I’ve been wrestling with a couple of worries for a while now – the final Art in Action arts festival this year and the question of teaching. Both things boil down to thoughts about supporting artists to be their creative best.
Art in Action will end this year and, despite protests to the contrary, I know of no other major arts festival (footfall of twenty to twenty five thousand visitors) that invites artists to demonstrate and only takes a commission on sales in exchange. While I totally accept that the decision is made, I feel deeply sad that the public will lose the chance to see such an amazing variety of artists actually at work, as opposed to seeing us standing beside our work at other fairs. And that’ll just be those of us that can afford the stands; let’s not forget that Art in Action championed young, emerging and foreign artists who are unlikely to be able to afford to participate in major commercial shows.
There is some talk of future projects in the wake of Art in Action and I sincerely hope they won’t take the form of teaching alone. I’ve written at length about the benefits and pleasures of teaching. I’ve said that I am a better artist for teaching and I fully acknowledge that it is a large part of my professional life. However, please don’t let’s confuse giving artists the opportunity to teach with supporting artists to create artwork.
Teaching should, in my opinion, run concurrently with making. In the right balance, the challenge and discipline of teaching is a marvellous spur to creative work and can both financially and mentally support an artist in their making of art. However, it’s a balancing act. Get it wrong and the scenario goes like this: talented artist, who happens to teach well, lands a beneficial amount of teaching work. Their classes fill, expand and demand rises. The artist, seeing reliable income, takes on more teaching and the balance starts to tip towards fitting in the making of art around the demands of classes. Gradually the artist has fewer pieces of new work so teaches more. As the artist creates less, their confidence saps and they come to depend on the teaching rather than sales of work. Eventually they become a teacher who makes art and, in the final act, their teaching ability declines through lack of their own creativity. I can’t imagine why Hogarth didn’t make a whole set of engravings about this very topic…
Whenever I meet the public, I am hit by a wave of enthusiasm for learning. Fantastic, great and super cool that so many people want to have a go at creating art and welcome to a world of creativity, but I’d like to appeal to all you students and students-in-the-making to remember that, for you to get the very best from your teachers, you should also try to support their creativity by investing in them as artists. Make a few small investments in art and craft and you’ll be maintaining the creative excellence of the very people who inspire you to want to learn and in whose expertise you rely when it comes to taking a class.
I’m not suggesting you have to sink large amounts of your hard earned cash into a major artwork (though if that’s a viable option don’t let me discourage you). I’ve made a choice to support my fellow artists in small ways by buying art as gifts and opting for buying craft made wherever possible, whether that’s something practical, or a treaty buy for my family and me. I get to own far more interesting stuff, the maker gets to make more, we’re all happier as a result and, since happier artists make better teachers, it’s a win-win for everyone.