Tag Archives: studio

Get a job

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Years ago in Ontario we ushered in a new conservative provincial government who brought with them something called the “Common Sense” revolution. As I was young and lived a fairly unstable lifestyle I noticed this government’s action’s consequences over time – the most damaging of which have never been resolved. Almost half my friends in my art community quit or took teaching jobs. The rest of us struggled on. Some moved away from a city like I did. Some left the country.

In the years following many of us tried to figure out how best to live our lives under a new paradigm where we all had to become art-terpreneurs, use small business as a winning example of how to be an artist (“you make product don’t you?” I was told) and be shoved through the degrading vortex of Richard Florida’s “creative cluster” zeitgeist. We were held up as an example of how to gentrify our city’s neighbourhoods and told over and over and over how much money the arts contributed to the overall economy. We were an economic engine! Oh goody, I even used the phrase myself.

Our recent exhibition in Toronto. Here is where we engage with what I am going to start calling ‘defiant beauty’.

Meanwhile in my universe incomes plummeted. And lots of peers scrambled back into academia where the thought was that at least there would be steady income. Now the art world runs on academic fumes; art galleries have given over to DJs & nightclubs, and the contemporary work being made seems to be about tech or a sociological context in which talk, consensus, convergence, conversation, and more talk seems to loom larger than anything hanging on a wall or sitting in the middle of a gallery. Language and ideas reign in the new contemporary field. For the rest of us not welcome in this new world order – we just tried to hang onto our studios and hoped for the best.

What we should have all been doing is safeguarding our art worlds against the tyranny of ideologues. We should have been shoring up public support and public money (not grant and council money but actual private sector money in the form of people purchasing art). We should have spent our time not aggressively making our supporters test themselves against a changing world – we should have spent our time reassuring them about art and its importance. We should have spent our time creating more art supporters not more artists.

Ahh but I learned in therapy not to ‘should’ people. As a community the arts in Canada has always worked in an uneasy balance between socialized ideals and nurturing millionaire art stars. I think however things began to get a bit lopsided when the Chair of the Canada Council started calling themselves a CEO. Remember when being a CEO was cool and now it’s public enemy #1? That didn’t take long.

But where to go from here? In Ontario we are now on the verge of a new “common sense” revolution in the form of a new conservative government, although their motto now is “Poor? Get a job.” Their transparent love of hate seems to be a selling point. Yes, and that is where we are in civilization, being run to a certain extent by people who think compassion, justice, fairness is all part of some liberal conspiracy to make everyone gay. And there are Nazis again now too.

Art now for who or what? I guess most of us have just reconciled ourselves with the fact that we will not be saved. We must survive. What gives me hope is the fact that many of my peers who have just steadily continued to work at what they do have gotten very, very good. This may be an epoch of ‘defiant beauty’ – I can only speak for painting at this point. All this “the world is ending, the world is ending” isn’t really having a negative impact on the work. And it never did.

I think the artists who just enjoy their work, make it regularly and do their best to get it out there for people to see are real leaders in this cultural climate. The hope is in the art – it always has been, it always will be.



Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Mid way through a webinar hosted by the Canada Council for the Arts an officer casually mentioned that ‘outcomes’ will be more emphasized in their #NewFundingModel which is their overhaul of how artists now apply for grants. This idea of emphasizing outcomes was never qualified so I don’t actually know what the council means. I can only surmise that the council needs to reflect its effective use of public money. The word outcome is an extremely loaded one for artists. Red flags went up all over Twitter.

I’ve never had a problem with this need to show that your work exists outside of a vacuum, it is public money after all and thus the success of the public side to what you are doing seems a reasonable thing to ask. Success meaning: that your art isn’t relegated to your basement. Beyond that however, I have over the years failed to see how knowing how many people actually saw your work constitutes success; if this is what is meant by the word outcome. There are plenty of examples of art exhibitions no one has seen but left significant impacts on our cultural community. Sometimes just discussion about the work, regardless of viewed or not enables an art community to grapple with its distinct features. You’d think that today where most of us see a lot of stuff only online that viewing at a distance would be a serious consideration for attention. Art history and its ongoing importance is dependant on us to imagine the context for when an artist lived and exhibited without ever seeing such and such exhibition in question. Regional art making is also problematic: If you live where I do, having 50 people show up to an opening is a stunning coup. In Toronto, you have failed. So, it is all relative really.

Elohim creating Adam by William Blake. These are wildly mad, spiritual entreaties. Could there ever be another Blake with all our meta-analysis & over arching calculations toward certainty?
Elohim creating Adam by William Blake. These are wildly mad, spiritual entreaties. What would Blake describe as wanting for an outcome? The apocalypse to start as some scholars believe.

It’s never seemed to me to be the sole responsibility of the artist to find audiences anyway. No longer. In fact it now seems that you must have an audience for your work or such things as relevance and significance will not be granted to you. This has been a growing marketing idea whose time has finally come home to roost. Art as service is the goal behind all this stuff; it’s a way of making it an accessible career to those who won’t take the risk but want the rewards. With this shift, the artist is finally made to exist for the sole purpose of helping an MFA program pad their enrolment, an arts fair presenter become rich, and an internet site go viral. The ‘rugged individualism’, a concept that is fairly emasculated at this point, of the artist goes by the way of letter writing – another century’s idea.

An outcome can suggest that going into your art making process you should know how it looks, acts, works and is perceived when finished. This works great for technology; build an app that looks for constellations and then relay that information into a chart. But for painting? Make a painting that is kind of abstract but with representational flourishes so that it isn’t totally confusing, but really colourful and with trendy colours not old fashioned Prussian blues and stuff like that and the subject matter should be topical, maybe about gun violence or immigration but not so obvious that it is preachy, and it should be huge but not so big it can’t fit into an SUV and make sure that you use weird tools like butter knives and not just paint brushes. Oh and kind of make it look like a Turner water colour but also like something Bridget Riley might do. With a video you might get away with this kind of thing but a painting?

Or perhaps outcome means what kind of reaction you will get from your work. Provocateurs and artists that deal in outrage would certainly be able to fulfill a paragraph on why people might hate their work. Or maybe the outcome is a financial gain; I hope to sell this work. Teaching would certainly fit the bill for this idea; the students will know how to print on material at the end of the week.

For those of us in the long haul of working toward a lifetime of investigation, outcomes will have little relevance as they mean forcing an idea onto decades of thinking and doing. For me the outcome of my various projects would be that they get finished (which is why I am applying for money in the first place). Getting to the point where you will exhibit or present your work isn’t easily quantified. How to present publicly is an entirely new journey. Things change. Mistakes are made. Outcomes evolve. They are a mercurial, ever shifting idea to an artist and they should be. We must resist these arbiters of certainty or we shall perish without results.

If the word outcome means I am done, then perhaps the council is onto something. All other definitions bind art to an artificial construct that will short circuit the reality of creativity: a forever moving map of the soul.

Image from the Tate website.