Having read about the creative process for Remain in Light, my favourite Talking Heads album, I wanted more. David Byrne’s “How Music Works” is accessible, can be read in sequence or, you can pick a chapter and go. There are parallels between the ideas presented about music and other art forms.
- The audience assigns meaning to your work. Their interpretation may differ to your intention. You may be able to influence this outcome but you can’t control it completely.
- Be aware of the context within which the audience encounters and engages with your work; it has a major influence on it’s meaning to them. If you think your work is better received in a given context, stay with that. The only way you can discover what works best is to try it out.
- It’s important to understand the commercial, operational and administrative aspects of your practice and their influences on your creative art. These factors also influence whether and how it gets shared and your implicit and monetary rewards (if any). Deadlines are part of this.
- Be open to collaboration. Byrne describes how a writer at Pitchfork critically said he’d collaborate for a bag of Doritos. Byrne makes the point that he enjoys collaboration and gets a lot out of it personally and occasionally, collaborating produces hits – so why not?
- Build a team (even a small informally organised one) to help your practice to function and grow.
- Get out and experience the art of others – in whatever form. You’ll get ideas, energy, validation, verification and who knows what else.
- Some things will work, others won’t. Get over it and learn.
- When you put something out, move on to the next thing (or have multiple projects running concurrently, if you can).
- The boundaries between amateurs and professionals are increasingly blurred.
- If art is something you take seriously, don’t forget that it can be fun too. In fact, when all else fails, which it will do, then the only thing you’ll be left with is the fun and satisfaction of making art.
That’s not an exhaustive list and if I remember to act on half of those things, I’ll do well. How Music Works is a book that I’ll return to in future. Mine is the Kindle version and I’m considering the hardback for this very reason. It’s the kind of book that will pick up lots of margin notes with time.
I was invited to participate in Jack Randell’s collaborative project “Bridge”. Jack emailed an image ’tile’, with simple instructions; add to or manipulate the image and return it within a fixed timeline. The tile was incorporated a larger composite work, that was revealed at the opening night of his exhibition New Tracks (details below). This was my first experience in the role of participant collaborator.
I found myself second-guessing what the tile was, a fragment of a larger image and if so, what? Eventually, I decided to treat it as a fragment of a map. I printed the tile on an A4 sheet, drawing a figure to create a layered effect, then wrote about a recollection of a map from the figure’s past – a semi-daydream rumination on changes in the world and ‘sense of place’.
The drawing and story spilled beyond the boundaries of the tile (I scanned and cropped the drawing, providing the cropped version as my submission). Both drawing and story were written without any real premeditation. I’m not sure if that really constitutes “automatic” drawing or writing.
Anticipation And…Will I Measure Up?
As soon as I delivered my tile, I wanted to see the complete work, ie all of the tiles, including “mine” assembled into one composition. There was a strong sense of anticipation; would they form a coherent whole? What themes will emerge? There was some (mild) creative anxiety; would my contribution be “good enough” ? How would it compare when placed alongside? The more I tried to imagine the final composite output, the more questions arose and the greater the sense of intrigue and the need to see the final, complete work.
See For Yourself
You can see the complete composition ‘Bridge’ at Jack Randell’s website and I’d encourage you to get in touch. Jack is a very approachable guy who will be happy to invite you to participate in his practice.
I was closing out loose ends from the Project52 exhibition, delivering artworks, paying suppliers, updating my mailing list and the like. Despite accepting such activities as part and parcel of running an art practice, they’re not exactly top of my list of fun things to do. The primary reward for me lies in creating art that has meaning to me and the people that influence or engage with it.
A Shot In The Arm
Nick’s recreation reminded me why those administrative “chores” are important. Staying on top of the business side of my practice, enables me to grow. Running a participatory practice entails a minimum commitment to organisation and to keeping in touch with people – especially those who invest their time in participating and engaging with my practice in some form;
- Visiting this site and subscribing to the blog
- Following my Twitter Linkedin and Facebook updates and conversations
- Participating in my projects
- Visiting my exhibitions and of course, buying my works
It’s easy enough to make art. It takes structure and process to get it out there and to get it in front of people. And it takes effort on the part of others to get involved.
The Value Of Your Time And Energy
So whenever someone like Nick goes above and beyond that level of personal investment, it means a lot. Compare the original drawing to Nick’s recreation and you’ll see the care that went into his photo. It’s almost like-for-like (although I took some artistic license and drew the door handle on the wrong side in my original – and didn’t spot this until Nick shared his photo). Setting up the props, getting the angle just right and posing his son – all of these things took time and energy.
