Tag Archives: writing

Ode to a Jackdaw, the sequel

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

When I started this blog I innocently thought, hey, no one is discussing some things in the Canadian art world. Where are the public conversations about money? Are the arts councils working for us? Are artists treated fairly? How come rural artists are treated like crap? And why does no one know how to use Twitter in the art world?

Moving forward in time I found that there were lots of people who felt the same way I did and we were able to share some of the things I was writing about. I still naively believed that the art world needed a good dose of social justice and that artists would unite to recognize this. Has this happened? I am uncertain. I still maintain that these issues are relevant but social media has become a place for fighting and fighting is not what I signed up for.

I did not begin this blogging gig so that I could ‘change the world’ or ‘help people’ or get ‘popular’ or even just get some notice. I honestly thought that I was doing something constructive for myself and my friends. I thought I was helping change the channel on how art is discussed.

from ‘To Walk Invisible’, Sally Wainright’s astounding drama about the Brontes. Herself a former Yorkshire bus driver, Wainright knows better than anyone about being invisible.

It all began in Yorkshire and my discovery of the Jackdaw. This zine publishes a few times a year and is written by artists and art supporters in the north who see an unfair advantage to how the arts is funded and promoted by London. I’ve written about this before but the Turner Prize is but one example of this. The prize is often awarded to artists who are pet projects of curators and arts investors who need the prize to uptick the art’s value creating a situation where money flows like confetti all over the place but not in the coffers of arts organizations that need it. This is a huge paraphrasing of the corruption – you really need to read about it in the Jackdaw – but it’s a circle of life that has been normalized which in turn has essentially killed off funding and interest in any kind of art making not associated with the Westminster zone. Austerity and now Brexit in that country has ruined not one but perhaps two generations of artists not living below the midlands. When I got back to my rural log cabin in the central Ontario I looked at the world very differently. Was this kind of thing happening here?

In a very different way it was. Money was flowing then to Luminato, Nuit Blanche and all sorts of southern Ontario artistry while most of the galleries I show in had a hard time coming up with a per diem so that we could eat while visiting their community. For awhile conversation and community sprung up around these issues and I actually thought things might be getting better but… while we wait and wait and wait for the Canada Council and Canadian Heritage to dole out money to supposedly ‘a more diverse’ amount of art the talk of art making has switched to the discussion of who should be making art. This may or may not be a discussion that will have happy consequences; all I know is that it probably stems from a community’s desperation more than anything.

If you take food away from animals they starve or eat each other. It’s just what happens.

The Brontes and Elizabeth Gaskell brought international attention to the plight of northern people and the lives of those who worked and lived in the heart of the Industrial Revolution. They were northerners (Gaskell was born in London but lived for a time in the north, the sisters were Yorkshire rural), even today they are perceived as writers from a genre, or a time and a place. But they helped pave the way for Karl Marx and George Orwell. They are world famous now and beloved but their contribution is far more reaching. Books such as Jane Eyre and Mary Barton helped bring about a labour revolution – one that we are still fighting today. I mention these writers, these artists because I think it’s folly to think that art needs to have a time and place or be of somewhere or be popular. Art has no ‘dominion’ really – it just exists and sometimes in the unlikeliest places made by the unlikeliest people.  I have hope we return to these conversations at some point.

time travel

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

I’ve never been particularly nostalgic. While I understand people’s need to linger over remembering moments in their life, for some reason I seem to be shark like, constantly having to move forward in order to survive. It might be the fact that for most of my youth I was drunk or perhaps because I lived it through a blurred state of fear. I was on my own very early in life and had to scramble constantly to pay my way forgetting that the ages between 17 – 25 was supposed to be the time in life where I figured out stuff.

Instead I was like many people of my generation, still influenced by punk’s anti-success stance believing that one could have a creative life keeping their ambitions small and specific, local and generous. Without the internet we came of age by cobbling together our social lives through land lines, fax machines and mostly instinct. Our events and activities were hand made, hand drawn, word of mouth, vintage store bought and duct taped. I learned a myriad of skills, one of them being how to use a computer entirely on my own. So, I have a fairly strong ability to DIY things if needed.

Although I may be able to describe and explain my early, restless youth away on such things, I do not feel like spending any more time than I have to remembering and waxing nostalgic on how “it was better in my day” kinds of thinking. It wasn’t better and I wince at the many stupid things I did while thinking at the time I was being “innovative.” I will defend one aspect of my wistful youth; I loved all things alternative and so did my friends. In fact the alternative scene of the 80s and 90s is why I probably love the things I do today. It’s why I can’t watch Dancing with the Stars or other reality TV shows; I don’t know who anybody is. Until Bob Mould or Elizabeth LeCompte appears on those programs I will forever be mystified. Please also don’t tell me they have…

I wrote an opera once. How cool is that?
I wrote a libretto back in the 90s with some of our country’s best artists. How cool is that? Unfortunately in Canada such things often fade, we have yet to truly leverage and celebrate the risks taken. I hope this is changing.

But I recently began toying with the idea of revisiting an older version of my self and it’s been fun but also somewhat painful as my old bits and pieces of my early life seem like lost opportunities. What I am finding shows a young woman full of creativity and ambition but without any sense of what to do with it. People forget that without the internet there wasn’t really any way to connect to mentorship programs unless you went out and joined one physically; today you can find so many groups, articles, forums, and organizations that you can troll until you feel comfortable enough to join.

My life then shifted around like a fox looking for food. I tried all sorts of things and enjoyed all of them – painting and writing are the things that have stuck. Going back through this scrapbook-style life with no discernible career trajectory isn’t pleasant but in an odd way it has also been empowering. We tend to think that our lives are supposed to be built on our hard work and our judgement. What about the mistakes we’ve made or the weird paths taken because we didn’t think linearly? This is what is wrong with that HBO show Vinyl – punk and alternative culture burbled up like a spring, it didn’t explode onto the rock scene, and no one cared about it until over ten years later, including Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. It was a spore that grew into its own ecological arena.

I see very clearly now that in retrospect I was actually being courageous, not timid. I was trying things and using my youth and energy to experiment. It’s why I have such a steady hand on what I am doing now. Perhaps one of the sea changes we are seeing today is that young people can no longer afford to have such freedom; their tuition makes it prohibitive for them doing anything but paying it off the minute they leave school. And, the social & work pressure to be a ‘viral’ success means they need to spend their time making sure they are branding themselves for that.  But maybe this is a good direction? Hard to tell. We are definitely transitioning culturally, but into what?

In any case, I’ve never really wanted to time travel. As Louis CK said, unless you are a white male why would you want to live or even visit at any other time than now? Going back into my own time is an exercise in realizations and evaluations. My failures are my moments of learning, my successes such as they were are triumphs and my path, a road less travelled with many moments of getting lost.  With this comes wisdom? The jury is still out on that.