Tag Archives: Yorkshire

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.

Five years

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

I got pretty excited when I saw that a Hill & Knowlton document was making the rounds on social media. In it there is some great numbers regarding how economically fruitful culture was to Canada, and that the arts actually contributed more to our overall GDP than forestry. Forestry! Take that resource extraction based economy.

But then I read that the stats were from 2010. That’s five years ago.  Now five years means nothing in terms of art’s impact and influence, I still get wobbly when I look at art work made over a thousand years ago. But five years is a long time in the life of a contemporary artist. In Canada our public gallery system is on a three year funding system so most of us have exhibitions two or three years from now in order to get into that funding cycle. Five years also marks how long many of us can show a particular body of work. It’s not too often you walk into a gallery and see contemporary work that’s eight years old. It happens but curators and dealers want new things. Five years is about the amount of time you can finish a BFA and an MA give or take a year or two. Five years can be just enough time to reflect on work made that long ago and rethink its importance to you. Five years is significant in the life of an artist.

Think for a second what you have done in the last five years. I did a residency in Yorkshire, England, exhibited there two years later plus I had thirteen exhibitions here in Ontario as well as two trips to Cape Breton for workshops and exhibiting. And that is just the art stuff I do. Add the rest of your life, like the fact that two new people were created in that time (my niece and nephew) and you’ve got a heap of busy.

The song Five Years from this album is a great dystopia anthem that scared me as a kid. But then five years was a millennia to a seven year old.
The song Five Years from this album is a great dystopia anthem that scared me as a kid. But then five years was a millennia to a seven year old.

Since 2010 a lot has changed in the art world. While the Hill & Knowlton document is still relevant there are many other factors by which measuring the health of the art world needs to be taken into account. 2010 marked the year that many of us who were selling our work saw our buyers completely disappear. In that time I have met artists who have gone back to school to get an MFA, moved out of places like Brooklyn because they can no longer afford to live there, watched the rise of administration and curatorial fields take up a lot of economic space, witnessed the stagnation and reduction of funding in the Canadian art world, and been a participant in activism that vies to keep art from being dragged into entropic capitalistic consumer interests.

This sea change is palpable to anyone who works in the art world and yet it is only now in the most marginal places being recognized as a potent epoch that changed anyone making art forever. Possibly the most disconcerting idea that has cropped up in this time and perhaps this has happened because of this entropic backdrop is that people are now concluding that art can be used like a service. Art has moved from individual experience to communal experience to consumer experience with end users who want to be fully engaged without commitment like they do on Facebook. I don’t blame the public for this; I blame the art world for allowing itself to be pimped up, Tweeted out and instagrammed through a vortex of commodification without any regard for its own self worth.

People fight oppression through organizing and uniting themselves. It is the only way to do it. This will never happen in our current art world. There are too many vested interests in keeping it a murky and untidy place. There are too many artists who think they are undiscovered geniuses who act like they have disdain for the mainstream but would walk a red carpet in a nano second if they got the chance. We blew it essentially.

For the next five years I plan to work toward dignity and integrity. Although sometimes I wonder why I care about artist’s rights when in fact so many of them don’t care themselves, I have to remember that I am not working for those who can afford the luxury of indifference. I work for those who do care. We are small in numbers but we are smart, creative and understand that everything can change even in five years time.

Pic from Wikipedia