Flirtation with arts funding

Mikes - beginnings of a meta-drawing of two sculptures of the same model sculpted by two different artists

Mikes – beginnings of a drawing of two sculptures of the same model sculpted by two different sculptors

Despite my suspicion of government arts funding, I recently undertook something of an experiment in applying for a rather large grant involving a residency in Berlin. Unsurprisingly, I was unsuccessful, but I think this very inevitability makes for an interesting discussion.

The grant I applied for is known as a ‘Skills and Arts Development General and Residency grant.’ Now, the government may use a lot of words to express itself, but I know from experience that each and every word is agonisingly selected, rejected and reselected to give as precise a meaning as possible. In this case, then, I was sure I was on the right track in emphasising that I intended to use the grant to develop my skills. The grant has but two criteria—the application must:

–       demonstrate a high degree of artistic merit in the applicant’s work to date.
–       demonstrate the potential for the project to contribute to the applicant’s professional development.

Ten images were to be supplied to address the first, and a very slim ‘project description’ to address the second, expressing ‘what you intend to do; explain why you are interested in and passionate about particular issues, materials, media, etc; and how your project contributes to your personal development.’ It seems I misunderstood the thrust of this development when I suggested that I would visit galleries, make copies, draw consistently from the model, train in anatomy and produce a lot of art in the studio. My personalised feedback suggested that ‘whilst your proposal expresses reasons for being in Berlin, a stronger rationale with more tangible and confirmed reasons such as meetings with artists, curators, mentorships, exhibitions or galleries would have further strengthened your application. It’s advised to research in advance of the application and develop networks and professional development opportunities before going abroad.’ I see now that the grant is not at all about art skills development, but purely about professional skills development—networking, forging connections, liaising with specific people. You can draw anywhere—it’s specific people, not resources or characteristics of the city, that make Berlin a necessary stopover in an artist’s career.

I accept that this is not where my interests lie, and that I am more focused on concentrating on my work, improving my abilities, and immersing myself in a place. In this respect, fair call.

Life drawing

However, some interesting points come out later in the response. ‘It is important to continually build on your exhibition history to demonstrate your artistic merit.’ Ah, a numbers game. It certainly is difficult to make those value judgments to determine artistic merit, but it’s easy to count how many shows are on your CV. I understand this to a point, but feel uneasy about it. Surely there are many paths an artist’s career can take, and perhaps some meander a little more slowly through education, and place more demands on themselves to produce quality work rather than rushing to have anything and everything seen. Not so, if you are going to approach government, which abides by the current standard path. Most careers follow a standard path—so why not that of the artist? Attend art school, have fifty shows in the next two years, and you’re rolling. If you’re doing it differently, you’re not doing it at all. It’s easy for an artist to question herself when she sees herself deviate from this clearly defined path.

Nima and Kate deep in thought

Nima and Kate deep in thought

Why, then, being serious about art, haven’t I embarked on that accepted path? Yes, I’ve exhibited, and yes, I’ve studied, but not Fine Art at a university. And while I’ve flirted with design several times for the last decade, I’ve never had the nerve to study ‘real,’ ‘serious’ art, because, well, philosophers do philosophy better and I really just wanted to learn to draw. Underwhelmed by the course descriptions each time I researched study options, and by the work in graduate exhibitions in Queensland, each and every time I came to the conclusion that art is not for me. Art in the modern world has mutated into some ghastly, non-rigorous, ill-researched form of intellectualism in which deliberately obtuse artists’ statements eclipse the visual element. It’s enough to explain an idea to get the concept, and the visual aspect is redundant. This is a complaint for another time. The point is, what attracts me to drawing, and to painting, is the immense power in this visual expression. I am but a humble painter, not an artist.

Life drawing

Sadly for me, however, ‘The Australia Council funds innovative contemporary visual art practice,’ and the most exemplary applications the Australia Council received of said innovative contemporary visual art practice had a strong ‘conceptual basis for a project in both ideas conveyed in the project description and in the support material.’ Alas, I left out the ideas! I saw the bit about enthusiasm for a medium, and harped on a bit about drawing, and about paint, and didn’t contextualise any of this in terms of tensions and dichotomies and gender roles and quantum physics! Concepts are the currency of the day, and if a painter is to dive into the murky world of art she must adapt: ‘Whilst the visual arts panel is highly supportive of classical fine art or heavily skills based practice, I suggest your application will be more competitive when this is supported by a conceptual rationale.’ And so, my skill-hungry application for the ‘Skills and Arts Development General and Residency grant’ was eaten alive by the panel. But they send me their best wishes.

