Davide Meneghello: art professional or professional artist?
Since moving to London, like many who come here to pursue their artistic ambitions, I have tried to balance my art practice and my professional working life. Looking back, I remember emailing tons of galleries and museums spontaneously, explaining why I would have been dedicated and useful to their exhibition programme, most of the time without any reply from their side.
In spite of this, a few years on, I have managed to get a permanent job in a contemporary art gallery, in the private sector. The will of working in the arts was clear to me: not only for my deep love of contemporary art, but also because I have always believed that being able to work in this sector would bring benefits to my artistic practice, by keeping myself active and stimulating the production of new work.
So now that I have reached this position, the question comes naturally: is being involved in the cultural sector actually beneficial for my practice?
My answer is yes. Consider it for a matter of confidence, or for a matter of knowledge, learning professional art-related skills has benefitted my practice widely. But let me be honest: the balance between working life and art practice is difficult to achieve, even if working in the arts.
So how to manage both at the same time? And what are the good and bad sides of being both an art professional and a professional artist?
One thing is sure: being engaged in a challenging job while keeping your practice alive requires a lot of energy. It might be complicated, requiring a double amount of work and a dispersion of your mental energy on so many different projects that you could start feeling overwhelmed, but it gives back as much as it takes.
On the good side of things, you will start getting to know more about the art world, and how you can place yourself and your work in dialogue with it. It’s a very good skill to gain, together with constant stimulation coming from your surroundings: the people you meet, the conversations you have, and the visual input that you constantly receive. All of this, summed up, will bring a wider understanding of your context and your position in relation to it. In my case, working in the arts has given me a fundamental possibility to participate in what surrounds the art work itself, in terms of communication, marketing, and display, but more importantly I have had the opportunity to develop an understanding of how to approach and collaborate with institutions, in different circumstances, and finally on how to preserve my own work physically and digitally.
On the bad side of things, you will need to squeeze your practice in to free time, and start being very efficient, a quality which doesn’t always go well with creativity. Together with this, you will have all the side effects that are integral part of any job that require commitment, and having an art job won’t really save you from that. Work is work, and the same are the sacrifices and compromises that all of them imply.
So how do I keep up my practice? In this situation having a studio is just fundamental, especially a shared one. Having a space where I can focus my attention only on my work, and a place to meet and discuss ideas and what we are all working on – it’s been a great answer to support me in making work. If I can give any advice: look out for peer mentoring groups and for a network of artists to share your work with. It will keep your work alive, creating a first audience for it, establishing informal deadlines, and keeping you updated on opportunities.
In my experience, being a professional artist and an art professional are not mutually exclusive: if you create the right network of support and believe in your practice, the two sides of the coin can bring good influences to each other, and even if in a slower way, things will move on in both directions.
Davide Meneghello is one of the recipients of the 2018 Lifeboat Residency. Lifeboat is a year-long studio residency, peer mentoring and career development award for MA postgraduates from University of the Arts London. The artists selected for the 2018 award are Sabrina Fuller, Mētra Saberova, and Jojo Taylor. The residency is funded by ArtsTemps and supported by ACAVA.