When the bad guys asked the Joker to go kill Batman, what did Joker say? ‘If you’re good at something, never do it for free.’
Lately, I’ve become a little extra sensitive to the fact that there are people who seem to think it’s ‘okay’ to ask artists to do what they’re good at, gratis. Coincidentally, Melissa Corbett, an Australian artist based in Spain, recently released a podcast on ‘Why do people think my art should be free?’ featuring Italian artist Chiara Gomiselli and US-based artist, Tatyana Ostapenko.
Interestingly enough, there are even some people who seem to think that if you’re an artist and you ask to get paid for your work, you’re not a ‘real’ artist. This strikes me as funny because I’ve also heard the exact opposite—if you’re a ‘real’ artist, you should be making money off your work, because if you don’t, you’re not a professional.
Go figure. ^_^
In this post, I’ll be thinking x writing out loud about how it just seems so easy for some people to ask artists to work ‘for exposure’ or ‘as a favour’ because ‘you like to do it, anyway’. Like they think artists somehow don’t deserve to be compensated, at the very least, for the time and the materials (which don’t come cheap) that go into creating a work of art.
As the voice of experience in that hit 80s gangster movie, Sean Connery tells Charles Martin Smith that stamping his feet will keep him warm—something he learned in his 20 years of walking the beat. I haven’t been practising that long, but I guess you can’t help picking stuff up here and there that hopefully will help you ‘the next time you return to the woods’.
I’ve always said every show for me was a learning experience, and that every show always feels like the first. I may’ve worked on themes and exhibited in some places more than once but really, it’s never the same experience twice and there’s always something to learn.
I was asked recently if I could maybe share what I’ve learned and I thought, meow, I’m still learning, myself. But I’m thinking maybe, it might be a good exercise for me to reflect on this, so I can better remember all these things, and maybe it’ll help other people to avoid making the same mistakes I did.
So, here we go in no particular order and I’ll try to keep this short.
I can think of a zillion places where I’ve heard some variation on this theme, but here are some off the top of my head.
I also remember seeing a link to a blog post or an article over at my art class classroom where, I’m not sure if it was also by an artist? But the article was questioning like, what good are artists to society, anyway?
Well anyway, full disclosure time: This post comes on the heels of that survey that seemed to cause quite a stir in the country it came out in, which isn’t mine but isn’t that far away. Or well it is pretty far away if you think in terms of how much richer that country is, eheheh.
But maybe not so very far away from the way a lot of us back here also regard art as pretty much useless unless you make a whole lot of money with it. It’s that whole, how your parents freak out when they find out you want to be a painter instead of a doctor or a lawyer or the CEO of some mega corporation-thing. You know the one ^_^
Or well, it isn’t just back here in my neck of the worldwide woods, either—I read once about how this other artist in the US, I think? Said that when people ask her what she does for a living and she says ‘I’m an artist’, people go, ‘Oh…’ (As in ‘Oh dear’.) But when she went to Paris, she would be like ‘I’m an artist’ and they’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful!’
Things have been hard on everyone, lately, without exception. Or at least (unless you live a hole or somewhere super remote and grow your own food and all that) pretty much everyone’s been affected in one way or another. But no matter how hard things get, or whatever changes, it amazes me how creators never stop creating.
There have been times of great hardship throughout history, like wars, pestilence, famine and natural disasters—times during which you’d think survival would be foremost if not solely on people’s minds. This naturally meant things like art would take a back seat until things got better and people could ‘afford’ to think of these things again.
But people have continued creating in spite of these things. People were painting during the Black Plague and throughout wars around the world. In the Philippines, when they threw artists in jail during Martial Law, they wrote and composed and did their thing in their cells.
Well, we can’t all be Monet.
I’m not talking about being able to paint water lilies, haystacks or steam engine steam (although what I’d give to be able to paint like that)—I’m talking about that barn he used to have to work in.
Right now, about the only dream I have left in life (for, as Eugenie says, life is an eternal shipwreck of our hopes) is to have a huge studio. Or well, even just an okay studio will do—just enough space to house all my junk (and the junk I make my junk with) and hopefully for me to make even more junk in.
I don’t need an entire barn (although that would be AWESOME); I'd be happy with even just a good-sized room.
Buuut like I said, we can’t all be Monet, and most of us have to make do with what we’ve got. And right now all I’ve got is more or less half a room about oh… eight feet square (a little less than two and a half metres)? My sister has the other eight feet, which I try my best not to encroach on even if she has a place of her own near where she works and is hardly ever here.
