Funny old thing, transition

I had an unpleasant jolt of insight last month when I attended a local brainstorming session concerning re-purposing an old school building.

I’d expected to encounter other artists looking for studio space or collaboration, but found myself instead in a room full of ‘cultural entrepreneurs’.  This included artists, but also bed and breakfast owners, and others connected with the tourist industry.

My state of mind at the time was extremely negative. Having rejected participation in either the gallery or business worlds, out of principle, I was the odd man out. I’d just started to have contact with the transition community and felt that no one outside that circle could begin to understand what I stood for or cared about.

Later, I realised how extreme my position had become over the years. Being ‘for’ a new, more compassionate and connected art, I had pitted myself against anything that was not that. And as a result, by intentionally cutting myself off from the old paradigm commercial artworld, unintentionally put myself outside my community of fellow artists. (Admittedly, I’ve been navigating a light burn-out as well for the last 3 years, so it has been a necessarily inward time. )

But insidiously, perhaps declaring myself ‘in transition’ had provided me with an excuse to simply not try anymore, especially if the efforts involved supporting ‘Empire’-the whole industrial-commercial complex which we so dearly want to change.

So I decided to slowly take steps outward again. I contacted someone from the dreaded gallery world (where unfortunately my art would become a mere product in simply a well disguised art warehouse). And worse, if the gallery wasn’t positive, I’d be giving someone the power to reject my work (this indeed happened and I am still alive and well.) I also became active in a local work-group  for traffic safety. And last night, I attended a cultural get together event.

This was really a long intro to that event, so I’ll save it for the next post.


Cultural evening

this is a continuation of ‘Funny old thing, Transition’.

So how does a person in transition- I don’t have a job, I’m not engaged in any projects now, I make art but don’t sell it in galleries or the internet, I’m writing a book that is hard to describe about art’s intrinsic worth, I don’t have any career goals – how do I profile myself in a network gathering?

You might ask, ‘Why even go to such a thing? ‘, good question!!  Well, part of my intent in getting out of my little world here and taking part in projects like the re-purposing of the school, was inspired by Bert Mulder’s contribution to the excellent book, ‘Between Grace and Fear, the role of the arts in times of change’. He exhorted us artists to stop whining about being on the fringes, and instead, make an effort to claim our place at policy making tables; communicate clearly with other disciplines; and stand up for our worth as professionals in culture. It is good advice.

We were asked to bring publicity for ourselves in the form of folders etc to lay on a table. I agonised over that- what, after all did I have to sell? I finally put together a folder with 2 questions on the front:1  How is making art relevant in the face of huge, insolvable global problems;  2 If art is a gift and not a commodity, how can an artist survive in a market economy?'(the well known Lewis Hyde quote slightly shortened).

Inside I mentioned past work in the arts, design, etc. And spoke briefly about my philosophy of being an artist in transition in a time when new narratives are needed etc.I ended by listing the kinds of projects I’d like to collaborate on.

The centre spread was a collection of recent oil paintings oil pastels and calligraphy.

That felt good and honest.

Rende and I got all dressed up and came into cocktail hour setting of a room full of artists, restaurant and B&B owners, gallery owners, local politicians, etc. There were people we knew and in all it was a mildly companionable evening with on or two a few new connections.

My feeling at the end was slightly let down and more than anything, uninspired.

This was a gathering of people with something to sell. Basically, small business owners, many of whom knew each other, drinking a glass of wine and doing some hobnobbing and networking. Everyone there was concerned about profiling their business, and not really interested in others except in terms of furthering their own causes. There was one person who is involved in a great community building project, but he is an artist turned hard-nosed businessman out of necessity, and our conversation was broken off when a politician butted in and my friend turned his attention to the obviously more profitable contact.

It was an utterly unstimulating and uninspiring gathering.

I guess this is a side of transition we have to face – taking part in groups with no interest in or knowledge of the wider picture. I will keep going to these kinds of evenings because there are some people I like, and because even though I don’t have an elevator speech (and don’t intend to!) I belong to this local community. To get anything accomplished, I have to be seen to be part of it, and in my own way let people know what my skills are.

6 months later:  Scratch that last paragraph, I don’t have to put myself through those kinds of  things anymore. I’ve reached the conclusion that this kind of ‘networking ‘is fruitless. And was I ever delighted to find confirmation in Austin Keon’s excellent , ‘Show your work’, when he says:

It is actually true that life is all about ‘who you know’. But who you know is largely dependent on who you are and what you do…’Connections don’t mean shit’, says record producer Steve Albini. ‘I’ve never had any connections that weren’t a natural outgrowth of …what I was doing anyway.’ Albini laments how many people waste time and energy trying to make connections instead of getting good at what they do, when ‘being good at things is the only thing that earns you clout or connections.’