The ‘M’ Word!

Oh dear, I’m going to talk about dirty, dirty money now!

I caught myself having a little shudder earlier as Bik and I were discussing the quiet week we had at The Art House last week.  Sunny weather always means fewer people want to come in and enjoy what we offer, although this year we’re creating lots of summery goodness and even takeaways which is helping.

It’s something we know about and plan for, so it’s not a train smash, but it does bash the bank account every year and, as we get bigger, so does the shortfall each week on our ideal target.

So, anyhoo….we were discussing some other local, independent businesses in the area and coming up with ways in which they are successful and saying that we feel The Art House, being as awesome as it is, given the hard work that goes into it, should be more prosperous financially.  We are successful beyond our wildest dreams in terms of people knowing about us, how many people engage with us and our reputation in the city.  It feels like time to translate that into shiny coins to spend on wonderful dreams.

The extra money we could be making would build roof gardens, expand into the derelict space next to us, help other small creative start ups, and much more besides.  It would also mean we could pay people to do the nitty gritty stuff, leaving more time for us to have a real vision for where we’re going, to focus on our real reasons for being here (whilst creating fabulous jobs for people as well!).

Thing is, we know that we’re less likely to make a huge profit (well, in our case it’s actually called a surplus as we are nonprofit) because we spend out more on ingredients, choose ethical (and often more expensive) suppliers and do things that aren’t making much, or any cash.

The art exhibitions and crafts, for instance, actually make a loss!

In a normal commercial business, we’d knock the crafts and possibly even the art on the head (though of course, the art makes the walls look nice and brings people in!).  Many of the groups we run, also, don’t make enough on their own  – this evening we had a composers group in, paying donations to use the space.

However, if we want to be sustainable long term and thrive, we’re going to have to get a bit of wiggle room between the costs and the income.  Right now there is a little, but it’s a tight squeeze and it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re six really hot, sunny weeks away from disaster.

Now see here, like many ethical, arty types, I shudder at the thought of money.  Somewhere along the line, I’ve embedded the belief that financial success always equals sellout, greed, and lots of other bad things besides.

Unsurprisingly enough, this belief means I’ve never been particularly prosperous (at least not in the money department).

Over the past few years at The Art House, however, I’ve felt my perception shifting.  The money we earn isn’t for buying useless stuff, or having power, or being greedy.  It’s quite simply the vehicle that carries us along.  It’s not the reason we are here, but we can’t be here without it, and that’s the reality.

So, I’m not quite ready to aim for that Porche or the holiday in Barbados, but I do feel a shift, an opening up to the possibility of financial security and success, not just for The Art House but for me as well (see, if I’m struggling, worrying about money and can’t even afford a short break away, I’m less capable of taking our little project to new heights!).  This is quite a big deal for me and will be done in little steps, to ensure the sellout road is never taken.

But I guess what I am saying is:  we work hard, we’ve created an amazing space people love.  There needs to be enough in the bank account to make it more amazing, and to reflect the work that’s gone in.

I’m not pretending I don’t ‘get’ art…..

Today’s facebook repost was an article by Glen Coco, deriding the latest exhibition by Tracey Emin.

The article is pretty funny and I do get why people shared it, honestly I do, because it made me chuckle as well.  Thing is – I also was left wondering: why is it cool to shout about your lack of knowledge and understanding?  Is it supposed to make one look clever?  Am I missing something here?

You see, it may not make me look clever and witty, but I kinda DO get it.

Emin’s work is very much about provoking the exact reaction in her audience that the article expresses – shock, confusion, ridicule.  That’s the whole POINT!  The work is banal, it’s immature…… Emin is well known for this style of art.

But here’s the thing….she’s not making art like that because SHE is banal and immature, she’s making it because, well, we are – and that’s what she’s pointing out.

People’s expectations of what art is meant to do (for the most part, look pretty) are severely at odds with what artists actually set out to do with their work: which is generally to react to, comment on and critique the world they live in.

The most common argument (it appears in this article too) is that art ‘used to be good’ but ‘now it’s rubbish’.

Her example is John Martin’s ‘The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah’ and she ponders how art went from that (a painting of two figures huddled in a fiery landscape) to a neon sign saying ‘My c*nt is wet with fear’ by Emin.

Thing is, do we care about Sodom and Gomorrah?  Do we even really know the story?  Because when that painting was created, people cared about it.  A lot.  Yes, sure, Martin shows some great painterly technique in the work and that’s worth admiring, too, but the subject matter is the main thing… and we don’t give a toss about bible stories these days.  At the time he painted it, lots of people probably hated it and said ‘That’s not Art’ (well, he’s not the best example of that as he was pretty well accepted, but still, I bet lots of people hated his work).

Now the subject of Emin’s piece – those are a different matter.  We care a lot about what’s between a woman’s legs, and what state of moisture it is in, and why.  We care a lot about extreme emotions like fear and sexual arousal, we want to know what everyone is feeling (why do you think reality TV is so popular?).  So I really can’t see why there’s a problem with somebody making a piece of art about the things which are actually relevant to the world we live in.

And let’s be brutally honest here.  Art that comments on our society in an authentic way just has to be a bit tacky, a bit rubbish, a bit brash… because (in case you haven’t noticed) so is modern Western society, at least most of the time.

I’m not saying I’ve ever been a huge Emin fan, but to say ‘I don’t get it’ in a bid to look cool (it seems to have worked – ignorance is held as a high virtue these days) is frankly a bit lame.  Especially when you haven’t exactly made any ground breaking art yourself.

