Hi, I’m Gia. I’m an artist.

In my previous newsletter I wrote about how I found it difficult to answer the question ‘And what do you do?’ after I stopped working in TV which provided me with an easy answer. My friend Elliot (one of the AWESOMEST people at Chelsea) WhatsApped me and said ‘Just read your news letter. I think you should call yourself an artist. I think it’s a bloody hard thing to say out loud, that’s why you should do it.’

Elliot is about 23 years old and is an AMAZING artist – have a look – and if he says I should do something, I will.

This is all a build up to what I want to talk to you about today: Art.

This was prompted by this tweet.

I saw the tweet a couple days ago and it didn’t sit well with me. I mulled it over and realised that it’s his use of the word ‘artist’ connected to an ‘audience’ that made me feel cringey. I’ve been studying Fine Art for 5 years now, so I have an opinion on this. Indulge me.

In my second year at Chelsea we were asked ‘What is Art for?’ by our head of year. This was my response…

There is one thing I know now more deeply than I ever could when I worked in the ‘creative industries’ of tv or film or the web etc and that is this: Artists are trying to purely express their emotions/beliefs/interpretation/etc of their OWN experience of being alive. That’s it. The one thing studying Fine Art is really good at is getting you to learn that What You Produce is less important than What You Think About Before You Even Start Making Anything. By that I mean, no one within a Fine Art dept in a university is going to tell you if the work you have produced is Good or not. That isn’t the point. The POINT of Art is, once again, for those at the back, to provide a response to the total headfuck that is ‘being alive’.

I would go so far as to say that if you even THINK about ‘an audience’ and its response to your work before you produce it, you are not an artist. The end. (Disagree? Explain below.;) You may be in the business of selling paintings or sculptures (or books or tickets to comedy gigs), but that isn’t Art. That is an Art Business or a Creative Business. There’s nothing wrong at all with thinking about whether you will be able to sell paintings/sculptures/books/tickets to comedy gigs – everyone has to earn a living – but again that is your Business, that isn’t Art, with a capital A. You can, of course, do both Art and Business… but you need to be honest with yourself about it all and where the boundary between them lies.

In my experience, a lot of people studying Fine Art don’t like to hear any of that because they have dreams of becoming a successful, rich artist who sells their work for a lot of money. And, yes, again of course, you can produce a work of Art with a capital A that also appeals to people and you are able to sell that work for a lot of cash and you can then pay your bills and relax for another month. The difference is the intention. Was your intention to make a piece of Art with a capital A that happened to appeal to someone who wanted to buy it or was your intention to make something that would sell? If you can be honest with yourself and you answer the latter, then that is Business, not Art.

For more on this watch this whole interview with (the brilliant) Seth Godin. Seriously, if ANYTHING I’ve said so far resonates with you even a little bit, if you are ‘a creative’ in any capacity, watch this interview.

It has taken me a very long time in uni to properly find my confidence to make the work I want to make without thinking about how it will be received. This is totally because of my 30 years working in (the Business of) the media and its focus on ‘audience’…

I spent my whole Foundation and 2+ years of my BA basically playing at Being An Artist. And I made some really lovely looking work, if I do say so myself. I remember in the middle of my first year I had to present one piece of work to my theory tutor and have a tutorial. I showed her this piece, which I’d done on a big canvas, because I thought it was really cool.

She said ‘Well… it looks nice. It’s very seductive… And? (she shrugged her shoulders)… Where are YOU in it?’ And I tried to justify it by talking about language and censorship (it is something “blasphemous” that I wrote, which was rendered illegible by copious diacritic marks), but she was right. The whole thing was about ‘the audience’ – what THEY thought about what I wanted to say, what THEY liked (or didn’t) about what I wanted to say, what THEY believed about me or what I wanted to say – and so though it looked “nice” and I could probably sell it (in fact, I gave it to a friend for his new house), it was a bit of a failure as Art with a capital A.

So back to the tweet.

The person who wrote this is someone who – whether he wants to admit this or not- is trying to sell books and tickets to comedy gigs, so his overriding intention is to write things that will part people with their cash. He is not “an artist”, he’s doing Business, which we all need to be involved in because: Capitalism (blahblahblah)… By using the word ‘artist’ though, I feel like he is trying to signal that he does something that belongs in a more lofty or more worthy category than simply ‘Business’, as if he is operating by different rules than someone whose business is making and selling widgets. He’s not. He’s no different to anyone else who works in Creative fields – like advertising, marketing or even sports tv. They are all trying to ‘sell’ something.

