Conference introduction

Past Project 2013

Hello everyone and welcome to For the love of it, a one-day conference programmed by Artquest and Cecilia Wee.

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My name is Russell Martin, and I’m the programme manager of Artquest, and like many other visual arts administrators I’m also a visual artist.

This conference grew from conversations we’ve been having over the past 18 months on what drives people to be artists today.  We’re interested in the difference between what artists expect and experience in their chosen career, and the external and internal pressures artists face when finding work.  I suspect that these pressures are financial, critical, practical and philosophical, and not easily solved or addressed.  I know that we won’t come up with a solution today, but that that’s no reason not to have the conversation.

A strong motivation for this conference is to consider the ways in which the professionalisation of artistic careers has shaped the practice of being an artist.  By ‘professionalisation’ I mean the way in which being an artist seems to have become more industrialised, turning artists into small business entrepreneurs, roughly and arguably over the past 25 years.

Various forces during this time seem to have led us to this state of affairs.  The media and financial successes of the YBA’s have provided a model of a type of successful artist which must play some motivating factor in entering or staying in the sector.  A long New Labour instrumentalisation agenda, seeing where the arts can assist in social or political aims, and a current Conservative pressure to justify the arts in primarily economic terms has an inevitable effect on the type and quantity of public funding available.  Tripled fees for higher education – still the most popular way to become, or even define, an artist – mean a focus on income generation after graduation becomes all the more urgent.  And professional development organisations, including Artquest and our peers, normalise the ways in which artists think about and experience their careers.

Strange to say, though; when we ask artists about their motivations, money tends to be pretty low on the list.  Of course, artists need to earn a living, like everyone else, but a majority don’t earn from their practice, and some prefer not to either.  In what ways does earning money from making art change the work that you can make?  And how many artists became artists so that they could get a job?  I have no answers for these questions beyond my own experience, and I suspect they would benefit from further thought.

Instead, artists tell us that what they want most is acknowledgment and validation from their peers, the opportunity to show their work to an audience, and in-depth, critical conversations about the research they are engaged with.  Tensions arise, of course, with the division of finite time between earning money, making art, perhaps raising a family or even going on holiday every once in a while.  It is this rich vein of questions we look forward to exploring with you today.

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