You can probably do it! - Letter or confused thoughts to my peers of newly graduated artist colleagues

2018: get an idea, start producing material, edit it, produce more, edit for an eternity, make it into a book, attend bookbinding course, research, produce a physical dummy in multiple copies (edit, print, bind), write project descriptions, send them to dummy competitions, Postnord throws away some copies, getting nominated in one of them (now we are in 2019), contacted by a publisher, meeting publisher, (no money), writing resume, seeking 10 grants and foundations, research, get supervisors to write recommendation letters, find designer (still no money), meet with designer, apply for 15 more grants (now we are in 2020), get rejected, wait for more decisions without being able to start telling designer to start the work, meeting with designer, meeting with publisher, and finally, happy news, 15,000 kroner!

My process has looked more or less like this for the past year and a half. How do you really manage to make some art as a (soon) newly graduated artist without a gallery and without a name in the art world? My fellow students and I constantly ask ourselves this question with the graduation lurking just around the corner. The prospect of a life as an unemployed artist has never been closer! :’-)

This is not meant as a recipe nor a deterrent, but more as an open dialogue with my process and my brain, and a documentation of some different ups and downs.

Either this is a tremendously depressing text, or it is perhaps liberating for those of you who are in the same position? Then we can bitch together and also encourage each other to continue the stupid, but of course, completely meaningful and necessary work! Don’t give up! You can probably do it!

February 11, 2020:

Sitting on a train on the way from Gothenburg to Copenhagen to have another meeting with the publisher, where I guess we will talk about the ever-lacking funding for the book we are trying to publish, or which grants we should now try our luck with, or something similar. Listening to The World Is Yours by Ariel Pink, a 4 minute 28 second-long mantra consisting of a single line: you can have it all.

What can I say about my process? The best thing to say is probably that I am practicing becoming a grant-funded artist. This sure is a whole profession in itself! The idea of publishing a book or doing a big project, of course, is to be seen, to have my art spread out to an interested audience. It is also an attempt at being tactical, to begin my artistic career with a bigger project, an attempt to investigate whether it is possible to finance artistic visions as a new graduate. Right now, I am financed by Danish student grants and loans, and of course you cannot make books off of this, which is also perfectly okay.

In addition, I have a job next to my studies which has enabled me to save up money for my grad show. However, I dream of an artistic career that is not dependant on a job as a daycare worker or a caregiver, and I dream of a future with children (which is the source of some of my deepest artworld-anxieties: a freelance career combined with maternity leave and babies, but that is a different, much more terrible article). I do not dream of becoming rich, but of course I dream of being able to live from what I am educated in. What are our options?


February 8, 2020:

I spend about 80% of my working time sitting in front of the computer writing texts. And I am not talking about creative writing work, but solely that I have become a producer, a fundraiser, a fucking project coordinator! And that’s good enough isn’t it?!

Nah it’s also just so stupid, and how can I be a practitioner in the midst of all these politely coordinating emails where most of all I just lick someone’s ass and try to get some strangers to like me?

When I was younger and hardly dared to dream of occupying myself with art (why do children and young people dare not dream of working with art??) I read one of my first heroine’s advice to aspiring artists: Nan Goldin advised young artists to start working with art only if they were physically unable to do anything else at all. The quote annoyed me because it made me insecure. There was never anyone who said to an accountant, you absolutely must ONLY become an accountant if you are incapable of doing anything else, if you absolutely cannot keep your fingers off of that profession, if you feel the fucking strongest calling towards becoming an A C C O U N T A N T.

The quote is still annoying, for two reasons: firstly, because it exalts and glorifies the artist as a human being with an innate, tortured genius, as a kind of talent-valve that just can’t be turned off. There is something problematic in that the artist’s role is so often glorified: we allow ourselves to disregard some basic worker’s rights that otherwise apply to most other professions, such as minimum wages, hourly wages, working conditions in general, because: wE aRE LiVIng OuR dReAM.

Secondly, because it will probably turn out that Goldin was right. Maybe not in the romantic sense she was imagining, but for financial reasons.

