Friday, July 17, 2020

Storms of thought

The distance
Mixed media on canvas, 40x50x4cm
© 2019 Megan Chapman

Awake early this grey Friday morning in July, I am waiting for the fruit and veg man to come by with his bounty. I have already been outside with my cup of tea to listen to the wind chimes and the bumblebee enjoy the poppies. My bare feet on the cracked and moss-covered concrete of the patio - I love being able to walk out the kitchen door and be on the ground. 

I drew a couple of things this week - nothing that great. 

I have mostly been returning to walking. Twenty-nine miles since Sunday. Walking helps me remember the point of it all. The shock of green, the big trees, the places my own two feet can take me, the simple dedication of putting one foot in front of the other. Space and time to think, dream, and hope. The world is a mess but the flowers are still here, the trees are ancient, the paths are old and well-traveled. The sky is either blue, grey, or fluffy with clouds, the water of the Firth of Forth is here too, and the winds are wild. 

I move through all of this. Fields of wildflowers, paths of ivy, the sunlight through the broad tree leaves. The wind whipping around my ears, the rain on my cheeks, the sun in my eyes, the shadows on the pavements, and glints of sun across the water wrap me up in their wilderness. 

Did you know that in Scotland:

81% of artists are self-employed
50% are full-time practitioners
73% work from home
83% earn less than £10k per year
80% believe they will earn the same or less next year
59% have never received public funding
88% do not get contracts consistently
61% receive less than the industry standard rates of pay
only 11% state regularly receiving the industry standard rate of pay
75% seldom or never receive a fee for exhibitions
53% of artists do not believe the sector is healthy and viable for their practice

These stats are from the Scottish Artists Union. If you are an eligible artist in Scotland please join your union so that we can work together to improve our working conditions.

This week I attended a meeting on Finance and Benefits for Artists and then later on the same day I attended a meeting on Universal Basic Income and the Future of Work. Both of these meetings were depressing as hell just like the stats above. 

And I don't know what to do about it. Except to encourage folks to join their union (whatever their field) and to learn more about and campaign for a universal basic income (a truly universal basic income for all and one that is not means-tested).

I am having a hard time talking and not crying these days. I find everything just a bit too much. It seems we are at each other's throats and everything is being politicised within an inch of its life. Within an inch of our lives. Human beings aren't looking too smart or empathetic and I am tired of it. And I don't know what to do about it except to sweep my own side of the street while still trying to maintain my empathy. Even I fail at this.

Our leaders aren't looking too smart either and I would like to shift the blame solely to them but we did (mostly) put them there and we have the ability to be decent and kind in our own lives and we are failing miserably at this. I know this is an art blog. 

And I have so much I would like to say about art but it gets caught in my throat and turns into tears rolling down my cheeks. For something held up in high regard and something that makes some people tremendous amounts of money and brings society joy and at times acts as a mirror for deeper understanding - as a practicing artist, I am at times left feeling bereft.

Being an artist has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It is something that I question every day. I feel guilt, shame, and fear at times because I live this life. I hate this. I hate that I feel this way and yet I also know that I have barely scratched the surface of the deep vein of art I have within me that I would like to create. Part of me still thinks I took the easy way out, and that art is a good way to hide from the world while looking busy. But, would I really still be doing it with this much dedication and for so long if it is all just a ruse to avoid the responsibilities of living in our society? I don't know for sure but I don't think so. I think this is more likely how society makes artists feel unless they are financially and materially successful (successful on their terms, not ours). 

I am not an Instagram influencer. I am not selling a happy tale of painting in a glowing room while looking like a model. I am not here to tell you how to sell better or more. I want to be here to show you my vision and expression of that and see if maybe you can find yourself in the work too or take the work and make it your own in your mind. 

In my mind being a painter has always been a solitary act of discovery and perhaps defiance. It wasn't supposed to be about money or making it big. I wanted it to be about a collection of souls sharing and talking about their work, giving each other honest and reliable feedback, and pushing each other to work fearlessly with integrity. Pushing boundaries for a better understanding of themselves and then perhaps society as a whole. 

I want to have exhibitions so that people can see the evolution of the work and the development of a series and how it pulls the viewer along from piece to piece like a song. It wasn't supposed to be about a piece here and there torn apart and standing all alone and out of context. I mean, of course, a good strong painting can do that, but can they sing their true song (can you even hear it) when it is rammed up against another work by another artist that is screaming another tune? 

Maybe it's all built on myth (I am not sure where this statement came from- probably the myth of being an artist, the myth of work, the myth of success, and societal validation).

I took a break from writing this (and took a long walk) as the tone of this post was becoming dour and I thought perhaps I should delete, correct course, or write something different. But I will let it stand. As you can see there are different storms of thought rolling in like clouds. I should also clarify this post is mostly fueled by this week's events and that after learning about the benefits system (what a shambles - I would not participate in that at all costs if I could possibly avoid it) and sorting out my US and UK taxes in the same week, it leaves me in a bit of a funk. It always does. Pitting the creating and selling of art against the government measuring stick of viability is a sure way to make one doubt everything. 

And that is why it is important to walk, important to keep our feet on the ground and to be in nature. Nature is our true leader. Nature would probably like us to be even less successful. Nature says listen to my leaves in the wind and stop being so bourgeois. 

I think it is also saying, honey, get your arse to the studio. 

Irving Gallery
Solo Gallery
The Velvet Easel
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