sustainable art practice and utopian slumps

Firstly, if you live in melbourne and wanna see a great exhibition, jump on your bike and ride over to Utopian Slumps for Brendan Huntley‘s exhibition. It’s chocker-block full of sweet and creepy ceramics and drawings of masks. or faces. depending on your outlook.

His glass pieces are so adorable and I fell in love with one particular work as soon as I saw it. Only to find out later that somebody else bought it. Which is probably for the better, seeing as I can’t really afford to be buying others’ works at the moment.

Huntley, for those who live outside Melbourne, is also known as Brendan Suppression – singer from Eddie Current Suppression Ring – bloody brilliant post-garage noise rock saviours. Which explains why I ended up chatting with Kate Langbroek at the opening. Surreal, I tell you.

And speaking of Utopian Slumps, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is to have a sustainable art practice. I don’t mean environmentally (although that can be hard sometimes, especially for us solvent-loving types), but physically, financially, conceptually and emotionally. A friend quit her arts admin job this week, because of the lack of organisational support. She’d only been there for just over 12 months, but that level of rotation is not uncommon. In fact, I only know a handful of people who have been in the one arts admin job for more than 18 months. That’s a pretty high attrition rate.

But it’s quite common here. It’s quite a vicious cycle: there’s no money in the arts, so we work our guts out picking up the slac, where there should be more staff, we burn out, move on and our organisations are left with staff who are underpaid, overworked and inexperienced and so the cycle starts again. Not to mention the fact that half of the arts admin workforce are practicing artists/writer/curators and are spending the rest of their lives working on other stuff. It’s like the whole arts industry is sleep deprived. Which is great for wacky, zany ideas and spontenaity. Not so good for long-term, let’s get some policy written and some considered discussion happening. We’re reacting.

Look at my workload for a case-in-point: I’m currently working full time, putting in a half-arsed attempt at finishing the uni semester, working on a joint [technically-group-but-might-as-well-be-solo] show and somehow managing to still have some sleep. How the fuck i do sustain this over a 20, 30, 40 year period? Add to that the globalisation spoiler of realising how much more possible it is to do elsewhere.

The sad thing is that visual art (and other forms of art, methinks) isn’t built on a sustainable business model. Well, not here anyway. There is no easily quanitifiable outcome, product, turnover, cash flow data or even staffing procedure. Each artist runs his/her business as best they can, based on the practice. Not the practice based on a common business model, and the whole industry flows on from there. Money doesn’t come first – it’s product or idea and then fitting finances to it. And, unlike graphic design and architecture- the most financially self-supporting of the creative industries – the hourly rate just doesn’t feature. If you try to fit a standard billing idea to arts practice, most artists are working pro-bono 100% of their time. Can you imagine if lawyers did that?

Having said all that, I like that art is outside of regular, commercialised modes of engagement. It provides a detached viewpoint for analysis and also contributes an ‘exit’ within society – a shining light away from supermarket shelves and a long list of unanswered emails.

But if we’re unable to continue providing that viewpoint ‘cos we’re malfunctioning, something needs to change.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

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