horror show

I walk down the Strand and I find people wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets, invisible and unwanted. I’m already so cold I want to cry, yet I have a house to go home to. I hurry home, angry at what I’ve seen but I don’t know what to do.
I get home and turn on the TV and I see hundreds, thousands maybe even millions, huddling in the open air, with nowhere to go, unwanted and reviled.
Then I see well-fed shiny faced people come on TV and slander these people as terrorists, ‘economic migrants’ (a recently made-up term of extreme perniciousness) and warn us of their dangerousness. Apparently I will never be raped unless I come into contact with one of them. Apparently I will always have a good job unless ‘they’ dare to arrive. Apparently ‘they’ strain my housing and health care.

Why housing and health care should be so rationed is never explained.

Society is sick, and we are part of this vile disease.

am I the only one who is horrified?

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Paying Artists II: The Art Career trajectory

My previous article on Paying Artists quoted research by the artist organization A-N which demonstrated that the majority of publicly funded art organizations (that is organizations which get a large part of their running costs covered by the taxpayer), do not as a general rule pay artists. (Anecdotally, I can say that there are plenty of organizations that do pay a sort of token that does not actually cover anything like the real cost of exhibiting.)

But the problem of not paying artists is much bigger than simply artists being out-of-pocket for this or that exhibition, or choosing between contributing to an exhibition or not, or making work for particular project or exhibition, or not. It affects the artist’s whole career trajectory, and creates a massive pool of stagnation that ends up in a shocking waste of energy, talent and education. This is a national problem and it is completely unaddressed.

Recent research by the artists organization Axis looked at the category called the ‘midcareer artist.’ The artistic career trajectory is generally roughly categorized into three stages: the ’emerging’ artist, which is normally the first 8-10 years after art school. Then, assuming the artist continues practicing, they enter the next stage, the ‘midcareer’ artist. At that point, the artist might remain midcareer forever. Or they may eventually move into the third category, that rarefied category called the ‘established’ artist. Naturally there’s going to be a fair amount of drain along the way. People find other careers. People just lose interest in practicing art. Sometimes people actually reach the limitations of their ability and find themselves desiring to do other things. It’s not really a problem if it is a person’s choice. But if we put the two bits of research together, the A-N’s research on paying artists, and the Axis research on the position of the midcareer artist, we start to see a particularly disturbing picture.

In the Axis research, which admittedly only quantified artists who responded to the survey, we can see that 46% said that they rarely sell their work, while 32% said they rarely exhibit their work. In responding to questions about which factors inhibit their professional development, 46% said they are unfamiliar with the art world networks and 35% are geographically isolated.

I believe that there is a correlation between this, and the lack of support that the publicly funded institutions are able or willing to offer artists to help them to develop their careers. Unpaid exhibitions, or no exhibitions, would obviously lead to the feeling that so many so-called midcareer artists have, which is that their career is stagnating. Outside of very few metropolitan areas, up and down the country, the principal places to exhibit with a reasonable profile are would be regional arts organizations such as museums and arts centers. These are precisely the places that must pay artists, and pay them according to their status. If they think a midcareer artist is good enough to exhibit, they need to pay them a reasonable amount of money to reflect that artist’s actual achievement. They also need to offer substantial opportunities to midcareer artists, because it is actually from the established and midcareer artists that younger artists actually learn.

The period of time most people spend in art college is very short, maximum three years in and out. As we are all too aware, after you’ve stumped up that enormous amount of money for your tuition, by the time you graduate, you’re out the door and that’s it. Yet we still need to keep learning, and one of the best ways to learn is to associate with older artists who are further in development. Yet we never even think of exploring mentorship. But how could you expect a midcareer artist to mentor a young artist, in the midcareer artist isn’t even being paid a decent living for exhibiting in the kind of publicly funded places that showcase the artists?

sexism / ageism / racism in the art world? Unwitting, maybe. Willing to change —?

So this false economy of not paying artists leads to a dreadful stagnation in the career of artists, who hit their stride and then find that the opportunities have dried up. It is true that some opportunities are unforgiveably ageist, particularly those coming from other European countries, which mandate particular age groups. This obviously reflects the culture of those countries, which sees human development very rigidly, and should be questioned. One thing we do know is that many artists who come from less-privileged backgrounds often are unable to start practicing seriously as artists until somewhat later in life; and many female artists take time out to raise families, which is right, but then find that the opportunities (such as grants and residencies) are no longer available because they are now “over age.”

