Is there Life after Art School?

The cuts in part-time art school teaching is one of the most myopic acts of vandalism ever committed by the establishment in recent years: shortsighted it surely is. The custom of inviting practising artists into art schools brought two vital and significant benefits: the students (and often the full-time staff) had valuable contact with practitioners who were in close touch with the realities of survival in the art market place, and who could speak with authoritative first-hand knowledge of the slings and arrows of outraged fortune; and the visiting lecturers themselves were given a powerful and legitimate financial structure which enabled them to support their too-often meagre or non-existent incomes. This has all but gone, and was arguably one of the most attractive and unique aspects of British Art education. Recession or not, a way should have been found to continue this long-standing and essential system.

With great respect to the dedicated and hard-working full-time staffs, apart from teaching the necessary technical and creative skills, most can at best only offer their students memories of the harsh realities of practice as they knew it or as they now partly see it through their evening and week-end contact with the hard edges of life as a practitioner. Now, the choice for artist is sell or teach to survive; not both. And what effect this may have in the long term on their work, (how tempting to compromise the ‘product’ in terms of sure-fire selling potential, instead of creating what might otherwise be more difficult, less commercially acceptable, and arguably of more long-term value), remains to be seen.

Valiant attempts are being made to fight a rear-guard action against the vandals – by students, staff and practitioners alike – but, alas, without great success thus far. (Not a sideswipe at Niel Bally’s new Association of Artists and Designers in Education initiative which deserves all the support it could possibly have). However, some hypermetropic souls have sought to establish alternatives already which, curiously, relates to Artlaw Services.

For over five years now Artlaw has provided services to the art world from skilled lawyers and administrators who specialise in the legal, financial and administrative problems besetting all visual arts practitioners; and, concurrently, their staff have also given lectures, talks, workshops and seminars based on their specialised visual art experiences, aimed at informing and educating so as to enable the pitfalls to be avoided and to point the way towards the best methods of surviving and legitimately exploiting opportunities. During the past couple of years they, together with far-sighted art school lecturers and administrators, have developed a programme of lectures intended to equip art students with information and knowledge they are increasingly unable to acquire at art school, which is considered to be essential for their future survival as practitioners.

Artlaw’s, panel of visiting lecturers comprises art lawyers, artists and art administrators who visit colleges all over the country, usually in pairs (art/law), and deliver their goods to final year and postgraduate students. (Incidentally, the 1981/82 programme was recently chosen by the Royal Society of Arts’ Education for Capability recognition scheme). The subject-matter is fascinating and of itself informative, and is offered in a variety of ways: half- or one-day seminars, single lectures, two lectures in one day, blocks of days or series of days comprising a ‘course’. The college chooses and Artlaw fashions the approach and delivery to particular requirements. This is what they offer.

Is there life after art school?
Adjusted to suit the needs of Fine artists, craftsmen, designers and so on, this is an essential introductory lecture which gives basic ‘survival’ information, including: business practice, record keeping, handling applications, marketing, PR, promotion, outlets for work, sources of advice and help, unemployment, self-employment, employment. The lecture is not legally based, but it draws attention to the numerous occasions when the artist enters into a legal situation and offers practical advice on avoiding problems.

Must artists starve?
Sources of income for the artist is the main theme: methods of working; other sources of funds; finding out what is available – grants, scholarships, bursaries, charities, prizes, awards; making applications – assessing the field, completing forms, interviews; putting forward a project proposal.

Close encounters with the taxman
This lecture explains the tax position of the employed, self-employed and unemployed artist. It explains National Insurance, tax deductible business expenses for self-employed artists, and VAT; suggests simple record keeping and accounting methods which enable artists to keep their financial affairs under control, and to work effectively with an accountant when necessary.

Garrets and how to find them
Advice on how and where to look for suitable studio property, calculating the costs involved, and the formation of a company or a group if necessary. Dealing with local authority or private landlord, planning. Building and Fire Regulations, and the legal obligations of landlord and tenant.

Paper promises
The contractual relationships which practitioners are likely to enter into: with buyers, landlords, employers, agents, dealers, clients, gallery directors. The aim is to inform the artist of the nature of these deals, to enable him or her to recognise a legal situation and take suitable steps to avoid it subsequently developing into a legal problem.

Hanging around
A step-by-step examination of the progress of an exhibition: approaching galleries/offer and acceptance/the artist’s obligation/the gallery’s obligations/exhibition contracts/commissions and sale of work/insurance and theft/damage/ press and PR/follow-up.

Dinosaur or breadwinner?
Street wisdom for the Xerox generation – a lecture about copyright. Questions raised and answered include: is copyright of value to the artist, what does copyright mean, could it be a source of income, can I protect my work, should the current law be revised, and if so how and by whom.

Parting is such sweet sorrow
A practical guide to the legal issues which arise when a piece is sold – from the studio, from an exhibition, through a gallery or agent or on commission. For instance: does the Sale of Goods Act apply to Fine art, who has the copyright in the work once sold, is the artist liable for deterioration, is any paperwork necessary, will I be liable for income tax on sales, should VAT be paid by anybody.

Art in the market place
Making and placing art for public places. Illustrated examples of different types of public commissions, including sculpture, indoor and outdoor murals, paintings for public buildings; accompanied by a detailed examination of how such commissions are obtained, with a run through of step-by-step negotiations with clients including offer letters, commission contracts, fees, rejection fees, insurance, maintenance, artists’ continuing liability under the Sale of Goods Act, disclaimers of liability, copyright in the work, and submission of work for competitions.

Caviar or red herring?
An explanation of existing art aid structures: the UK arts councils; RAAs; Local authorities; artists and art service organisations. Strengths and weaknesses of business sponsorship for the arts, and of private patronage.

Can I show you my etchings?
The application of marketing to the visual arts.

In addition to the art schools, Artlaw also offers the same subject matter, naturally presented differently, to practising artists – and to lawyers interested in specialising in this field. Artlaw’s firm commitment is to the use of the law as preventive medicine, and they would rather help artists to avoid problems than step in as an ambulance service when things have gone wrong. Firmly founded on the previous and current experiences of their lecturers, who are all involved with ongoing work with artists, designers and craftsmen in addition to their teaching, they use examples drawn from current practice in the field. The lecturing style places the emphasis on presenting the material in a lively and informal style which encourages maximum participation. These are the essential strengths of the programme and, judging from the enthusiastic reception by students, practising artists and college lecturers all over the country, it clearly succeeds.

A bulwark against the erosion of a rapidly disappearing part-time visiting lecturer system it is not; a new and creative method of plugging the gaps and building a strong structure for the future it surely must be.

© Henry Lydiate 1982

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.