Art Making Art Thinking

Making art - ideas from anytime and anyplace

Tag: culture

An interlude – continuing reflection on practice – a post with no images

In my thesis (2006)[1] I examined the idea that creative practice for most artists (from any art) could not be easily separated from everyday life.

Arguably everyday life for everyone requires imagination and memory as well as thinking . . .

about what is around them now . . .

about what has been around them in the past . . .

and about what will be around them in the future.

When I think about what that involves for us . . . for all of us . . . all the time . . . I am still astounded by the existence of consciousness and its complexity.

Essentially consciousness is one of the most beautiful things in our world, it results in seemingly unlimited ways of structuring and restructuring and enhancing our lives and here’s the but, those enhancements are subject to different belief systems within individuals, society’s and cultures which themselves are the products of ‘creative’ thinking.

What brought on this reflective burst of thought? Three things in particular . . .

Firstly – last week I was at the Christmas meeting of the Perthshire Care and Well-being Co-operative and we spoke about the importance of providing different kinds of care for the increasing numbers of people experiencing problems with their emotional and mental health. The shared consensus was that increased pervasiveness of technology was exposing people of all age groups to unrealistic expectations of themselves and how they should ‘be’, revisiting the perennial question . . . what makes a successful and meaningful life?

Secondly – Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Enough said.

Thirdly – the article in the Blairgowrie Advertiser early in December informing the readership that the old Hill Primary school in the town centre had been sold by Perth and Kinross Council for the grand sum of £1. Yes, SOLD FOR £1!!! To Corryard Contractor and Developer, Crieff. This was only found out after a freedom of information request was put in to the council. The request was put in because of confusion in Blairgowrie about why the council would prefer to choose a private development bid over one from The Ericht Trust. The Ericht Trust had spent a significant amount of time putting together a proposal for a local community centre for the benefit of Blairgowrie. Finding out that the old school had been purchased for £1 is an indication that central amenities for the local community are not a priority for Perth and Kinross Council. Dream Homes are a priority though. Enough said again. (Interestingly I could not find anything on the Blairgowrie Advertiser’s Facebook page about this, or on the online page of the  Daily Record’s  which owns the Advertiser

I am unable to make art which overtly engages with these issues, I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I feel that I cannot do justice to the seriousness of these events although all of this does influence my thinking and therefore, indirectly, my art.


[1] Stackhouse, Aileen M (2006)Trahere; the sense of unease in making a mark – the practice of drawing and the practice of thinking. University of Dundee

Art Times . . . I live here . . . close by the River Ericht

And now it is the end of March. So much is happening, so many new people to meet and to talk about the Ericht with, so much to learn about. Learning is an ongoing process for people, we have to learn to live, we have to learn to communicate and create, to make, to think and imagine how things can change or how to keep them the same (impossible). We learn whatever we do, we learn when we meet different people, we learn that they see a different world from our own, this includes the wide world around us as well as what is under our own nose. Not everyone appreciates wildness, wilderness, many cannot see beyond the undergrowth and what lives there, for some a tree is an obstruction and not a home for living things, not everyone appreciates maintained landscapes, many cannot see the green space around only what forms of life are missing.

I’m learning all this anew, not everyone sees the Ericht the way I do, as a refuge, a safe haven full of beauty. Because of this range of opinions I will say what I have learned from the people I speak to, but in this Creative Scotland funded role of Artist-in-Residence-in-My-Home-Blairgowrie I will maintain an objective distance. I will show what I see, I will not express personal opinions.

Meetings attended this month have included BRAN and then the Riverside Venture Group which is a sub group within Blairgowrie Community Council then one to one meetings with Jessie Shaw of One Voice and The Ericht Trust where I collected a Tascam sound recorder to borrow and record sounds along the river as well as interviews. I have volunteered to become their new interviewer for Blairgowrie Hour on Heartland FM so we’ll see how that pans out, Lesley McDonald from Cargill’s Bistro has a list of people she wants me to interview. I walked along the Ericht towards Kitty Swanson’s bridge with Hazel Harris and we spoke about how paths were vulnerable to landowners and farmers as well as the area’s history. Upcoming conversations include Melanie Thomson who will speak to me about the history of the mills along the Ericht’s banks and Louise Copeland who lives at the confluence of the Lornty Burn with the Ericht.

