Professional Practice

work from MA1 (left) and MA2 (right)

This week’s seminar was about professional practice and how to determine what that is; how we want to shape it to continue to be making and distributing work after the MA finishes. In discussion we contributed collaboratively to build a document which gave collective feedback about what we felt identified Professional Practice. Each person explored different points, both in general and more specific terms. Certainly this may change our Professional Practice Plan, but is also a poignant moment on the journey of the MA to reflect on where we are and where we want to be: perhaps how this has changed. One of the great advantages of studying the MA over a three year period, is the ability to grow and change during that time, and for our thoughts and experiences over this period to impact on our artistic output. During a three year period much can change: our location, working environment, ability to set aside specific studio time, gaining or losing studio space, family could be increasing or changing format, we may go through periods of being well or unwell. All of these factors impact on our productivity, ability to connect with our own practice, perhaps even our confidence in putting work out into public spaces, or sharing it in any way. I often encounter extremely talented artists who have somehow lost their motivation for exhibiting. Work is stacked and collected in their studio, or the studio grinds to a halt. I was aware as we chatted during this seminar that whilst we might be enthusiastic creatives, that does not necessarily make us good business men and women. Some will be, but not all. I have often produced a piece and felt excited about it and rarely considered contacting people to exhibit it. My ‘audience’ is mostly online: friends and family, as well as those who follow me because they have bought work in the past. But the skills of negotiating a fair price, of exploring places to exhibit and of making the right kind of connections with industry insiders is relatively unfamiliar to me. It is something I know that I must keep working on. But there is a risk to take with this: and it is the ultimate risk – that of rejection. I have often said that when I complete a painting or a sculpture it is ‘my baby’ and that I have brought it to existence and am passionate about it. It must be loved and appreciated: by me, if not by anyone else. The possibility of it being judged substandard by another human being would be equivalent to the kind of rejection one can never recover from. Like being an actress, you need to go to 50 auditions to perhaps be given one part. 49 people will say your face doesn’t fit, and you have to be hardened to this. But I know I am not hardened to that kind of criticism. It is an issue. So, whilst I tentatively dip my toe in the water of exhibiting outside the comfort of environments where I know I will be well received, I have to protect myself. I have to remember that we all have different tastes and values and that someone who does not like my work is not criticising me per se. They are not declaring me unfit to paint or a poor excuse for an artist, or human being; they perhaps prefer a different style of work, or a different palette, or something which I would not like.

It is this area which is most problematic for me. I see no reason to imagine that I will not continue to make art. My job will be changing in the autumn and I will be moving house, but one of the stipulations I made was that I would continue to have a studio space to work in. This will be a more dedicated space than the current studio I have. I will have space to exhibit work and develop collaborative work with my students. I will have made some connections with galleries both in London and Kent. Whilst I have set aside about twelve hours a week to work on the MA, this time can be split between making work and making connections. Continuing the process. I have made changes this year. I have created a new website, a new Instagram and twitter account, a new business card and flyers, headed paper. I have made contact with organisations, volunteered as an Art Leader, agreed to volunteer at a Hospice, written three articles for magazines, and I have been productive in my practice. But this is JUST THE STRART. It has reminded me why I love what I do, and why it is necessary to move work on, to allow it to infiltrate the world, and to remove it from becoming the carpets and wallpaper of my existence. I am loving the MA. It is allowing me to find myself as an Artist, to explore the resistances and boundaries I felt were etched into my skin. These were only ever (mostly) imaginary: about pleasing people, making a difference, being socially responsible. They had nothing to do with painting from the heart, or capturing because it is essential: because it is breath and emotion and healing.

Oil paintings MA2

So this journey is life changing: the connections it is initiating could become life-long. This journey has signposts which may keep changing but they must always point towards developing more work, showing it in whatever way is most logical, collaborating with others to exhibit, looking for funding or exploring putting work into group exhibitions (which allows one to make further contacts). This existence is so very privileged – to be able to do what I love and to have the facilities to enable this to be done relatively easily. I may not have much in the way of time, but I can forgo sleep and I can declare myself a hermit if necessary. THIS is important. I am passionate about this and I am, in turn, teaching my son to commit fully to the things he is passionate about. It is a life lesson that I feel lucky to be able to share. And now I must continue the journey of sharing work, giving it away, exploring this act and documenting it.

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One thought on “Professional Practice”

  1. This is a lovely honest reflection Emma – you are right we are so privileged to be able to have some time and space and a great cohort to be able share this with. I empathise with your struggle about criticism and I too am trying to develop ways of dealing with this. Thank god we have 3 years!

    Liked by 1 person

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