When you start to pick the whole picture apart like this and look at all the constituent parts you see that not only is it unfair, but the this unfairness is actually depriving the country of its authentic artistic voices. If we as a nation are willing to ask the taxpayer (ourselves!) to pay towards the arts, and we ourselves as Museum and Gallery goers are willing to pay our money for tickets to experience the arts, should we not demand that they be authentic and representative of us? Not just reflect a narrow privileged slice of society that manages to tick the boxes in ways which most people cannot.

Artists that meet the standard that we should expect, need to be paid. The artist career progression needs to be reflected in the opportunities that they are offered and the remuneration that they receive. While of course emerging artists should be supported, this would far better be done through mentorships and help to establish meaningful studio groups rather than in pushing young artists into over-exhibiting. It is actually the midcareer artists who are in crisis. And as I said, this crisis is resulting in an appalling waste of energy, talent and education.


photo Gillian McIver , all rights reserved.

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Paying Artists



Imagine turning up to work, putting in the hours, doing such a good job that you are roundly admired, patted on the back, congratulated for your work. Imagine the people talking about you, how good you are in your job, and that they admire you. Perhaps even writing about you in the press about how good you are in your job. Imagine that you very often take the job home with you and work well into the night, that your weekends and holidays involve you continuing to work. I’m sure you can imagine it, because it’s not completely uncommon. But could you imagine doing all of this without getting paid?

Imagine doing all of this, without getting paid, yet your employer is a publicly funded organization, the gets its income from the taxpayer and is staffed by people on full salaries, while you yourself have to go back to that same taxpayer and claim benefits.

Who on earth would think that this is an equitable system?

However, research by the A-N has shown that over the past three years, 71% of artists didn’t get paid any kind of a fee for contributions to publicly funded exhibitions. The same research showed that 63% of artists felt forced to reject gallery offers because they couldn’t afford to work for nothing. Which makes you wonder about those who did take up the offer of exhibition: independently wealthy or family funded artists? These are hardly going to be representative.

I wrote recently about representation in the art world, and how the art world is completely unrepresentative of Britain’s cultural mix. But I think that this research revealing the parlous economic state that artists are in, is very important.

We have reached the bizarre situation where a very few London art schools completely dominate the major art prizes (which lead to prestigious gallery signings, biennials and so on). This means that the only people who get chosen for art prizes are people were already fortunate enough to live in London, or are wealthy enough to move to London to study, and pay the insanely exorbitant costs of housing and transport.

But there’s another route to getting exposure, and that is through exhibiting. The national network of publicly funded organizations and institutions, including independent organizations who receive project funding, is supposed to create these opportunities up and down the country. But these are not going to be opportunities if the artist cannot afford to take them.

We accept the idea of ‘pay to play’ in small private galleries, although this itself has a deleterous affect on the art world, because it means that the small galleries which we assume are filled with ‘cutting-edge art’, are actually filled with art made by people wealthy enough and vain enough to cough up upwards of 1000 pounds a week to rent the gallery to showcase themselves.

But nobody expected ‘pay to play’ to be the norm in publicly funded galleries. But it is ‘pay to play’, let’s not make any bones about it. It’s ‘pay to play’, because if you offer me an exhibition opportunity, and you don’t pay me, then you get the benefit of my work, and your increased visitors numbers (which guarantees your continued funding), and people coming to use your cafeteria and whatever other services that you provide, and enhances your public profile. But I’m actually going to have to pay to produce the work and then depending what it is, I may have to pay to frame it, or otherwise arrange delivery and installation. You not asking me to just grab something out of my storage unit and haul it over on the bus.

The A-‘s paying artist campaign is a good one, and I fully support it. The very very very least we can ask from our organizations who have public funding is to reorganize their structures and their budgets and ensure that artists are paid.

However, there’s much more to the problem than simply cash. It is a whole complex disaster that combines elitism, nepotism, notions of cultural superiority and inferiority, sometimes sexism (which runs both ways), inequality, and frankly, I think, just pure blind pigheadedness.

I’m not really sure how we’re going to unravel all of this. Perhaps we shouldn’t bother trying to unravel it. Perhaps we should just take a hammer and smash it.