Thanks to Nick – and everyone else who took part in the Project52 exhibition – for not only buying some of my work but for your support, encouragement and investment in my practice. Your support and willingness to take a chance by sharing your open and honest reactions with an artist (not an easy thing to do – let’s face it – you never know how I might react), creates a real momentum and is deeply rewarding on so many levels.
From Micro-Fictions To Micro-Finance
Nick also gave me the idea of investing some of the returns from the exhibition in a micro-finance project. When we caught up, he told me about a one-hour product clinic that his company, Brainmates offers, to help people with product development and product management problems. Brainmates direct the fees into a micro-finance organisation, enabling others to break out of the poverty cycle by providing small loans that they would not receive via conventional financial arrangements.
Inspired by Nick’s example, I chose to use some of the small profit from the Project52 exhibition to provide a small loan via Good Return
Good Return combines microfinance and education to help the poor in the Asia Pacific change their lives forever. Good Return’s impact ton date includes;
- 2,942 women funded through loans.
- 14,710 people helped through flow on benefits.
- 99.9% repayment of all funds.
- 6,000 participants completed financial literacy training.
Thanks again to Nick for the idea. And thanks to everyone who continues to support my practice. I’m very grateful to you all.
I was recently introduced to Jack Randell, another artist with a participatory practice. Jack invited me to participate in his project ‘Bridge’ and also took time out to discuss his practice. His thoughts make interesting reading for anyone engaged or interested in participatory practice and experience.
AQ: What prompted you to take your practice in a participatory direction?
JR: The modern model of the ‘solitary artist genius’ is not in my mind, sustainable in these days of image saturation and fluid connectivity.
Sure there are many pockets of magic, and it happens often enough in my studio practice, but I fail to see where that magic is influential other than as an after effect of the purchase of the work.
Most other artforms are participatory – music, theatre, video – and having been involved in all those forms, I have witnessed the often profound effect the making and reception had not only on their audience, but also on the makers or participants.
And there is also that random shifting aesthetic that matches neatly with the image saturated environment that for many of us is more ‘natural’ than the golden mean.
AQ: How do you manage expectations, recognition and reward of participants, where you may receive them (including monetary, if applicable)?
JR: I nominate that these works are Share Alike copyright. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/
Which means that myself and all the participants share copyright. We each may use, distribute, archive, change or profit from the resulting image according to the copyright commons outlines. In the public domain, I endeavour to acknowledge all the participants in the work. For those works that have a physical component that I have provided or paid for, then I consider that I own its physical state. We each may use the image according to Share Alike terms, providing any resultant work is shared under the same guidelines. That being said I would have not much control over use and distribution anyway, and honestly I haven’t yet found an occasion when when it bothers me. I have had creative content stolen and re-used, and my lawyers tell me unless I am a corporation with large legal resources, its not much use chasing it up.
So the reward is the community value of goodwill, the recognition is the acknowledgement of participation, and participant expectation is met by the offer of a high resolution image of the final work for the participants own use.
AQ: How do you approach galleries or other creative spaces about using them for participatory events / works?
JR: Venues are fairly receptive to this type of proposal, as it has embedded a guaranteed traffic load. That being said, the focus of the activity shifts away from commission on sales toward exposure to potentially new people and the absolute feel-good generated by the works. Public bodies will fund and resource these projects as CCD’s (Community Cultural Development)…. as with basket weaving,- it is viewed primarily for it’s therapeutic value, rather than what I find intriguing, which is the often odd connections and cross fertilised aesthetic – medieval dadist, I would call it!
AQ: Are there any resources or people that you would suggest / recommend to check out to learn more about participatory practice?
JR: Check out most of the work included in the current Biennale of Sydney… but there is not a lot of conversation out there on the ground. We were in Berlin recently (750 galleries) and there was looks of surprise on most every artist we approached… why are you doing this? whats in it for me? whats in it for you? If you get a hold of the Biennale catalogue, read Bruno Latour’s essay ‘Compositionist’s Manifesto’.
You can see more of Jack’s work at Fishdog.com.au
If you’re interested in participating in one of his projects, he has a call-out for participants in “New Tracks”, collaborative works at Salerno Gallery. Contact email@example.com
His exhibition “New Tracks”, collaborative works opens 6-8pm Wednesday 12th September at Salerno Gallery, 70 Glebe Point Road, Sydney. The exhibition runs from 11-23 Sept 2012.