Friday, 15 October 2010
Free as a Brush
Aspiring artists -- encouraged, perhaps, by some early success in selling work -- are wise to do some sums before deciding to quit the day job in order to dedicate their life to their work. Simple sums like these:
To earn an annual income of, say, £24K, one has to sell an average of £2K of work every month. An average. Or, to earn the level of income that buys a modest degree of freedom -- let's say £60K p.a. minimum -- one has to sell an average of £5K every month. Every month. If you're an unknown hoping to sell work, year in year out for 40 years and without a trust fund or high-earning partner to fall back on, those are sobering sums. Perhaps that's why they rarely get done. Better not to know.
Certainly, no bank is ever going to lend money to someone with a business plan which amounts to "Get famous; sell lots of work." Thank you, Mr. Picasso, my secretary will show you the way out. Not surprisingly, the number of non-trustafarians who can make a living by concentrating on their "personal work", whether it be platinum pinhole prints or large-format colour, is probably quite close to zero. I've gone on about this before, so I won't do it again; we don't want to come over as "chippy", now do we? (how I hate that word). My point this time is simply to say how lucky we amateurs are to be free to fail, boldly and repeatedly, in the quest for, well, whatever it is we're looking for, and yet how curious it is that so few of us do so.
Even if we do have the drive to produce a constant stream of new work, we may well not feel any pressure to take risks, to innovate, given we are not competing with each other for attention and income. Many amateurs (in the visual arts at any rate) are actually quite prolific. Yet amateur work is far more driven by convention and the imitation of established models than the work of more commercially-oriented professionals, who are often driven by the urge to feed their children to extraordinary feats of creative originality.
This is depressing, as it takes one deeply into the reactionary territory of market-driven economics. But you only have to think of those walls in pubs or restaurants showing the work of local painters and photographers, produced freely under terms chosen by the "artist". Doesn't their timidity make you want to scream? Or think of the sort of vanity gallery you encounter in upmarket holiday towns, showcasing some wealthy drone's pastime. Leisure + Wealth is a formula for complacency, when the work aspires to nothing more than interior decoration.
We photographers are the worst, of course. Nothing overwhelms that unsettling spark of enquiry or introspection quite like the urge to make a perfect magic-hour landscape in Tuscany, just like the ones Charlie Waite makes, or to freeze a splash of dyed water with a strobe, just like all the other "perfect" winning entries in the latest yawn-inducing competition.
There is, of course, no reason at all why amateur photography should not aspire to the condition of painting-by-numbers. Hence "art filters" and "Photoshop tips". But don't you, too, want to run amok along the tapestry-kit aisle whenever you enter one of those barn-sized temples to fake "creativity" that sell DIY arts-and-crafts sedatives? And don't you despair when you have a flick through Flickr? If not, you really are reading the wrong blog.
A while back, I was amazed and encouraged to find myself featured in Mike Johnston's "Random Excellence" slot on his TOP blog. This unexpected shot of fame (Mike gets over 30K visits a DAY, and this exposure led directly to my Innsbruck exhibition) caused me to think about what I was doing and I wrote a comment which is, in a sense, a manifesto: