Be Smart About Art

Making the most of opportunities (if they're an opportunity to you at all)

written by: Susan Mumford Sept. 20, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 2173 views

Making the most of opportunities (if they're an opportunity to you at all)

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“Of course the artist doesn’t get paid, but they get a free cruise.”

These words were uttered from the mouth of a man who has built a career championing the importance of small business for the health of the UK economy. The quotation was in reference to an ‘opportunity’ in which an artist delivers a series of lectures as part of a cruise programme an in exchange receives a free cruise.

At the time of the conversation I was notably irked. The tone in which the comment was made suggested that one would never expect for an artist to get paid for giving away weeks of time and valuable knowledge. It’s not as if artists really need to make money, right…? Or do they? Artists like other professionals must be able to pay the rent / mortgage, put food on the table and the like.  

After my initial outrage, I soon came across an artist who has managed to take excellent advantage of a similar offering, which caught my attention. The artist in question spent a far few decades as an art college teacher while raising a family. In reviewing his CV, it’s apparent that come rain or shine, he has maintained a bull’s eye focus on pursuing a life-long career as an artist, never ceasing to stage solo and group shows, take commissions and so on. And surely enough, he went full-time a good few years ago.

With the mortgage paid off and the children grown, he’s tackling more ambitious projects than ever and making the most of having time to develop ideas. In late Spring 2015, he set off on a trip in which, via a cruise liner, he was able to take a sculpture that inflates to 10 feet high on a 3-month tour across sea and land, travelling far and wide, popping-up the work of art from Turkey to Spain, and from England to Russia (though seemingly the inflatable piece wasn’t welcomed by Russian officials). He met a famous chef in Paris, narrowly escape arrest in Spain, and the stories go on. Along the way he would stop for a few days at a time to get ‘office’ work done that wasn’t feasible with the poor internet connection on the cruise ship, and of course he visited museums and galleries along the way.

The arrangement for the artist-in-residency was that he was provided a sizeable on-board studio and committed to deliver lectures and watercolour workshops to fellow passengers. Such close face-to-face time often results in students becoming patrons, and surely enough, many pieces sold during the trip. Not only that, the on-board studio provision with minimal access to the Internet enabled a notable amount of creative productivity.

What may not be an opportunity to one person might be an ideal one for another. In the case of the artist in this story, he's being presented opportunities as a result of the pop-up sculpture's journey across sea and land. Yet the very same artist would have likely turned down the artist-in-residency onboard a cruise liner twenty years before owing to teaching commitments, at this different stage in life it’s perfect. 

Needless to say, it’s the responsibility of all professionals in the arts to educate those outside the sector. The said ‘opportunity’ will only be one for individuals who can afford a number of weeks away. And arguably, the provision of a spacious studio for ongoing productivity can make all the difference in giving a working artist the ability to carry on producing ‘goods’ to sell (at the time or later). 

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