I was prompted to write this article as an old friend talked to me about becoming an artist and wanted to know how long it would take. My friend said that it was a big decision for him, and given the amount of commitment required I can understand his statement. I can only present my own opinion and quote those of others, and though I am a stone sculptor I will deal with art in general. What follows is my response to his question.
I think it is best initially to separate out two threads which are the training in and development of a particular artistic skill, such as stone carving, ceramics or painting and the narrative which underlies and propels these activities. In my view anyone could start to become an artist tomorrow provided they were committed and motivated enough to become one. Not everyone would agree with me though.
David Newman 24/10/2017
Training and development of skills
Many artists do degree courses in art which are very rigorous and most take about three years. I should stress that this is not the only route to becoming an artist. A person following this path would have to have been interested in art before this course in order to produce a portfolio to present on admission to the course.
I was scientifically trained and did not have the advantage of an art education.
There are many often quite specialist painting and sculpture courses available throughout the UK, Ireland, and Europe, some of which are holidays as well, which can take you to some amazing places. As well as these there are more local classes on a regular basis, where it is possible to learn these skills. The reason I went into stone carving was a taster course for three days at Bawdsey Manor, Suffolk, where I learnt the very basics.
I spent about three years with a sculptor, Anne-marie Moss, locally who taught the techniques, as well as practice at home to develop this further. Also, I spent time in life class when I was a painter and in clay portrait life class as a sculptor (1). These were valuable lessons in observation and also the social aspect should not be ignored, as I have learnt a great deal from other artists. Their encouragement has helped me forward.
Self-training too is essential and the internet is a very valuable resource as far as finding out how to do things such as water cooling for diamond tools, or finding out how to split a block of stone using a pin and feathers. There are a large number of books and as far as stone carving is concerned the following books were helpful:
‘Direct Stone Sculpture’ by Milt Liebson
‘Sculpture in Stone’ by Cami and Santamera.
‘Contemporary Stone Sculpture’ by Dona Meilach.
‘The sculptor’s Bible’ by John Plowman.
‘The Sculpting Techniques Bible’ by Claire Waite Brown.
‘50 Sculptures You Should Know’ by Kuhl, Reichold, Lowis and Weidemann.
‘Change your mind’ (57 ways to unlock your creative self)
by Rod Jenkins.
Also, I should add that as an artist it is usual to admire certain other artists and to aspire to their quality of work. I admire Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois,
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska , Giacometti and Peter Randall-Page.I have books on many of these artists that go into detail about their work and their lives as artists.
Belonging to a group of mutually supportive artists is who share one’s interest in art is important because it is easy to become discouraged when you work in isolation. I have found the SW Sculptor’s Association very helpful in my development as a sculptor. We actively encourage new members of our group .
Grayson Perry in his Reith Lecture entitled ‘I found myself in the art world’ has lot to say about becoming an artist and what this might involve. He quotes Pablo Picasso as saying that every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist as he or she grows up. Self-consciousness as we mature can be a problem. Artists who have had traumatic experiences can transform these experiences into works of art. Art when you are growing up can be serious play. It can also help children deal with difficulties in their lives, and can be a form of therapy. Perry stated that ‘art’s primary role is making meaning’.
Art is not some form of add-on. Primitive man made it, and there is a very deep need to make art. Some outsider artists who have not been to art school may just do it for themselves.
Perry commented that artists notice things. He also commented that it is very difficult to make a living as an artist without going to art college. He stated that ‘all art education is an advanced course in self-consciousness. There is no guarantee of making money in the art world.’ Importantly, Perry comments that ‘there is no recipe for becoming an artist’. Martin Gayford stated that ‘mistakes are as big a part of art as scholarship or truth’.