I also often think of a quote by a friend of mine, a young curator from France. She took me under her wing for a few years, organized parties where we ate dinners on tablecloths embroidered with pubic hair and printed zines with works only by female artists. A few years later, in an interview she stated that young artists primarily needed a mentor to tell them what not to do in their careers. *immediately triggered*.

Thus, she suggested that her role as curator or mentor consisted of limiting the artist. But on what terms? The market, of course. iS YoUr aRt ProFiTaBLe. I can only imagine with anxiety all the experiences and artistic experiments lost in this mentoring process.

The point? You shouldn’t listen to your heroes nor your friends cuz they are full of shit advice 😉


February 17, 2020:

I read in an article that half of all Swedish female artists between the ages of 3246 do not have children. The figure is thirty percent higher than for the rest of the population.

A friend and I are looking into the possibilities of freezing our eggs. It’s so ridiculously expensive (at least half a year’s average salary for a Swedish artist). We talk about renting an old house in Faxe Ladeplads and buying a motherfucker of a freezer. We also want a donkey.

In 2018 the Swedish artists’ national organization (KRO) made thirteen proposals that would change the art scene. The proposals are political suggestions on how conditions of artists can be improved, including how the artists can be financially secured. KRO writes: Less than one percent of the state budget is spent on culture (in 2018 it was 0.84 percent). Of these, only a few percent goes to the production of new contemporary art.”

One of the report’s specific proposals is to pay the artists for their working hours in connection to the production of exhibitions. I was thinking about whether I should draw the accountant reference here again, but you get the point.

KRO further writes: Adapt the social security system for artists and artisans who often have small and irregular incomes and are both freelancing and employed, so that the system succeeds in creating security for artists as well. (…) The possibility of being able to engage and develop your artistic practice through a working grant for a period of time should not be made at the expense of increased social security.”

In Scandinavia we are some of the most privileged people (and art students) in the world in terms of welfare and financial stability. But we still need to tune in once in a while and examine which forces in society decide whether or not art and culture have the possibilities to develop and exist freely.

In their 2013 report The Right to Freedom of Artistic Expression and Creativity, the UN states that free art is central to the development of a country, to democracy and to our understanding of being human. Art and culture are not (only) fast-paced entertainment; art creates society and educates, the UN concludes.

Has a work of art, a book or a cultural happening ever changed your worldview, if only for a short while?

I think many of us students dream of a system that would provide us with the opportunity to develop art without the constant fear of not being able to make it. I also dream that the romantic myth of the artist with innate genius dies out. Artists in Scandinavia are extremely highly educated (which is probably partly a consequence of the possibility of financial stability as long as you study). Maybe it’s time for us to take on a new, more professional title so we can get paid – cultural workers? (jk will obvs not swap artist for anything else).

Ironically, the book I am trying to publish is called Unprofessional. Only time (and a large number of private and public funds) will show whether the project ever takes a step further into the professional world, or whether its death sentence was predetermined even before its birth. Stay tuned for some or no updates at all! 😀

March 30, 2020:

During the Corona quarantine (you didn’t think I could write an entire article on artists’ working conditions and not get into the crisis did you?) I realize how utterly privileged it is to be a student.

I’m sewing clothes for the music videos we wanna shoot this summer on some Swedish mountain for the album we wanna record during the quarantine, Zoom’s shares are skyrocketing, I’m starting a fucking sourdough like every other person on earth, I have an online art show with some good friends, I’m taking a literature course in creative writing online, I’m lonely and have no money, but yet it seems like something’s a-brewing! Is it just me or is some kind of mobilization about to take place??!

I saw a meme on Instagram yesterday which got me thinking and which I would like to end my article with. Or, no, it was not a meme, it was a form of political-Twitter-Covid19-manifesto written in a simple but cute list-form considering its revolutionary nature, but these days it seems as though everything’s one big mixup anyway:

“I really hope people are radicalized by this moment,” the author @mexieYT starts, and continues:

– Money is a spook, we can pull it out of thin air. – Everyone’s needs CAN be taken care of. – Most of our work is unessential. – The environment will heal if we crush capitalism.”

Life after Valand! Fucking come at me! (also, I am applying for a few programs after summer, you know hehe. Just in case…)

Ps. I think the secret is organization? Can someone confirmrrrm???





Images Matilde Søes Rasmussen