Identity Series Part I: The Artist.

I received a book in the mail yesterday from SeaSalt Learning. I took it down to my local cafe to soak up with a good croissant and coffee. Everyone knows me in there and I have been known to offer to help out when it’s busy.

I live in a shifting landscape, multi-faceted and with multiple-localities. The book I received is part of on-going learning and research about myself, my work, my place in the world and my contribution to it. Over this year I’ve been trying to assess what it is that I do and who it is that I am so I can move forward with more sense of clarity about what I have to offer and what my role(s) are.

Until now, I have had multiple work-faces. My identities lie in a large, unresolved tangle.  So, to help me sort it out, and possibly forge a new hybrid species to fit the age, I am starting a conversation over a series of posts – in no particular order – about my current areas of work/engagement  – very much about thinking out loud. I encourage any feedback! It might even help you reflect on your own work/life.

No.1 The Artist

The artist requires that I make art, show it in galleries, network and maintain meaningful relationships with that community. I am isolated in that respect. I haven’t the time to slip off to gallery openings or to work at that relationship face to face. I also wonder about the world of art – sales, value, and the conversations of what my work will look like with those curtains. I began to feel a while back that galleries were out of date, for me at least.

It’s About the Kaupapa

For me it’s about the kaupapa – to use a much loved word from my home world – the motivation. I don’t want to play the gallery game of building my reputation on the ephemeral platform of art sales, what wealthy person has my work in their collection and celebrity.

One of the reasons I continue to paint, is the connection to handcraft. To create something unique and to feel the physicality of it in my hands, and to remember the making of it in my muscles is meaningful to me. It is literally grounding me in the present. It’s not floating out there in the binary universe, it’s physically in front of me in time and in space and holds a special part of me, and for me personally, that’s good.

Binary Spaces or a Physical Space?

I tell the stories of my art making and my art, engaging with the world, via Facebook, email and Instagram to get beyond my walls.  Social media has helped me communicate my stories. It’s a wonderfully democratic environment where anyone can put their work out there. It’s liberating. And it’s helped me connect to a community of artists.

However, I have come to the conclusion that we also need physical spaces to tell stories too. Spaces to be still in the present, away from distraction, to contemplate, to be transported somewhere. “Gallery” spaces can be anywhere we choose them to be – our own homes, marae or meeting spaces, schools, the street.

The Gatekeepers

That said, for a long time, my yard stick for measuring whether my work is good or not has been judged by whether it’s accepted for a prize, or for a show in a public or dealer gallery. Official galleries are the gatekeepers of what’s hot and what’s not. I complain about the gatekeepers, of fashion and politics – usually because it’s working against me: wrong aesthetic, wrong concept,  wrong genetics, wrong gender, wrong age, wrong passport, wrong tribe! 

Rejection goes with making art. You’ve got to get used to rejection or worse, being ignored.

I could happily stick to showing my work on Saatchi Art, Instagram or Facebook and get encouraging likes from my friends, but the truth is, we all need to feel the recognition of our peers. Whether I like it or not, the gallery/museum is the curator, the filter where those peers acknowledge I might just have a talent for what I do. They tell the public what story is worth being told and heard. Even if the process has all been about co-curatorship, as it is today, they at the end are the validators. If the work is in a gallery, it must be good. Its a tough push-me-pull you I can’t wrangle my way out of.

One can argue that the Social Age subverts formal hierarchy, but humanity will always want those gatekeepers. It makes us feel secure. Just when we think we’ve gotten rid of one we replace it with a new one.

In reaction to this, as an artist, I need to know and be true to my own kaupapa, or what motivates me. I need to continue to make my own authentic, consistent and considered work. I need to contribute to our history and the global narrative meaningfully and with humility. If that means no recognition by authority, no financial success, well, I’ll be joining the masses!

“The Social Leadership Handbook” by Julian Stodd at SeaSalt Learning


About the author Emma Louise Pratt

Emma Louise Pratt studied at Ilam School of Fine Art, Canterbury University, New Zealand. She has been the runner up in the Molly Morpeth Canaday Award (2005), and a finalist in the Norsewear Award (2007) in New Zealand and finalist in the Focus Abengoa International Painting Prize, Spain in 2014. Emma is known for her landscape based work where she explores specific landscapes that convey significance to her either for their historical or personal importance, serving as they always have, as a personal travel map.

All posts by Emma Louise Pratt →

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