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).