The Professionals

‘Everyone can draw and paint’ was a title for a class I saw recently. I’d say ‘everyone can draw and paint up to a point’ would be much more accurate, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t sell classes so well.

It’s interesting how controversial it can be for a professional artist (and by professional I mean somebody who makes a living as an artist) to come out and suggest that ‘art’ isn’t universally achievable. To tell people at large that their efforts, however delightful, do not make them artists is often seen as nasty elitist insecurity on our part. I cook, I take photos, I sew and I garden. I’m pretty good at all of those and I enjoy them immensely. What I don’t expect is to be considered a chef, photographer, tailor or professional gardener. I’m not hurt by this and nor do I feel that these various professions are somehow being elitist by excluding me from their ranks. After all, and here’s the point, they spend years learning, studying, practicing, perfecting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I teach and that most of my students are total beginners. I know that my classes bring them pleasure and nobody, and my students will agree, is more excited than me by their marvelous prints. But to actually make a living, earn an annual income year in and year out, large enough to fix the plumbing and pay the mortgage, is not a matter of the odd class and enthusiasm. It’s down to hard won skills and talent developed over years of training and effort. So let’s not confuse art being for everyone (which it certainly is) and everyone being an artist (which they certainly aren’t).

Job’s Worth

It’s easy to get disheartened when you’re an artist working alone. All sorts of little things add up and up until I sometimes take refuge in stomping about declaring that I would be better off doing something that started at nine, ended at five and involved a pension, holiday pay and company. I think this may be a somewhat dated idea of the workplace based on Radio Four Extra’s endless supply of old sitcoms, but there are days when being outrageously patronised as I make tea seems almost attractive.

The trick is, I suppose, to see that things do balance out. For every instance of petty theft, there’s an honest soul like the lady who went to enormous lengths to return a pencil she’d inadvertently packed into her equipment. All the silly comments about artists and how we indulge in a super-wonderful time of things dabbling at our hobby are somehow cured by the serious young couple who bought my first ever really big print and turn up at Art in Action each year to gravely buy a print and discuss my work. The horrible, horrible business of accounts and tax returns eased a bit by the fun of swapping a print for a basic lesson in bookkeeping. The hours of preparing for classes noticed by the one student who’s a teacher and tells you you’re well prepared and that she knows what that involves…

So I may be beginning 2014 a bit frazzled, but on reflection I wouldn’t trade this particular job for anything. Not even the chance to make a cuppa for the Men at the Ministry…