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The Dark Underbelly of the Festival Circuit

The Dark Underbelly of the Festival Circuit

Today I saw the above article on Indiewire

And then I just got an email from Festhome about some dodgy fake festivals that tried to hijack Festhome (who are being very decent about it, warning us, and I trust & respect them for that)

I first got suspicious when I saw a listing on WAB for the Canada International Film Fest in my home town of Vancouver yet I had never heard of it not had any of my family or friends back home (many of whom work in the industry in some form or other). And that’s cos it’s a night out in a casino, not a cinema (! – if you’re into that, OK but I am so NOT into that)

Now Indiewire has confirmed it.

What do you think? It kind of undermines my trust in Withoutabox.


and they have an excellent and FREE magazine you can get online



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Why you don’t need to Debut

2012-10-19 21.31.15

George Bodocan working at Studio75


I heard recently about the furore surrounding an enterprise called Debut Contemporary. This is an outfit that runs a kind of finishing school for art graduates. Appropriately it’s in Notting Hill, location of I Saw You Coming.* Appropriately it’s very expensive to go. It purports to prepare art grads to “enter the art world.” The furore is that some of their participants have publicly said that they were deeply unhappy with the finishing school’s service. Because, I’m sure, they did not realise it was just a finishing school. I don’t need to say anything more about them since they are not the subject of this article; I want to talk now about why no art graduate needs a “finishing school.”

  1. because there is no one way to “enter the art world.” This is highly individual and is part of your path in life, and you need to tramp that path yourself.. You cannot hire someone to get you there. It helps to have famous parents, yes. But most of the great artists did not have famous parents. Picasso’s dad was an art teacher, but Rembrandt’s was a miller. Peter Greenaway’s dad was a builder’s merchant and Jeff Koon’s parents were a furniture dealer / interior decorator and a seamstress. Warhol’s father worked in a coal mine.
  2. A “finishing school” (or “charm school” – love that!) as defined by Wikipedia is “a school for young people, mostly women, that focuses on teaching social skills and cultural norms as a preparation for entry into adult society. The name reflects that it follows on from ordinary school and is intended to complete the educational experience, with classes primarily on etiquette. It may consist of an intensive course, or a one-year programme.” Replace the term “into adult society” with “into the art world” and you have got Debut nailed. But come on, this is the 21st century. We laugh at the idea of going to school to learn to cut muffins and to simper appropriately. So you don’t need to do it to “get ahead in the art world.”
    Unless you are rich and don’t really know what to do you with yourself, and fancy dabbling a bit in art. Then it is a good idea to go and you will have fun and then go off and get a proper job, or just relax with your feet up. But for the rest of us, not useful.
  3. You cannot learn to “get ahead in the art world.” Your art practice is yours alone and your work plus luck / Fortuna will propel you forward. Success has many definitions. It might be about selling, but it might be about having a fantastically interesting life. It might be about making a difference to others, touching them by what you do. It might be about striving to be in the history books, whatever the art world may think of you today you have got your eye on posterity. All of these things could be success. Only you determine what your success is. Charm School cannot do that for you.
  4. Attending a charm school in itself cannot help you to “get ahead in the art world.” However influential the school purports to be, and however influential its patrons (and there is no actual evidence for this in the case of the school referred to earlier) you know your heart that the work is the main thing. If you spent the money you could spend on the charm school on your work, you will have a much better chance of progressing. In any case, you have already been to an art school, so that is all the institutional kudos you need at this stage.
  5. Be very careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are armies of charlatans out there ready to fleece new artists. They know you are insecure about your work. They know that flattering you with one hand while digging into your pocket with another will be easy and sweet for them. I wrote about this recently: https://blog.gillianmciver.org/2013/11/28/follow-up-to-my-post-on-film-festivals/
    These experiences sound ludicrous but they are real and I have more of them in my repertoire of anecdotes about Horrific Art World Delusions and Rip Offs. You will not be able to go through your life avoiding all of them but you could avoid signing up a year of your life and thousands of pounds of your money.
    What can you do to avoid this? Well, research! And more research. Be wary of wild claims on the part of the offering. Find others who have been involved with the offering, what kind of experiences did they have? I just read an online interview with the creator of the offering mentioned above and it is clear straight away this is highly embroidered. Further research proved my hunch correct. Research! One HUGE clue, as we all know from spam emails – is if the offering promotes themselves with faulty grammar or spelling. This means they get interns to do the work for them and cannot be bothered even to check. If they are so careless with their own marketing what kind of care will they have for YOU?
  6. Following on from that, if an offering has already accrued a reputation of being a bit dodgy, this will stick on to you. The very kudos you seek will be denied to you.
  7. You already have all the knowledge you need to “enter the art world.” You have a direction for your work and you – hopefully – have some friends and a work ethic. There is a reason why, traditionally, art courses don’t teach business skills as part of the curriculum. Although there is a pressure on them to do so now, it is misguided.
    Industry knowledge, and “powerful art and business networks” are things that accrue over time. They can’t be bought. Anyway, as I said above, one man’s meat is another’s poison. The “industry knowledge and powerful art and business networks” useful for one artist are not going to be the same for another. The “art world” is diverse!
    Doing short courses, seeking mentors, and building your own networks to create events and exhibitions will serve you better as a graduate. There is so much support out there for emerging artists! But YOU have to do the work.
putting up the new show at THE YELLOW WALL, Chalet Cafe London

