Wednesday, September 5, 2012

If I could choose...

Artwork by Keith Arnatt
If I had to pinpoint the first time I came across the 'Politics' involved with declaring oneself an artist, it would have to have been on my very first day at University...way back in the year 2000. There we all were, a bunch of randoms packed into a very dark, very hot little room with black painted walls and a rickety old air con unit working double time to cool us down during a typical Queensland Summer's day. It was the upper level of the first year's studio space on Merivale Street in South Brisbane, which also seemed to be the unknown and often forgotten about campus grounds belonging to QUT.

It was easy to spot the mature age students, the gay guys and gay girls, the eccentrics, the introverts and of course the baby faced, fresh out of high Yep I was one of those babies! What wasn't so easy to spot was the great divide that was soon to come between those who were there to study straight Visual Art and those (like myself) who were cramming in a Double Degree of Vis Arts & Secondary Education in four years. Everyone seemed to be on a level playing field in that dark little room for the first 3 hours, but in the harsh daylight of our designated 'Lunch' break, the cracks in the friendly smiles started to appear.

Sadly and much to my surprise the group soon split into those who would be Teachers and those who would be full time, practicing Artists. This made me sad for many reasons. I had started to form some great bonds with other students who were not studying Education and it seemed they were encouraged by other students not to associate with the "Teacher Sell Outs"...their words, not mine. Also I found myself questioning my worthiness to continue being or even considering myself an Artist. I knew that I had submitted my portfolio like everyone else in that building and had been successfully accepted into the University after sitting through my hour long interview with the head of the Visual Arts Department, but yet it seemed to be an uneven playing field after all.

I have no doubt you have heard the phrase 'Those who can, do and those who can't, teach'. Well it seemed to be brought up more often than not throughout my first year at University, I guess all of us were thinking it and worrying about the judgment of our choices. For me teaching was a practical career choice which I had no idea would turn out to be a perfect fit! I desperately wanted to be an Artist...and certainly I still want for that. But when push came to shove I chose to tack on that Education Degree to ensure I would get a paying job and be capable of paying Mr Howard back his generous HECS student loan. Of course it was 3 years into my course before I actually got the chance to be in a classroom as a teacher and luckily for me I LOVED IT!!! Unfortunately for some of my fellow peers, this was not the case and some ended up changing their degrees so close to the finishing line.

Thank you Capstick13 on Flickr for this pic.
Back to my point....there seems to be no escaping the labeling, judging and POLITICS involved with declaring oneself an Artist and I just have to say I think it STINKS!! The worse offenders for this, surprisingly are ARTISTS, not the critics as one might assume. So I stupidly have been worried for far too long what other Artists have thought of me, my choices and my work. Why, I hear you ask?? Well I dunno really! But my guess would be a desire for respect, mutual admiration and  acceptance. I know, it's a common desire and frankly it is one we each deserve, irrespective of our careers and chosen pathways.

So I know fully well I will be labelled as Commercial ( which I guess fits, but damn it sounds so Commercial Music....ick!) if I keep on selling works at a rate of knots. Which leads to another dark, hidden secret of the Art World. Did you know it's apparently bad to sell so much work if you want to be considered a serious artist??? According to some this is apparently the case...arghhhhh!!! Also one should never include airy fairy experiences on one's professional artist C.V. if they want Galleries to take them serious, so don't hang your work in cafe's and retail spaces. Oh yeah and don't post your work on Facebook or other Social Media sites too much, because people will copy your work or republish it as their own!!! Amazingly this is the kind of advice I have been given or have read or even overheard in conversation and I have done everything 'they' supposedly tell you not to do and so far I'm pretty satisfied with the way it's all turning out.

As for the labels and labeling I say....BRING IT ON!! Do your worse, I sincerely invite you. But if I could choose one label it would have to be 'Prolific'. Here are 6 reasons why (I like even numbers):
1. It has the word 'Pro' in it and that can't be bad right? Well especially not if I want to be taken serious as a SERIOUS Arteeeeest Darling :)
2. Many Great Artists were described as 'Prolific' and I plan on being described as a 'Great Artist' too!!! (Why stop at one label??)
3. 'Prolific' rhymes with 'Terrific'...which I also aspire to be...on a daily basis.
4. It's a crap load better than 'Commercial'!
5. It would set the bar high and keep my daily motivation on the up!
6. Who could question your practice if you made Art consistently, passionately and honestly...???

So there's my thoughts about 'Art Politics', Labels and turning it into Motivation. I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and views too.
Tamara x


  1. I think the art community is too small in this country to survive such tall poppyism. Creating art and displaying it to the public takes a lot of courage and anyone slapping you down should be shot.. or at least deported. I think teaching is an honor and as someone who makes art I look forward to one day inspiring other and conversely being inspired. It is true that not all artists make good teachers and some brilliant teachers are not the best artists so if you can do both then you are definately a cut above the rest. I like your take on turning negatives into motivation but really your work stands on its own.. Commercial? what is commercial? I certainly don't make art to keep under my bed (although some people do and that is cool too) I hope my work is honest and has integrity but it is a job like any other. I also found it very freeing to avoid the artist label altogether for a while but maybe I am passive aggressive. ha ha Toast

  2. As usual you are a fountain of wisdom Ms Toast, love your work. If I could go back I wouldnt change much, but I wish things had been different at uni and that attitudes could change. Find the classroom is a great starting point for that. Speaking of classrooms I would love you to visit mine and inspire my students??