A flier from an art supply place had me flicking idly through their new product range – probably as a diversion from some paperwork or other – and among the range I spotted big set of chalk pastels, priced at nearly £1400. For another £400, you could have them in a nice wooden case…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they are great quality, and anyone who uses pastels would love them (I don’t – all that dust). And it’s a huge box, there are hundreds of them. But if a basic box of half-decent student pastels is £150 even, and you can get just-about-usable ones for under £5, are they really hundreds of times better?
One of the reasons for expensive materials is their archival properties; pigments that will not fade in the light, or acid-free papers that don’t yellow over time. That being said, the cave paintings as Lascaux are estimated to be about seventeen thousand years old, and are done in mineralised clays (aka coloured mud), charcoal and spit. Their survival is more about a dry undisturbed low-light environment that what they were made from.
By the same token, no amount of care or expensive materials can keep an artwork from its doom by fire or flood if it is in the wrong place at the wrong time; or stop it ending up in a charity shop, cellar or skip should it fall out of favour; or clash with the curtains, or prevailing ideology.
So much of what art is about is the desire to fix something in time and space, and it having a monetary value only reinforces the idea that it must endure; but it also needs its ephemera; its mistakes, fads, neglect, loss and destruction. Otherwise art loses the possibility of change, rediscovery and new creation. Sure, have meticulously-conserved archival works wrapped up and crated in temperature-controlled vaults, if you must; but don’t say that because of them there is no place for sandcastles.
I have been trying a bit more printmaking. Shambolically, since that’s the way I do things; and without a press because even if there were money for one, it wouldn’t fit in the house without throwing out someone’s bed.
So, armed with the white-hot technology of some sharp points, a roller and a wooden spoon, I made some linocut Christmas cards (I mentioned these before). They were crude and simple things but quite fun to do; and more to the point, I could do them inside and stay warm. Since then I have started a couple more, for birthday cards and the like.
Printing takes a different approach to painting, though: a lot more planning and front-end design, not to mention the dark arts of registration (aka lining stuff up straight) and getting used to the idea that the print will be the reverse of the plate. It’s not something I have been able to work with so far in a spontaneous way, and you could easily argue that better results could be achieved with a ten-minute burst of Photoshop, but it is a good way to build up a stock of inexpensive art for cards and postcards.
So far I have kept my fingers away from the sharp things, and a pot of block-printing medium means I can use the paints I already have, so I haven’t spent much on materials. If nothing else, it should keep me busy until the Spring comes, and I can go back outside to paint.
About a year ago I set up this site, as part of a half-assed exercise in the performative part of making art. It’s my attempt at having an online presence, while avoiding the whole Instatwitface scene. Unsocial media, you could probably call it – like Eleanor Shellstrop, I am not, by inclination, a joiner-in.
I get a monthly letter from an art group I had to join to take part in an event, which gives details of open exhibitions, competitions and grants. That gave me the opportunity to join the makers in the craft tent at Towersey Festival, which was great fun and taught me the value of thermal underwear while camping in England. In August.
I did a couple of local exhibitions, including a small solo show, found a print company that could scan canvases and make decent digital prints, and sent a whole bunch of emails that were never answered, or rejected with various degrees of politeness. I’ve written semi-regular not-quite-random posts for this site, even had cards printed.
Has it been worth it? Well, I haven’t bankrupted myself in the process (and you can spend an awful lot of money chasing the elusive tail of the Art Market, it seems, if that’s your thing), but I’ve not covered my costs either. I’ve met some great people, seen a lot of art in all kinds of media; learned a lot. Writing these posts has been a good discipline even as I have grudged the time it takes, although I suspect they go largely unread.
Short of time, money, space and credentials, without marketing skills, representation or anything resembling a plan, I haven’t moved any mountains, but so far I’ve no completely binned it either. I’m prepared (for now, at least) to give it another year.
In all their random glory… https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4Sbc7LbV3zPkYxbWFsgloT
Best wishes for the New Year – good luck with whatever comes next.