Be Smart About Art

Stick to your guns

written by: Susan Mumford March 22, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 4385 views

Stick to your guns

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

The story of one artist – let’s call him Tim, who stuck to his guns serves as a reminder of the importance of staying true to your own vision.

As an 18-year-old portrait painter, he entered art college, excited about the three years that lay ahead. Had he foreseen the challenges that he would be faced with throughout his degree course, he might not have ever started.

It’s incredible to think that someone with such extraordinary ability was self-taught. As anyone who has experience of art colleges today will know, attending art college does not necessarily equate to getting to grips with the craft of drawing, painting, sculpting and the like any more.

From day one, Tim encountered opposition from tutors. Rather than encourage and challenge the young artist in the genre that interested him, tutor after tutor told informed him that portrait painting was ‘old fashioned’, even that it wasn’t ‘art’ and that he needed to change to a different medium and genre in entirety. Their notion of what constitutes ‘real art’ was conceptual work, regardless of craftsmanship (which is also viewed with considerable suspicion).

The teachers’ own interests, combined with the safe parameters of an academic bubble, have resulted in a push towards creative practices that don’t readily translate into making a living. It is easy to understand that individuals who needn’t make a living from art sales can afford to pursue purely entirely non-commercial, conceptual work. Many artists, though, don’t have any desire to create such intellectual pieces.

Amazingly enough, Tim continued to pursue portraiture, despite tutors unceasingly giving him a hard time. Not every young (or more mature) artist is possessed of such self-conviction. For the three academic years, and with the support of peers who spotted his ability, he not only developed his techniques and created a body of work, but also started to apply for opportunities out in the real world.

Before graduating, his drawings and paintings were included in a prestigious UK-based touring art prize, with pieces selling left, right and centre. Fast-forward several years, and one of the artist’s key challenges is producing enough work to satisfy market demand. He makes a full-time living as an artist and maintains a London studio. In today’s economy, surviving in a big international cultural city is no easy feat.

This leaves us to wonder what might have happened if he had caved in and tried to develop a conceptual-led creative practice. Would Tim have made it as a full-time, self-supporting artist? The question is (ironically) academic, for what’s important is to acknowledge that people succeed when they pursue directions true to their core. Though it can take time and requires juggling with other responsibilities, if it’s true to you, it’s only natural to keep your eyes fixed on the goal. Otherwise, you will eventually realise that you’re following someone else’s dream, and change direction to follow your own .

Be true to yourself.

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Related blog post: You needn't take every opinion on your art to heart

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Posted by : Annette Dall'Oglio 23/03/2015 09:45

Well said , Susan. You have put it in a nutshell.

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Yes, its a passion of mine to be true to myself even if it means I am out in the cold. Penetrating galleries can be a thankless task. However with enough self belief and the stamina to keep finding spaces and places to show my screen prints and paintings I will survive! If you can afford to carry on producing art, it may mean splitting yourself a lot-taking time to work part time and then find time to paint/be creative, with it always in the back of my mind that I couldn't live without this form of self expression- and that at some stage someone will be taking an original geraldine franklin home and enjoying seeing it on their walls. What more could I ask for!