putting up the new show at THE YELLOW WALL, Chalet Cafe London

So, what to do?

You have decided not to go to an art finishing school. OK, so far so good. So what DO you need to get on?

  1. A massive reality check. A copy of Alastair Gentry’s book Career Suicide [http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/alistairgentry] It’s funny and entertaining but gives you a lot of useful information. It might burst your bubble, but better to let a book do it than you having it burst all over you!
  2. Some basic self marketing skills. Learn to make a simple attractive website using free tools such a Picasia and Blogger, put up the best photos of your best work, and your contact details. Eschew the desire to put the hideous statement they made you write at art school. Keep everything as real as possible.
  3. Find some like minded people. You could start with ones you went to art school with, or you could join a studio. Remember all the £ you are saving by not going to charm school? Use that to fund a space no matter how small, in a lively studio.
  4. Club together and put on your own shows. Publish a zine. Make videos of your show and interview your fellow artists and put it on YouTube.
  5. Seek a mentor. There are artists out there who are willing to work with new artists without a fee! They will help you in exchange for studio assistance and so on. At Studio75 we have been doing an informal mentorship programme. Young artists work with us as assistants and in exchange they get all kinds of tuition, from learning to Photoshop their pictures to drawing techniques. How did we find them? They found us. We do not take everybody. The chemistry has to be right. And they have to work like the devil.
  6. Join group shows, but avoid things with hefty entrance fees. You are not experienced enough and you will just lose your money. If you want to join these things (e.g. Jerwood prize etc.) go and see the shows for a few years till you get a measure of what they actually want, and if it fits with what you want to do, go for it. Open exhibitions have clearly-visible yet never-mentioned agendas of what they like, no matter who’s on the jury. See Emily Speed’s blog Getting Paid [http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/497389]
  7. Keep working. Whatever else you might be doing to make money, art is your full time job.
  8. Do your fellow artists a favour and make this post viral!
Keep working! Nazir Tanbouli at work.

Keep working! Nazir Tanbouli at work.

*I Saw You Coming is a comedy sketch in the Harry and Paul show, about a Notting Hill antiques shop salesman (Harry Enfield) who sells junk to gullible wealthy women (usually portrayed by Sophie Winkleman) for extortionately large quantities of money. In the second series, he also owns a store called ‘Modern Wank’ claiming to his customers that it is considered retro to mix old items with modern furniture.

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Artists! Stop what you are doing NOW and read this list of generous and absolutely typical artist opportunities, the likes of which we are munificently flooded with every single day ….

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commodification of the revolution

this is a screenshot of something i saw for sale on a web page yesterday. I am not going to have a go at the company and say whose web page, because although I am outraged I do assume they commissioned this design and put it for sale in good faith. And who does not want to celebrate the “spirit of Tahrir”  – ?

But the reality is that Tahrir today is not a place of  freedom: it is the site of an ongoing revolutionary struggle by incredibly brave people – and incredibly scared people. Although all my support is for the protestors, who are fighting to be free of dictatorship and tyranny –  I am also sensitive to the many who are confused and scared by the events, who fear for their homes and livelihoods, who fear the future.  I even feel for the army recruits (it is a conscript army) who are carrying out the violence – how confused they too must be!

Revolutions take time. Revolutions are bloody nasty. With all the books I’ve read, I have no idea what it would be like to be in the middle of a revolution.

We who are not today in Egypt, we can’t help them. Not really. We can help spread the word, so what is happening gets out there.  We can try to be informed. But we can’t do much.


But at the VERY LEAST we can refrain from commodifying their revolution!

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