And Spring is coming . . .

Art Times Four

Art Times Four

Autumn drawing and other actions

Images above are from ‘Scratch Notes. . Volume 1’ miniature boxed installation shown at Perthshire Creates exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery in October.

For me October overstayed its welcome and when time becomes like this my perception of the world hangs within a state of suspension where everything turns, rotates and orbits and the sun hangs too in the metalled gold or silver sky.

I have been looking at designers. Even now, almost 20 years after getting my degree in Fine Art Sculpture, I believe that dividing art into categories such as fine art and design is not helpful. For me anyone who thinks and imagines ways of doing things differently and then creates from their ideas is an artist – divisions are specious and a waste of time. For humans in this world to work together and share ideas should be the aim.

Bruce Mau, a Canadian designer ( believes in creativity’s power to change our lives. I borrowed a book from the library called Glimmer by Warren Berger which discusses Bruce Mau’s and other designers’ influence on the everyday – how design is not about producing objects/gadgets of design – design is about processes of improving our experience of living in the world.  The book’s mantra is ‘ask stupid questions’ ask questions that don’t accept the way things are, ask why, ask what, ask who, where, when, how, whether, what about??? Too many of us don’t ask we simply behave. Stupid questions trigger fresh thinking. Another way to say this is ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’.

Whatever we make, however we create, wherever we draw, sculpt, craft, part of all that exploratory process is getting lost (getting lost means we see/find/feel stuff we wouldn’t otherwise experience), and we make what we may consider to be mistakes (mistakes have a function), part of that process is to question our habits of making/doing and to DO DIFFERENTLY!

Which brings me to my new drawing class in Blairgowrie ‘Ways into Drawing’. I had forgotten how much I love to talk about drawing, to show others different ways to draw, to encourage experimentation. Not in a huge way, my aim is to encourage people who want to draw to play and relax, to have conversations, eat biscuits and drink tea and coffee . . .what is truly lovely is this is not about marks, passing exams, ticking boxes . . .it is simply about the process of mark making among like-minded people who are becoming friends. We’re just over half way through the block and I’m enjoying it enough to run another two groups that begin in January 2017. ‘Ways into Drawing One’ will repeat this current class and ‘Ways into Drawing Two’ will build and expand on ‘One’. I will use Create at Nest in Blairgowrie again as a venue, it’s small enough not to intimidate new people and it’s friendly. Bookings can be made via my website. Examples of the groups drawing can be seen below.


Finally . . . I have finished the wax sculpture commissioned privately for a Dandie Dimont and it will soon be cast in bronze. I am excited; the dog was interesting to model because he is small with short legs, a long muscular body and a curly coat. Dandie Dimont’s are a rare British breed, they do not cast their hair and so are good companions for people who are sensitive to dog hair. They were bred to be used for hunting badgers and their feet are amazing, when the dog is lying down they look dainty and small. When the dog stands up the foot spreads and look rather like a spade with claws stuck at the end. His body is concertina like – sometimes short and chunky – sometimes long and snake like. Their jaws have a bite which is fierce because they dislocate to get a grip on their prey. OUCH!

There’s so much more that happened but I’ve already written rather a lot so hey ho . . . so here’s a list Perthshire Creates exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Scottish Woodworking Show 2016 at Brodies Timber in Inver by Dunkeld, Dr Isabella Moore CBE Director of Comtec talking to Women’s Enterprise at Cargills Bistro, The Care and Well-being Co-op event in Pitlochry where I held a Drawing for Well-being taster session, went to workshop about Sharing your creative practice held by Voluntary Arts Scoltand at the Botanic Cottage in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and presented by Gill Thomas  and going to Growbiz Perthshire’s event about the mentoring process at Fishers Hotel in Pitlochry.