Like Glen Coco, I don’t get the poncey individuals who stand and stroke their chins at art openings.  I don’t get that art is valued only on how much it sells for.  I don’t get that the media have no interest in art unless it has a swearword in it, or costs a packet so they can moan about how much it costs when schools are closing.

But most of all, I really don’t get why it’s seen as cool to act stupid about art and not even try to understand it.  Because it’s not frikkin’ cool to be closed minded or ignorant, or to get your kicks by taking the piss out of somebody else.  It just isn’t.

So, at the risk of being horribly uncool.  Tracy Emin’s work – yeah, I get it.

Can you copyright ‘The Sacred’?

There’s been a little social media storm in the pagan community recently over a facebook post by Zsuzsanna Budapest, writer of the well-known chant ‘We all come from the Goddess’.

She’s got two issues – one is that some people have recorded her song without permission or giving her credit, which is a fair enough thing to gripe about.

The other is that people have added a verse about the God and she’s not very happy about it.  So unhappy in fact, she’s threatened to hex anyone who does it again.

She concludes her argument with the statement that her song is ‘sacred’, which left me feeling confused.

Now, I get the idea behind copyright – it protects people’s work from being claimed by others, or profited from without the original artist being paid.  In a world where art is bought and sold, this protection is needed.

However, the idea of ‘authorship’ is a relatively modern construct, and a particularly Western one. Most cultures have songs, artworks and ideas which are claimed by the entire tribe, not one individual, in most cases nobody will even KNOW who wrote, drew or designed something.  Songs and ideas that take this form are a living entity, they change, evolve and are added to as the years pass.  

The idea that art ultimately belongs to the culture it arises in is not such a ridiculous notion.  No artist could create in a vacuum, we all build on what has come before.  Even the very tools we use to create (colours, words, materials) are not our own, they are the invention of thousands of other people.  So are the styles we use, the references we make…. it’s hard to tell where our ideas start and everyone else’s finishes, to be honest.

With the Goddess song, as with so many works of art, humans did what we always do with art.  We took it on board, we added to it, it became OURS – ours to sing, add to, play with, fit in with other songs we knew. It became a living thing, in short.

Problem is, art is only yours in in our culture if you PAY FOR IT (and even then, it’s usually only partly yours, or yours for a set period of time, and with conditions attached).

Whilst we were all happily singing along, we forget the fact that it ‘belongs’ to the person who wrote it, not to us at all.  Our audacity in adding verses to it has, in fact, enraged the author to the point of threats of hexing!

The trumpeting of ‘authorship’ by the art community does seem to me to be particularly insidious, undermining a great deal of what art is meant to be about, and severely limiting us as artists and as a culture.  

Let’s be perfectly blunt here: if there was no money involved, we’d probably be a whole lot less bothered about it.  We’d be thrilled that lots of people were enjoying our work, that it had taken on a life of it’s own, that it had grown wings and flown the nest.   

Which points to some pretty shallow motives for the whole ‘I made this’ obsession – in short, we want to be acknowledged so that we can make money and bask in personal fame from our work – hardly noble causes, either of those things!  Money and fame are nice and all, but when they become the motive behind art, well….. we all know how that story ends.  They’re a nice perk, if you can get it, but they should never be a major focus.

Now, let me make it clear that, if somebody else is making money from something we created, then it’s only fair they share the money with us.  But other than that, once you put an artwork out into the world, I believe it belongs to the world (at least if you’re really lucky it does, most artwork just vanishes into obscurity).  

So, protect yourself from financial exploitation by all means, but put the damn thing in perspective!  Your art isn’t YOURS, not once you share it.  It’s bigger than that, and far more important.

To kid yourself that you can control the meaning or evolution of your art once it leaves your hands, is the ultimate self delusion.  Ask poor old Yves Klein (well, you can’t, because his distress at how HIS work was interpreted was so great, it is said to have killed him).

Which brings me back to Zsuzanna.  Her song, she says, is sacred – implying that she wrote it in honour of the Goddess, that in fact it BELONGS to the Goddess.  Since, in the words of this very song ‘We all come from the Goddess’, does that not mean the song belongs to …. well …. everyone?

All I know is that I was pretty tired of that song anyway, and her commodification of it has made it less than sacred for me.  I’ll be singing another song from now on!

Missing the fun, whilst having fun (or, ‘I wish I had a clone’).

Right, so I had a great, fulfilling night last night at The Art House, watching young talented folks do their thing.  We provide a  space which is very important to artists who are emerging, or who need to try something a bit experimental and that’s exactly what last night’s event was all about.

Which is why, when these young folks approached us about 6 weeks ago, wanting to do a music/performance night based on ‘Through the Looking Glass’, and the only night available was also the night a good chum of mine had invited us to her 60th Bollywood party (which I was super looking forward to) I gritted my teeth and crossed the party out of my diary.

It’s an interesting balance, and something nobody warns you about when you start to do what you love full time.   The boundary between your private and work life gets very, very blurry indeed.  You have to consciously make time for things which are totally not ‘work’, even though you really love your work and it’s with you all the time.

You also, sometimes, have to give up the personal time and the fun, especially as our working hours are often at the exact same time that our friends are kicking back and partying.

Of course I don’t regret it, even today when I’m looking through pics on facebook of some of my absolute favourite people at a party, looking glam and having a fabulous time.  I’m just really, really glad that I love my job.  I’d rather like a clone sometimes, so I can be in two places at once!

I also REALLY appreciate that my true friends understand 100% why I’m not always there having fun with them.  That level of support and understanding is crucial to anyone who is following their dream and I’m always reminded of the wise words of  Dr. Seuss:  ‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind’.

To be fair, the cake does also compensate for quite a lot.