown out with the subjective bathwater. Start with movies though and you have less subjective examples - movies that tank, bomb, that do not live up to the hype. There's movies like Oprah's 'Beloved' that tanked at the box office, and then there's movies like ID4 that are successful at the box office despite being massive pieces of shit, and the type 2 error only comes out with the passage of time.

Stuff gets picked, by gallareys, by record companies, by producers all the time for various reasons that simply fails to succeed, or succeeds arbitrarily - for a while.

Type 2 errors highlight that much of 'success' is arbitrary. The difficult type 2 errors are the stuff that is successful despite on a subjective level being seemingly 'shit' that demonstrates that some decision makers, some outlets have a degree of immunity, they are influential to the point that they can make anything succeed.

Now to try and bring it all back to 'doing the work', if you are aspiring to be an artist, in any form or medium, you are looking at a field not only with people who should succeed but for whatever reason haven't, but people who have succeeded but in some point in your gut, 'shouldn't'. And it's fucking confusing.

The truth is, there's not much to learn, I mean there's a lot to learn, but like trying to ascertain any 'meaning' of life, there is no formula for success that you can figure out.

The industry in whatever form applies to you, will miss a lot of opportunities, as will you. The thing to do is just work. What is your motivation? To 'succeed' if you succeed as a type 2, you will never feel successful. Your motivation should be because you love it, it's an addiction, you are compelled to do nothing else, the work itself is it's own reward. To be great as you can be.

It will be subject to an emotional rollercoaster as to whether you get that recognition, validation and material support that bundles together into what may loosely serve as 'success' but the fact is your job, your mission is to grow and get better, to bridge the gap between the art you create in your head and the art you can create with your hands.

Create enough opportunities for somebody to say 'Yes' to you, and it will happen and it won't be an error at all.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Art Exclusion 2

I'm enamoured with the Renaissance, a bizarre period in history that from a small part of a small country - turned out a set of artists that did amazing things. More curiously though is that some of these artists, these creatives were also the leading engineers, architects of their day.

These days take two thirty year olds, one dressed in a shabby paintflecked attire of an adolescent his/her skin rendered with inks that in turn render him/her unemployable and another in drab and unimaginative office attire, and they will probably both find eachothers lifestyles foreign and curious.

Yet half a millenia ago, a pope would turn to a painter/sculpter and say 'Michelangelo, would you mind redisigning St Peter's Basillica?' and another sculptur may turn to an architect and say 'well you sculpt a crucifix then!' and they did. They did it.

Perhaps the idea of a mechanical engineer drawing and painting in their spare time is not such a stretch these days, but for that person to paint some of the greatest paintings of all time... unthinkable.

The renaissance I look at with envy because these cast-system of trades was dissembled, gone, one was a thinker, and expressed themselves in any way and any medium they could. Neither was their expression considered more pure in the absence of science, thought, technique.

I don't begrudge my parents not sending me at a young age to apprentice in an artists workshop, nor do we live in an age where one of the Grollo brothers is going to walk into an art studio and say 'design a building'. The job market has become far more streamlined, specialised and the sheer number of people that use to toil on the land that now want to go for that creative dreamjob mean nobody is going to corner the market on ideas like the renaissance masters did.

But the real point I would labour is that a lot of disciplines used to inform eachother back in the day, and science and art held hands as prominently as religion and art did. There is much about art that does not get cradled by the arms of subjectivity - anatomy, perspective, proportion, lighting, rendering, working with colours. Much of art is highly scientific. That is to say, falls under the purvue of objectivity - we can conclude based on evidence whether an image, or sculpture is in proportion or not. It can be measured, tested.

Then as art becomes abstracted, soft sciences like psychology still take hold. It may be a mystery to us as to why we enjoy music, but there is definitely a body of evidence to say most of us will inuitively prefer listening to beethoven over John Cage. John Cage himself said he enjoyed listening to sounds - any sound - equally. But you would be surprised as to how much science there is - which is to say - knowledge there is and how far it applies into the most modern and abstract of art.

I sympathise, I totally sympathise and think that it even makes good sense, if you lack the knowledge of how to create great art, it is no excuse not to make art, or even great art. Many art movements require little more than our ability to concieve and conceptualise and require nothing of us in terms of execution. 'Found Art', 'Installation Art', 'Minimalism' etc. do not require years of practice and mastery to execute. There are even mediums of art that have sprung up in the undergrowth like 'Video Art' that require different standards of execution to the large canopy that is 'Film' above it.

