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The business of being an artist.

For Artists Alliance final printed issue: 113 / summer 2013/14:

A few tips from various sources on the business of networking:
1. Remember that you’re asking people for information, not a job.
2. Start with people you know, then expand to their acquaintances and finally strangers after the process becomes second nature.
3. If your contact refers you to other people, keep in touch about how the new connections are going.
4. Always give something back to your profession and community.
5. Remember, it’s a two-way street, a constant give and take.
6. Create a networking database. Make it formal and be disciplined about expanding and maintaining it.
7. Gain and sustain momentum. Don’t make the mistake of running hot and cold with your networking efforts.
8. Follow things up.
9. Everywhere you go, make it a habit to arrange a meeting with the local gallery Director for a bit of reconnaissance.

“UUUFFFF! I just haven’t got time for all that Emma. I guess some of us don’t have it in us to do all the networking and schmoozing.”

Seville. Nicky Foreman was assessing my inquiry about how much of her time was spent on networking and developing projects and opportunities as opposed to making work. I nodded in agreement. Successful networking certainly didn’t come naturally to me either.

We were somewhere between the Plaza del Museo and where we were headed to have a drink (two children in tow, recently arrived from New Zealand and still unaccustomed to Spanish hours…I was pushing it). Nicky was passing through Seville with friends and had made the time to catch up with me. It was a quick catch up in the end as my two little charges laid my plans for a good artists’ chinwag to rest. We talked about our recent shows and again the business of being an artist and what that was. Nicky made it clear that she was primarily interested in the business of making good work and had little time or energy after that and giving her classes for much else.

Earlier in Christchurch. When we had flown in on a freezing July night, it is clear to me now that I had long ago tucked my artist-self so far underneath the piles of washing to fold and dishes and nappies and family business time and skills requirements, children’s play, story time, and life in general…that I had forgotten her. I hadn’t painted much in over a year. As for the opportunity-seeking-artist-self, did she ever exist?

I had breakfast with an old art school friend. Christchurch was sobering, geographically confusing, and full of toughing-it-out stories. My painter friend was toughing it out. Weeding gardens, painting rooms of houses, all in between making work. There was a resignation that she wasn’t a networker and so would have few opportunities to show her work. Sales had dropped right off, galleries had closed. Her current dealer wasn’t really pushing her work.

“I’m never going to be that coveted artist. I have the wrong profile. I’m useless at staying in touch with people. I just want to focus on the work itself. I just want to concentrate on being true to myself and making my work, my way.”

I checked that my youngest wasn’t going to topple down the stairs or rub her mits over the beautiful work in from of me on the wall. Then I nodded into my coffee. I understood that feeling – Forget “success” and just feel grateful that you get to make any work at all.

Auckland. Six cities, two road trips, a couple of vineyards, beaches, earthquakes, Hobbiton (oh all right, humor the man) and a fair amount of time rounding up and crutching sheep later, I had the opening of my latest show. It was difficult to find my gallery-opening-artist-self. I hadn’t even thought about the opening or what I needed to consider about who might be there, before I found myself there. I didn’t take enough time to talk to people about the work or meet people, I missed a couple of opportunities to present myself in the precious time I was actually here on the ground in New Zealand.

A few days later, I sat down with my dealer to reassess the landscape in which I currently found myself. The last five years had been busy with pregnancy, babies – now two small children, a fledgling family business and living in country neck deep in a prolonged financial crisis. We had visited at least six gallery cities North and South and I hadn’t even taken a moment to consider organizing potentially fruitful and informative professional meetings. It said a lot about where my head was at. I needed to get myself together.

Sarah Laing. Author. I had lunch with Sarah, and we talked about her books and my art and her comics and the business of being an artist/writer. I marveled at how she got about, how much she was involved in the literary community – her talks, her workshops, and the opportunities she made happen for herself. Sarah admitted she lived in a world surrounded by writer friends and colleagues. Meanwhile, I lived in a world absolutely not surrounded by artist friends and colleagues. We mutually coveted each other’s position.
Seville. Refugio is an art supplies retailer born in 1947 above the shop that her grandmother, after whom she was named, had opened in full Civil War to sell art supplies to artists. Many years ago I wrote about this shop run by Julio Bonald and his wife where I bought my supplies.

They still wrap things up in newspaper, serving you over an old counter with all the merchandise behind them but they did recently get a credit card machine. Refugio had stopped me in the street earlier in the year. As I hadn’t been in the store for some time, I hadn’t known of Julio’s sudden illness or that he had passed away. She told me the sad news quietly.

I went in recently to buy some more brushes. I caught a moment with no crowd. We talked about the girls and passed the time of day. She always has a complement for me. This tiny quietly spoken shop, still painted in its faded surgeon green, has served some of Spain’s most famous 20th Century artists. It no longer needs to advertise itself. It’s part of the city fabric. It is beyond networking. I am excited. My new paints have arrived and I am itching to get to work with them. I say goodbye thinking that next time I must pass by with the girls.