This week I will be concentrating on MAKING art.

Keep Making Artwork

Thinking about making art work


Why does artwork have to work/function/be understood? Does art have to work etc for it to be named as art. . . to be understood as art . .  to be spoken of as art?

It’s in the nature of creating art that it does not always work/function/be comprehensible, sometimes it becomes un-nameable, un-categorisable, sometimes it is not even understood  by the person who is making that art.

Further. . .in order to become art an artwork has to contain spaces of time during its making and within its structure where it does not work, it does not fulfil its function. It stops being art and becomes art not being.

Bear with me while I think this conundrum out and type while thinking (since typing is slower than talking, typing focuses the mind and means I may be able to make sense out of non-sense).


Start again.


First there is the name . . . art

A work of art

A piece of work

An artwork

A curator once expressed their belief in conversation with me that art can never be called work in the way that coal mining or fishing or anything that involves physical labour can be called work. Calling art work was a piece of nonsense, a non-sense.

I did not respond for this was true . . . coal mining and art are demonstrably different. Despite the curator themselves being involved in the pursuit and gathering of artworks and artists into the fold of the art world it was evident that they considered coal mining to be worthwhile work whereas making art and thinking about making art was not as worthwhile, was considered to be a luxury.

I still did not respond for I did not know what to say . . . in one sentence everything I made, everything I did, everything I thought about had become relegated to a lower level of things necessary for existence. Was not worthwhile . . . what? Creating art or looking at art was considered a luxury, a way of whiling away time.

Years later I think the curator did not express this belief of theirs particularly well. My own belief is that art and art making is essential for humanity in order to stay well and to understand the world.


Then there is the process of . . . art

The art of making works which communicate the art of being, thinking, ideas, beliefs, perceptions . . . all of these artworks work, they function as expressions of our humanity –they share feelings (good and bad), perceptions (inaccurate or accurate) and ideas (mistaken or correct) between individuals, communities, societies and cultures.

The processes of art are not always physical, nor are they always labour-intensive, and the products may be regarded as inessential to human existence, luxurious. Imagine (and here the concept of imagination is fundamental) our world without art, we would have no infrastructure, no medicine, education, history, philosophy or science, none of these would exist if we did not have the ability to imagine and then create from that imagining.

And some believe art is not work. . .


Four experiences this month have highlighted these thoughts and given me more food for them. . The first was Perthshire Open Studios, which I spoke about in my last blog Art Times Three. The second was just this last weekend 24th September in Dundee’s Mini Make Off organised by Pop Dundee . I went along to see how my artist friend Victoria Wylie Hale engaged with the public as well as simply saying ‘Hello Friend’. Third was the PVAF’s road show in Create at Nest in Blairgowrie on the following day, it’s definitely a good idea for PVAF to go out and about given that Perthshire is huge. The present committee have put out a revisioning of their mission statement for the membership to comment on via a survey, (see their link above) before their AGM, showing a healthy attitude towards adjusting in response to the changing art world. The meeting discussed Perth’s City of Culture bid to become the UK City of culture 2021. With regard to the idea of art and work I was interested in how the Perth and Kinross Council’s invitation to artists to suggest ideas was seemingly at odds with its own history of cutting financial provision for, shedding jobs in, and withdrawing opportunities for communities to engage in art which has recently been masked by a rebranding exercise which purports that the opposite is the case. Recently I found out that Life Drawing Classes would now only be held in Perth, no longer in  Blairgowrie or Kinross and that PKC was stopping funding for Adult Education in Blairgowrie and Alyth.