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La source

After Ingres, La Source

After Ingres, La Source

I have been thinking about how important it is to uncover one’s source. My dear friend Jacques has been in town, and his simultaneous lightness and solidity has been energizing. But it is not enough to rely on the buoyancy of others. I think of Ingres’ La Source, and of how she sustains herself: an endless spring, an infinite well needing no support.

Delacroix journal

Delacroix (p. 32) struggles, early in his journals, with a restlessness—‘This restlessness that comes over me almost every evening! Oh sweet contentment of the philosophers, why can I not capture you?’ He concludes, ‘I must never put off for a better day something that I could enjoy doing now. What I have done cannot be taken from me.’ Knowing that you have invested your energies and your time into something meaningful allows you to sustain yourself—independent of others, independent of circumstances—able to carry yourself, and pick yourself up, and nourish yourself. Delacroix (p. 29) muses, ‘Even one task fulfilled at regular intervals in a man’s life can bring order into his life as a whole; everything else hinges upon it.’

Sculptors

And so, I begin to look for the things that cut through everything else, the things I can return to, the things that I can build on day after day and thus build myself up. While Jacques is employed in a field of theoretical physics that keeps him wholly engaged and focused, thus finding a source in his work, I must fill the crevices left in my days with the things that energize me. Drawing stands out like a beacon. When I’m not drawing, it seems hard and important and worthy of time, too big and significant for snatches of moments. But once it slips into those snatches, it penetrates everything—bad moods, sadness, fatigue. I must depend upon my drawing. Philosophy, too—I remember the consolation it has given me, far deeper than any escapism offered by fiction. My quiet time over coffee, studying German, and practicing grammar, and gaining a mastery over something new and challenging. These things are solitary and unshakeable, and with them I can prop myself up, and build myself up. I must draw, and study, and think deeply, and I will be refreshed and strong enough to face the world.

Sculptors

Delacroix (p. 20) happened upon the same realisation: ‘Poor fellow!’ he chided himself. ‘How can you do great work when you are always having to rub shoulders with everything that is vulgar. Think of the great Michelangelo. Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul. You are always being lured away by foolish distractions. Seek solitude. If your life is well ordered your health will not suffer.’

Sculptors

I am amazed that my sketchbook languishes when I know what it gives me! So few tools, and yet they give me the power to invert everything. It is like holding up a pitcher that never runs dry—what sorcery!

Sculptors

Later in life, Delacroix (p. 133) reflects on the source of his strength and peace, probing himself thus: ‘Why was it that I lived so fully on that particular day? Because I had a great many ideas that are miles away from me now. The secret of having no worries—at least where I am concerned—is to have plenty of ideas. Therefore I cannot afford to let slip any means of encouraging them. Good books have this effect, and especially certain books. Health is the first consideration, but even when one is feeling dull and tired these particular books can renew the source from which my imagination flows.’ Endlessly refreshed by Dante, and perpetually inspired by Rubens, Delacroix persevered with his work in spite of feeling ill, or tired, or distracted by companions. He struggled, but he knew himself well enough to bring himself through those struggles and focus on what was most meaningful to him—and, as we all hope to, to produce something enduring, the true offspring of that drive.

Sculptors

My friend and philosopher Mark muses, ‘I begin to suppose that life will never feel more real or more lively than it does right now, and if we ever want to do something great, we must do it feeling like this.’ I think he is correct in concluding that it won’t strike us like a bolt from the heavens, this energy that will propel us to greatness. He is right to feel we must push on through apathy. But if we can nurture that part of ourselves in secret, and find that quiet spring inside us, perhaps we can pull ourselves out of that foggy place by our own bootstraps.

Sculptors

James Dickey, to conclude:

You?    I?    What difference is there?    We can all be saved
By a secret blooming. Now as I walk
The night    and you walk with me    we know simplicity
Is close to the source that sleeping men
Search for in their home-deep beds.
We know that the sun is away    we know that the sun can be conquered
By moths, in blue home-town air.

(James L Dickey, The strength of fields)

Delacroix, Eugene. 2010 [1822-1863] The journal of Eugene Delacroix. Trans. Lucy Norton. Phaidon: London.

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Summer show

Nausea (c) Samantha Groenestyn

Nausea (c) Samantha Groenestyn

Another year of endless Summer. We have been busy preparing some paintings for the Atelier Summer Show which is on this Saturday. If you would like to drop by we’ll be at the RQAS gallery on Petrie Terrace in Brisbane, from 6.30pm.

Sweet frame

I picked up my freshly framed paintings today, from local framer Chapman & Bailey. This is some exquisite handiwork; beautiful timbers, simple and beautiful stains, and all handmade. We are loving these shadow box frames that line the canvas with a deep, dark drop.

Varnishing

The rest of the morning involved varnishing these little guys to make them as shiny as wet paint!

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