Note about image: Saturday morning on the way to the park. Clara in a grump. Too many customers inside to get be able to say hello. Another time.

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Abandoned Soft Toy

The Garden of the Moorish King

“Carl Theodore Sørensen watched children playing on construction sites with sand, bricks, and tree stumps, and proposed in 1931 a new kind of playground – skrammelejepads, or “junk playground” – of old cars, packing crates, and timber so children could build their own places. He saw “nicely designed” play equipment and hopscotch lines painted on asphalt as evidence of adults’ profound misunderstanding of children’s play.

The first ever adventure playground built in 1943, in Emdrup, just north of Copenhagen, was a flat, open area of dirt sunk below the level of the surrounding land and bounded by berms covered with dense, thorny shrubs; entry was through a small wooden building on the corner. The whole created a frame for activity and for messy constructions. The dense boundary provided privacy and shielded the children’s work from view. Photographs from the 1940s show an open space with piles of bricks, old boards, pipes, barrels, water and other construction materials and children, in groups and alone laying bricks and hammering nails, fixing a flagpole atop a shack. Photographs from the early 1960s depict neat rows of little houses. Adult play leaders had taken over as supervisors and regulators; Sørensen was very disappointed.”*

Javier has just brought Clara back from a walk through the city centre. They naturally ended up in a little, fenced, children’s playground in the Plaza of San de la Palma, with a climbing frame and slide. He’s complaining about how rough the kids are these days, how they don’t seem to know how to play, just run hysterically and aimlessly.

The playgrounds in Seville are a typical combination of mass produced sets of a climbing rope + adventure frame/tunnel, slide, maybe a swing…. In some cases there is bark on the ground, other times rubbery pads, or stones, or just dirt and dog poo. Interestingly, there are never swings for kids older than about six, as if we grow out of them by then. I appreciate that in the Palmerston North Esplanade, there are swings that I have swung on well into my adulthood.

I spend a lot of time contemplating these spaces now, as living in an inner city apartment with a small child makes a daily trip to one of these spaces necessary. Some children go for days without getting out at all. It’s just school and home to the apartment where there is TV and homework. What is happening to play?

Spirn brings up a term to describe humans and their speciality for play as coined by Johan HuizingaHomo ludens. He describes places of play as “temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart”. In the last century places of play – sports fields, playgrounds, ski fields and other resorts have boomed as we find more time to enjoy “play”. But play is perhaps changing.

I remember how I played. I had the luxury, as I see it now, of open spaces, wild wildernesses at the backs of gardens, running into the bush, streams to follow and vacant lots. I created houses with fallen leaves and whole alternate worlds in a neighbourhood. I got to explore the ramshackle spaces behind the work sheds on farms where treasures lay among the discarded farm implements and made clandestine excursions to explore abandoned houses.

At lunch, with a work contact of Javier’s, over from England for a conference, we had got on to the subject of childhood play spaces when Dave asked me what I was currently painting. On hearing that I was painting a series about a vacant lot, Dave smiled at a memory. Back in his youth in Sunderland, he and some friends had commandeered a vacant lot and turned it into a football pitch, levelling out the ground themselves with spades and making goals with sticks. Years later he and his wife had helped create a community run playground from a vacant lot which they called “The Dell”. It was a wild place and the children were left to their own devices. However things changed with time and the vacant lot became “regulated”.

My local vacant lot is known to the neighbourhood as “El Huerto del Rey Moro”, the Garden of the Moorish King. It’s been a common area for centuries. It may have been attached to a convent at some time and used for community food growing, animal shelter and grazing. It has signs of having had stone buildings on it and there is an old well. An old house that juts into the space dates back to the Moorish Occupation, from around 700ad. With this in mind, although no archaeological dig has taken place, it doesn’t take much to imagine the rich fabric of human history that lies just beneath the pounded dusty earth and overgrown weedy vegetable patches. Seville has two thousand years of human history at least.
For that reason, while I have no idea to whom the land really belongs, the community has managed to keep it out of the hands of developers.

In the hands of the locals, El Huerto has a collection of donated tricycles for kids to play on, faded by the sun. There is a sandpit, an old Wendy House and a swing tied to the old fig tree. Neighbours have raised beds of vegetables and herbs on the go, some organised, some half left to go wild. There is a garden shed where people leave books for exchange, picnic tables under the trees, a water pump and a home made pizza oven.

What I also love about El Huerto is that it makes me feel at home. It’s my place of play too, not just Clara’s. It takes me to my childhood places and reminds me that I still need places like this as an adult. If only there were a taller swing for adults, I’d be there daydreaming too, tipping my head back and staring up to the sky.

Recently the community gained some funding for a better fence to be erected and other things, I know not what. All I hope is that the place is left for the most part just as it is. No neat rows, no mass produced “adventure” climbing frames, no loss of freedom, no loss of play.

* Anne Whiston SpIrn, “The Language of Landscape” 1998, Yale University Press.

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