Over the past few weeks of this CoVid19 pandemic I have observed how, after the initial widespread shutdown, many businesses are finding new ways of operating despite the many constraints. And that got me thinking, how can artists adapt to this new reality and create different models to help them survive?
What if galleries, commercial and private, are curtailed in their activities for the remainder of 2020? What if studio spaces remain inaccessible and residencies are cancelled for the foreseeable future? What would that mean for the sector and how can artists adapt to this new reality?
Few of us like change, especially when it’s not of our making. But we all have to adjust in order to survive and thrive. My suggestion is to embrace the possibilities of new approaches to creating and mediating your work. These things often come down to mindset so consider reframing the situation and making the change your decision. Then own it.
The fact is that most creative output will have to be shared and experienced in the virtual environment before we can go back to galleries, festivals or other cultural gatherings. That means adapting to the online world by making social media work for you and having a website that functions as a hub for your practice. The content on these platforms is entirely up to you but it must be interesting, engaging and concise. I’m not saying you should become a slave to the online world, but the more you put in the more you get out.
If you’re not able to access your studio or workplace rather than letting space limitations frustrate you why not find other ways of working – try online life drawing classes, sketchbooks, photography (even on your smartphone) researching, collaborations with pals, and trying new things, whatever gets the juices flowing. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make a masterpiece.
Also, right now there is a good deal of interest in buying affordable art – so if it’s a possibility for you to explore making editions, selling sketches or small sculptural works or even maquettes?
…but it is also important for you to retain your integrity. Don’t sell your soul for a fast buck or an easy return, because your reputation is hard-won, but easily lost. Despite the advice I and others will give you, you ultimately need to feel comfortable with any change. If it doesn’t sit right with you or makes you feel too uneasy then stick to your guns. Being an artist is hard enough without being forced to change your practice in the hope of being more commercial/successful.
I know we all hate the concept of networking, but I think that’s because we have a preconceived notion that it involves going to an exhibition preview, looking at bad art, drinking awful wine and making awkward conversation with people you don’t know. That is definitely one approach – but not necessarily the best one. Especially drinking the horrific wine!
By following people on social media and liking their content, you’re networking. By attending one of the CEC online sessions here, you’re networking. By applying for exhibitions, commissions and awards, you’re networking. By asking a curator or even an artist friend to have a digital studio visit, you’re networking. Remember that these encounters or brief conversation can with a little effort turn into mutually beneficial relationships, so if it makes sense to, do nurture them by keeping in touch when you have a reason.
One of the best experiences for me, and I suspect people reading this, about the CoVid19 lockdown is reaching out to friends, family and my network for video calls – even the dreaded Zoom meetings! Us creatives value each other and so I think this is a great time to talk to people about collaborations and how to make something really positive from this. Set up a reading club. Curate an online exhibition. Make works of art together. The collaboration can be slight or substantial – just doing it is the important bit.
Finally, I know it’s a little bit twee but very much worth saying… it’s ok, in fact, it’s necessary, to ask for help. All of us need it on our creative journeys as we strive to adapt and thrive in the months and years ahead, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask, or even offer support.
Eamonn Maxwell is a curator, advisor and mentor and Creative Entrepreneurs Club member and contributor.