I thought that for this blog entry I might talk a little about my own life as an artist. Students often struggle with motivation and time management and I wanted to talk a little about my own experiences as these two issues will follow you throughout your artistic career.
I am an artist living and working on the Isle of Lewis, quite a large Island in the Outer Hebrides. Living here creates a barrier of time and distance between me and almost everyone else which sets up an unusual environment for art practice as well as life in general. In a lot of ways I have much in common with my students who are all distance learners. We all need to find ways to maintain motivation and momentum and to have the confidence to claim ownership of our own learning whilst being as inventive as possible about taking advantage of whatever is out there for us.
Earlier in the year I decided to take a root and branch review of my practice and the way it fits into my life, with a view to making major changes to improve my professional life and give myself the best possible chance of making excellent work. I am putting more structure and support in place over the coming year and expect to be able to move forward to a more sustainable social practice.
Looking at my students I have found that the most consistent predictor of success on a course has been the student’s own readiness to give the course a chance. Students might be working full time or have children or health issues which might affect their studies, but success seems to depend on whether they have thought through the impact of whatever their circumstances are and found a good place for their art to sit in their lives. I live on a low income in a small solid fuel powered stone cottage with a lot of mud about the place and have a small daughter. This rather isolated lifestyle has affected my relationship with the wider art world since I moved here and perhaps the everyday stuff has slipped in and distracted me from really focussing on my practice and what I am doing it for.
Having studied psychology in the past, I set about researching ideas around motivation and fulfilment. I looked hard at what really made me tick and forced myself to be honest about what kinds of things motivated me both within my practice and more generally. The outcome was that I decided that I needed to build more structure into my working life and furnish that structure with plenty of opportunities for reward and peer interaction.
I decided that living on such a low income was inhibiting and so applied and successfully received funding to run a residency at the Island’s Art Club. I am now putting a proposal together for funding for me as an individual to enable me to work with other artists and technicians. This has provided, for the next 6 months at least, a regular extra income which will enable me to purchase materials and heat the studio.
I have attempted in the past to set up a graduate peer support group on the Island for artists but it hasn’t really worked. This time I approached a senior tutor and colleague and asked her if she would agree to mentor me over the next few months. She agreed and I organised funding for that too so that I now have my own ‘tutor’ in a sense; someone waiting to see what I will get up to. I have been studying Art History of the 20th century with the Open University this year and have used the course to patch the holes in my rather idiosyncratic journey through art history to date. The tutors at the OU, Paul Wood and Frances Robertson from Glasgow School of Art, were a great help and inspiration. Already through these actions I have increased the number of people involved in my work from one to four. It may well be that as my work progresses I will use the blog to ask for input from students.
I have drawn up a work plan, my own ‘course’ if you like and have broken the ideas down into achievable units. I am working on several pieces at the same time and am building a little world of my own in my studio. I am building up my working environment by making things. The objects are not art works; they are subject matter or notes. It’s a stage between the observable world and my own art work. Like a model or filter – a morphing. I start with models (I have made a few but will significantly expand this) and will move into performances or interventions with a view to pulling them apart and reforming them as paintings.
Overall, the process of unpicking my attitude to my work, identifying gaps and areas where I needed extra help and then setting about filling those gaps has been enormously beneficial and I would encourage all OCA students to have a go at it.
No matter how you learn best, there will be things you can do to make yourself more productive. For example I prefer to listen to someone rather than read large amounts of text, and I prefer to hear from the artist themselves often rather than a critic. I have found the Tate channel to be an excellent resource for this. I am also a heavy user of iplayer series record for programmes about art and culture. If you find working alone difficult I would encourage you to use the forum and buddy up with other students whose work you enjoy. Some students even manage to persuade a friend to join up and they do the course together. Art magazines can provide a bit of a creative boost if you find one that resonates with you. I subscribe to the magazine Turpsbanana which features all my favourite painters and is pretty much entirely interviews with artists, usually one artist interviewing another in fact. Your tutor is there for you too so don’t lose contact even if you fall behind.
If any of you have top tips for how to maintain momentum on your course, perhaps you could post a reply to this blog – especially if it’s something a little odd!