In other professions people who have ideas are paid for those ideas, people who work are paid for that work. Artists should be paid for their work, not expected to pay for the chance to turn up and present ideas/hand artwork over to a gallery or institution where it may/may not be exhibited for a set space of time or where it may or may not be chosen/sold. If it is chosen for further development and given the financial means to go ahead then those means are often inadequate and rarely equate to the remuneration given to equally qualified professionals. If it is sold then the parties who exhibit the artwork are given a substantial percentage of the selling price, if it is not sold then the artist picks it up and takes it away, no remuneration at all. It has always been the case in the UK that the life of an artist is complicated and often supported by a number of other jobs, or a supportive partner/family, or, for those fortunate enough, an independent income although hopefully things are changing. Creative Scotland has recently declared its support for the campaign Paying Artists/Valuing Art, see AN newsletter for the campaign’s 2 year history.

Back to experience two, Vicky at Dundee’s Mini Make Off. A brilliant idea, artists were given space for a day to demonstrate what they do and give visitors the chance to have a go. I wanted to see Vicky’s stall because I’ve been following the growth of her art group for children at Explore, Play, Create in Forfar and wanted to pick her brains again about making my way as a freelancer in the sharkfest of the art world. Earlier in the year I had been along to see her own work in Angus Open Studios, now defunct due to a lack of artists volunteering for the committee. I’ve known Vicky for years (though she’s many years younger than me!) and if anyone is going to be successful then Vicky is. Part of her appeal is her complete openness and willingness to exchange ideas and make art with whoever she’s with, whether they are three years old or an octogenarian or everyone in-between. See her own pages for what she’s achieved.

My point here is that all artists much of the work Vicky does is unpaid. The amount of research, development, practice, market research, management, professional development, administration and publicity that she has to do vastly outweighs her financial reward yet Vicky keeps on making art. . .Why? Why do I keep making art, or why do any of us who make art keep making art? See the end for answer.

And I think that’s what the people who don’t make art understand when they find ways of justifying why artists do not need paid, they know artists are going to stick their necks out and keep making art anyway so why pay them? They recognise as well that most artists do not join committees, do not exert pressure for their rights, would rather not make a noise in case people decide not to choose their work, will not say that’s not fair and consistently undervalue themselves and the way they see the world. That’s me.

To finish on a positive note. Experience four was taking part in Introduction to WordPress organised by Growbiz and run by Louise Copeland (website developer) of Great Little Brands.  Using examples from the ‘back end’ of websites she is currently developing for clients Louise gave us insights into how we could begin to use WordPress, or if we already used it then ways to improve our experience. Using her own self-catering holiday website and  Rachel Bower’s website she demonstrated how to set up online shops and made it look easy. Cornelia Weinmann’s  website had a more stripped down look and drew admiring ooh’s from the audience. The Care and Well-Being Co-op website differed slightly in that it used a template designed for charitable organisations. WordPress is a powerful tool for those of us who do not have a big budget, it’s open source which means that a lot of those resources and tools are free. Terms which I sort of understand now and didn’t before are plug-ins (additional features/functions), up-sell and cross-sell, how to use categories and tags (wasn’t doing it properly before!) and RSS. Louise emphasised that it’s important to structure our information consistently and to always test before publishing. All of this information was presented clearly and was fairly easy to understand, I’m glad she didn’t talk about HTML though.

Next blog I’ll talk about giving an Art Taster session for the Care and Well-being Co-op at the Atholl Centre in Pitlochry during Perth and Kinross Wellbeing week and then at the end of October Voluntary Arts Scotland has organised a training session called ‘Sharing your Creative Skills’ about how to run workshops! It’s free to attend, it’s in Edinburgh at the Royal Botanic Garden so hopefully there will be no rain because I love looking at plants. And I might get a chance to look at Inverleith House where the exhibition will be I still believe in Miracles for beautiful places to walk through.

The answer to the question why do artists make art is because it is almost impossible for artists not to make art, unless they are ill and even then some still do . . . (Frieda Kahlo and John Bellany to name two).


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