There we were, my co-workers and I, sitting on the beach on a Saturday night—they, with their beers, and I with the one can of Coke I'd been nursing all throughout the evening.
We fell to talking about the vicissitudes of digital marketing agency life and, the discussion turned towards the pain of having one’s hard work dissed by the client (and sometimes, even by one’s own colleagues). (I confess I do whine about this a lot.)
One of my fellow writers who was, for once, actually a few years older than I was (most of my co-workers being millennials) piped up and said: ‘Being older and having worked far longer than any of you here, I can tell you, you are not your work.’
I may not have had an alcoholic drop to drink, but I might as well have had for the heat with which I retorted, ‘I have a problem with that statement’.
Now, everyone is entitled to his own opinion. And in retrospect I may have understood where that co-worker of mine was coming from. Honest. But forgive me when I repeat, I really do have a problem with that statement.
Read on and let me know if you agree with me, or at least get where I’m coming from on this.
Last month I talked about six things my (or well most of mine, since one of them was somebody else’s) art teachers told me that weren’t true. That wasn’t to say I had lousy teachers; as I’ve said, I really like to think they were all just doing their best and hopefully they themselves didn’t think they were lying and believed what they said to be true.
That said, I figured this month I’d go into six things I was told in my artist’s formative years that not only turned out to be true, but turned out to be mantras, of sorts, for me. Or at least, these were things that have stayed with me (for good or ill) all throughout what passes for my career.
See if you’ve ever been told any of these things and whether you’ve swallowed them hook, line and sinker as I have.
I was never a particularly exemplary student—at art or any school, for that matter. But I flatter myself thinking that I did try, and for me trying meant swallowing everything the teacher said, hook, line and sinker.
Now that the jaded ol’ jillamonster has seen a bit of mileage, I now know that ‘it ain’t necessarily so’, what some of those well-meaning (I hope) maestros once told me.
And as a former art teacher myself (if I may make so bold as to call myself that), I never wanted to (for lack of a better word) impose anything on my students that I knew was more of a personal preference than a hard-and-fast rule. Plus certain things that I knew they had to figure out for themselves (for which all I could do really was to do my best to guide them towards whatever those were).
So why am I sharing six things my own teachers told me that I found to be not quite as black-and-white as they made out to be? It’s not because of some anarchist, rebellious, question authority x down with the status quo whatever or anything. Far from it.
It’s because I want you to know, if you’ve just started getting into art or taking classes or trying to find yourself artistically or something—that some things in art aren’t governed by what your teacher says. You need to find your own path, your own way of doing things, and that path is what makes what you create truly your own. Sounds pretty darn obvious, but there you go.
For some reason, swirling rainbows and smiles sparkling in the sunshine don’t seem to be as powerful images of painting or painters versus some super sad guy chopping off his ear and gifting it to a hooker.
It’s true, it hurts to paint, for a lot of reasons—there’s a lot of discipline and hard work involved. You work hard and long enough, you can get burnt out, and oftentimes, however hard you work, people don’t seem to appreciate what you create.
Yet in spite of all this (in the words of the immortal Mr Cougar Mellencamp), it hurts so good you can’t help but keep on painting. And when people think to ask you, it’s hard to explain why. Not that you’re obliged to, of course, but it helps to be able to articulate these things for the types who might ask why anyone would choose to be an artist in the first place.
So here are a few articulated reasons why painting is possibly one of the happiest things for mortals to do. (Why everyone doesn’t, in spite of these reasons, is another matter entirely, but I guess one could look at it as a, theme park, of sorts: You can’t get in unless you have a ticket, but once you do, you run wild, have fun and you don’t ever want to leave.)
Deogratias, ‘Aviary’ opened as smoothly as may be expected given the circumstances, and my warmest thanks go out to everyone who went to the opening and to the show since. I also want to thank everyone who’s expressed a genuine interest in my work, and by that I mean those who took the time to find out the how’s and why’s behind it.
That said, it rather struck me how I’ve been asked ‘what’s your process’ for making the pieces in the show. Having spoken about how I go about planning for an exhibit on the jillablog before, this post talks about the process behind the creation of the canvases for ‘Aviary’, in particular.
I don't purport to know everything. Yet if the little I do know can be of any help, you are more than welcome to it.