‘At art college you are exposed to a kind of sensibility of what it is like to be an artist’. ‘The best artists take quite a while to find their voice. It’s a marathon not a sprint.’ Perry did not start making money till he was 38. ‘It is a noble thing to be an artist. You are a pilgrim on the road to meaning. ‘
Sadie Coles a gallery owner when asked by Perry what she looked for in an artist replied ‘commitment to being an artist’. Perry also comments that, ‘art is quite a serious business….The art world can be very corrosive’ . ‘Art is spirituality in drag….Art is a refuge.…It is a kind of inner shed where you can lose yourself….As an artist you have to take every opportunity…Playing is an important thing…You have to let yourself go to do an art work’.(2)
In a Guardian article by Emily Browne she gave some honest truths about work, life and leisure in the creative industry, ‘Many artists work freelance, and have to budget carefully. Artists self-promote using social media as well as their own websites. Artists love socialising and networking events can be the art-world’s equivalent of job hunting. Many artists form collectives to publicise and exhibit their work. It’s all about your portfolio. Some artists supplement their income with a second job. Many artists take on internships to help kick-start their career. Job opportunities are growing with 1.9 million people working in the creative sector. Finally, the creative industry is characterised by high levels of job satisfaction.’(3)
According to Tate Gallery online:
‘A narrative is simply a story. Narrative art is art that tells a story. Much of Western art until the twentieth century has been narrative depicting stories from religion, myth and legend, history and literature. Audiences were assumed to be familiar with the stories in question. In the Victorian age, narrative painting of everyday life subjects became hugely popular. In modern art, formalist ideas have resulted in narrative being frowned upon. However, coded references to political or social issues, or to events in the artists life are still commonplace. Such works are effectively modern allegories and generally require information from the artist to be fully understood. The most famous example of this is Picasso’s Guernica’.(4)
The Guggenheim site states that, ‘in the Twentieth century, with the advent of abstraction as a radical break from the past, many artists associated with the avant-garde rejected the figurative and, hence eliminated explicit narrative content. In the USA and Europe, this tendency culminated during the 1960’s and 1970’s in minimal painting and sculpture that foregrounded geometric abstraction, and in post minimalism’s examination of process and materiality. The 1980’s witnessed a resurgence of figurative art, much of which harked back to expressionistic styles of the 1920’s and 1930’s. During the 1990’s , a generation of younger artists embraced the concept of storytelling to articulate the politics of identity and difference, investing both abstract and representational forms with narrative content. For many contemporary artists storytelling does not necessarily require plots, characters, or settings. Rather, narrative potential lies in everyday objects and materials, and their embedded cultural associations. The recent narrative turn in contemporary art cannot be separated from the current age of social media, with its reverberating cycles of communication, dissemination, and interpretation.’(5)
Robert Raushenberg said ‘curiosty is the main energy’.(6)
Henry Matisse said …’Creativity takes courage’.
Francis Bacon stated …’The job of the artist is to deepen the mystery’.
Berthe Morisot is quoted as saying …’It is important to express oneself…. provided the feelings are real and are taken from your own experience’.
Chuck Close states…’The advice I like to give young artists , or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and just get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain , you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case’. (6)
Alison Wilding (RA) in one of her videos states that: ‘If your work isn’t communicating anything, it is an unsuccessful piece of work.’ That certainly could provoke discussion. I think I would change it slightly from ‘communicating’ to ‘making you feel anything’. When I visit exhibitions there are some pieces where I feel nothing but there are others that definitely elicit an emotional response. In that respect she is right that the sculpture has communicated something.
So in summary, some of us seem driven to make art, and that in itself should be enough if one does not have to make a living from it.
There can be a lot of satisfaction derived from making a work. The friendship and input of other artists can help to develop our art and support us on this journey. The need to make money from this process is fraught with difficulty as an artist , and income can be very irregular, but despite this the process can be very pleasurable. I hope that you will be able to experience this for yourself.
David Newman (October 2017)
(1) Clay sculpture lifeclass and clay animal sculpture from Nina Cairns at Mapstone Studio www.mapstonestudio.com
Also clay portrait lifeclass with Luke Shepherd –contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Luke’s website is http://luke-shepherd.com
(2) Ten things about being an artist that teachers don’t tell you
By Emily Browne –Guardian 21st February 2013.
(3) Grayson Perry 5/11/2013 –Reith Lecture – number 4 –See BBC i-player