This week I finally came to the end of an academic year’s work that began back in September 2018. It’s a relief and I am starting to enjoy some sense of freedom. Work is done, I might say, but of course artists of all kinds tend to grasp such moments to concentrate on what we call ‘our own work’.
My art teaching doesn’t allow me any kind of routine by means of which I can say, OK, every (e.g.) Wednesday I will do ‘my own work’. Nor have I ever earned enough money in my life to pay both the rent on a home and the rent on an artist’s studio. To me that still sounds like an inaccessible dream. Just imagine, having a dedicated space and time in which to make your art!! The thought stuns me, but I guess for a lot of artists this is a norm, a given,a prerequisite.
I do however manage to make ;my own work’ in various ways. First of all, as soon as I started teaching and realised that it was going to eat up all the time and head space I had previously dedicated to ‘my own work’ I decided to avoid conflict by simply regarding my teaching as itself ‘my own work’. that may sound unlikely but I truly believe it has been successful and that, if my teaching has been in any way successful over the past 20 years it is largely because I treat each session, course, term and event as something to which I dedicate the same standards of creativity, conscientiousness and commitment that I concentrate to what would normally be called ‘my own work’.
Furthermore, I long ago learned that I was an artist who would probably never enjoy the privileged time, space and funds enjoyed by lots of the artists I admired and found influential and, again, reconciled myself to making art with whatever time, space, funds, materials, skills, equipment etc. that I had at any point in time. Surely it’s a principle we should all appreciate and employ, to make our best work with whatever we have to hand, rather than bemoan all that we do not have available to us.
After seven years of searching and exploring the possibilities of studio art, living in a housing-benefit-sustained flat that I turned into a live-in studio, I really felt that I got to the bottom of several practices that were both authentic to me and involved very little in terms of cost, time and equipment. I honestly and strongly feel, as a result of that experience, that an artist can make almost anything with a paper and pencil, words and drawings, and that, given the right state of mind – a special kind of moral conviction crucial to the production of art – something made with just a paper and pencil can be priceless.
Since making those discoveries (which seriously arose out of a condition of sustained barren hardship) l have always been able to find a way around apparent constraints and to ‘make my own work’ in the gaps in, around and about my teaching responsibilities. There are times (though less and less) that I of course would have loved to have more time, money, technology, or help and support to execute works, but I never dwell for long in this negative and conflicted state. Better to spend time feeling satisfied with all that you HAVE done than in being dissatisfied with what you have not.
Furthermore, and finally, I truly believe that, at this stage of my life, I have made my work. It is no kind of resignation or failure of ambition for me to say that I am satisfied with the photographs I made during the period of my life when I was immersed in that passion. The same goes for a certain series and style of drawings I made at another time. There is a set of short stories that I penned in two inspired phases, about ten years apart, and which I feel I cannot now improve upon. Then there are about 150 songs, 150 published pieces of art writing, at least as many unpublished and experimental pieces of art writing, a few video works, an archive of artworks and exhibitions, and more, all of which I regard as completed and satisfactory.
This realisation, this arrival, at this destination, changes, it seems to me, an artists’ life and purpose quite profoundly, as I do not feel at all that I am striving after a particular standard, style, process or identity. Rather, what remains for me to do is to organise, contextualise and present these completed works as best I can. For the time being this means ideally making a series of books or albums, though other means of presenting these works might be possible. (I am not keen on exhibitions. A certain kind of archival website might work for some works, but that would betray the material qualities of others).
Of course, still none of this is easy to do, and will still involve finding time, funds, and support of many kinds. Nevertheless, it is always good to feel, at the end of a teaching year, or at a certain point in life, that your work is done.
I’ll illustrate this week’s post with a photograph drawn from my photography archive. It was made in Berlin in about 2007.