Drucker said the Executive's role is to bring his employees strenghts to the forefront and make their weakness irrelevant. It is totally strategically valid to adopt a style that makes irrelevant many of the demands other styles may make. It's good self management on the artists part.

But, the danger is adopting a philosophy that says that technique is irrelevant. Concept is where it is at. We have accumulated much knowledge, and in many ways the work of Renaissance Artists is some of the most vacuous. Paintings of religious themes and subjects, many say nothing of the human condition, nor challenge us philosophically, they are in their superb execution merely propaganda for an ideology or belief system, a seductive image like advertising. But it's been a long time since the Renaissance, there are few concepts worth exploring that weren't explored by artists that could ALSO paint, sculpt, draw, design, really really well. Performance art expires with the artist, and can be renewed, redone, reinvented.

Execution is where it is at. Art lecturers, art schools are in many cases not psychological retreats, nor even spiritual ones. Concept also is the most subjective, and thus the hardest for any individual to lay claim to expertise on the matter, craft though falls under the purview of objectivity, if the paper sizing is wrong the watercolours will make it buckle. This can be taught, transmitted effectively.

To have such a luxury of time to just pursue and perfect the craft, that is what I envy as a self taught artist, the idea that any of that time (or accumulated debt) is invested in talkfests borders to me, on the criminal. (petty white collar crime mind you, like defrauding investers).

Much as I agree that their are ways for an artist to work around a lack of finely honed technique, he also said that an organisation cannot demand an ideology from its workers, that any expectation more than performance is usurpation.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Art Exclusivity 1

Work becomes an irritation, you just want to draw or paint or write all day, one fanatical push towards excellence. But you have bills to pay, materials to buy, eventually you need to eat something... it is a long standing dream, to be an exclusion from the material reality that affects every other profession.

The artist also has suppliers, competition, customers, we make shit out of shit that needs to be sourced, manufactured etc. we need to labour away, burn calories, eat, sleep, rooves over the heads...

With older artists, I suspect the delusion cannot outlast the reality. With younger artists often the material reality is externalised, that is to say, somebody has to pay the bills and these bills can be paid by parents. But it remains a delusion, or at the very least cognitive dissonance. Maybe I'm too harsh, there's probably a bunch of artists that work graveyard shifts and pay he gallery rent space or whatever and instead of externalising the material costs of their practice they exclude their supporters from providing any material support.

Alll for an ideology that says art should be uncontained, an ideology that can't be realised until the perpetual motion machine is built and we have limitless energies. Until then anything that is produced in the physical realm is constrained by physics.

Which brings science into it and I have more to write about the recent seperation of art vs science.

The Agony & The Ecstasy

I never paid much attention to Michelangelo, I always identified more with Da Vinci, knowing that he was a lefty like me. But anyway I was talking over my recent problems with art to my psychologist and she pointed out the 'agony & the ecstasy' that Michelangelo mentioned or something.

And I mean you can't expect your psychologist to be an art-history expert, but it is the name of a best-selling biography of Michelangelo so I don't know if it is a quotation from apparantly the best documented personality of the Renaissance. Attempts to google search yeild me nothing instantly gratifying.

But on this two things:

1. It is unlikely that I will ever reach the dizzying heights of Michelangelo's artistic ability, he had after all carved his statue of David by my age, but even so, to read that an idol like Michelangelo suffered from self-doubt, isolation and misery through the process is relieving to anybody beneath them in ability/achievement.

2. Pursuing a career like art, it must be understood is addictive, and similarly has all the drawbacks of addiction. The higher the highs, the lower the lows. It is escalatory in nature too, what got you buzzed yesterday won't do it for you today, and tomorrow seems impossible in what it will take to get you back there.

I mean obviously there is shit I haven't achieved and don't have the depth of experience to imaginate, like if there's an achievement threshold that does create that stable and secure base of achievement where you have already passed the test and now are just going for the high score.

But I suspect not, my friend Bryce said 'you never feel successful' and he is far further along this creative road than me. Thus far my experience holds true to his hypothesis, every moment your fears are beaten out by your optimism is a triumph, and yet it's not enough, even a personal triumph can not dodge a critical eye, to pull back, pull apart, go again and go better.

I have hit that phase where I really have to dig deep and find the resolve to follow this path till it realises my dreams or smashes me against some kind of metaphoric or literal rocks.