And then onto his question ‘do you want the work to confirm your worldview or broaden it’. It is an odd question. If you ‘broaden your worldview’, it is still your worldview. It is still YOUR emotion/belief/interpretation/etc nothing more than that even if it is ‘broader’ than it was yesterday. I’m not sure why this is a question he feels is worth asking… unless there is a subtext to it.

As an Artist – as opposed to someone doing Business – I spend an extraordinary amount of time researching, writing, thinking about, really digging into my ideas and finding techniques/media/processes that can best carry my thoughts into fruition. After I have created my work, I’m done. I don’t care what someone thinks about it, how they’ve interpreted it, what they think of me and my thoughts/techniques/skills, nothing. ‘The Audience’ doesn’t matter to me. Yes, on a human level it’s great if people tell me they like my work (TELL ME YOU LIKE MY WORK ::cryingemoji::), but that is not why I make what I make at all.

ALL I want to do is to express an idea or a thought or an insight or a truth in the most pure way I can, the result of which could produce in others emotions ranging from delight to disgust, it could make people think about something differently or it could bore them. That is what THEY add to my work, it has nothing to do with me or my intention. Each person’s experience of my work is different. It is not my job as an artist to try to manipulate ‘an audience’ or try and second guess exactly how they would prefer to be manipulated so that more of them buy something from me. It is my job to make something that expresses my own ‘worldview’ (however narrow or broad) and that’s it.

The job of someone doing Business – selling widgets, paintings, books or tickets to comedy gigs – is… to sell something to other people so that you can pay your bills. Now, of course, the better you can write or the funnier you are often equates into more book or ticket sales, just like a company that makes a high quality widget that millions of people want to own. But it can also be that your writing or your comedy appeals to a narrow, but highly dedicated audience who will snap up everything you do, just like a company that makes a widget used only for a specific or unusual purpose. That’s great, too! Both are good… But if the widget-maker with the unusual widget gets annoyed because they aren’t selling their widget to millions of people (who have no use for it), then… that’s unusual. If they want to sell a million widgets, then they need to make a widget that a million people want.

And the same thing goes if we’re talking about the Creative Business of trying to sell paintings or books or tickets to comedy gigs. If you can 100% guarantee you will sell 100 tickets to every single gig you do over the course of a year, you have a successful Creative Business. Sure, you mightn’t be selling a million tickets, but that isn’t your business. That’s someone else’s. Oh and also: it’s not Art. In no way shape or form am I trying to say ‘Running a successful Creative Business’ is lesser than ‘Doing Art’. Not at all not at all not at all. Running a successful Creative Business is FUCKING HARD. But it isn’t Art and ‘being creative’- whether you paint, write, perform comedy- doesn’t automatically make you an Artist, if your overriding intention is to please other people.

Equally, ‘being outrageously successful in the Business of painting/writing/comedy/etc’ doesn’t mean that those people cannot become Artists. Sometimes when people have reached a level of success where either their ‘sales’ are guaranteed or they’ve earned so much money they don’t need to worry anymore, their ‘need to please’ (aka their ‘need to sell stuff’) goes out the window and they start making work that expresses what they have to say with a purity they couldn’t find previously when working in a Creative Business. Sometime this work is GENIUS and they become even more successful… and sometimes it’s a pile of absolute turds…

But Art is about exploring the frontier of your own existence – what you think, what you feel, what you believe – and expressing that in the purest way you possibly can, even if others really don’t like it. Art is NOT about ‘being correct’, ‘having the best ideas’, ‘making the prettiest things’, ‘selling more tickets/books/etc’. Art is about taking yourself to the edge, peering over the precipice and saying what you see… If you are NOT satisfied and content after you have made something, then there are one of two reasons for that. 1) You haven’t expressed yourself purely – there is something flawed in your technique or your process etc- or 2) You care about an audience and its response more than you care about expressing yourself purely. If it’s 1, get back to work on your Art and figure out how to strip everything back and really show yourself to the world. If it’s 2, you aren’t an Artist, you are doing Business. Re-jig your thinking accordingly. It will allow you to sleep better at night at the very least.