S Mark Gubb is an artist working across a range of media incorporating sculpture, video, sound, installation and performance. Here he gives his top 5 tips for making it in the visual arts. Particularly useful for recent graduates but invaluable, as a reminder, to those of you who are already established.
1, First, and most important, always focus on the art. I'm putting this first as it's actually the most difficult to maintain and I often find myself not heeding my own advice. There's admin to do, things to apply for, lack of money, and all that TV and tea won't watch or drink themselves. Try and find strategies that keep you engaged in making, even when you have little time or money – it may be sketching, collage, taking pictures/shooting videos on your phone – simple, quick, easy, satisfying ways of being creative every day, even when your situation doesn't seem to want you to be. A day with 5 minutes of making in it is always better than one with none.
2, Network, network, network. This word still has a lingering stench of the 80s, attached to power-dressing and cut-throat professional manoeuvring, but all it actually means is getting out and talking to like-minded people. You need to be part of your professional community. You can be the best artist in the world, but no-one is looking for you. Get out and about, see shows, have drinks, talk to other artists, talk to curators. Once someone has seen your face and spoken actual words to you, you exist. You're no longer just a set of pixels in a monthly mail-out or on an exhibition flyer. Building a peer and professional network runs a very close second to making work in terms of importance for any sort of future sustainability or sanity.
3, Always think of the wider context for your practice. Cultural lines are more blurred than ever. You may paint, you may sculpt, you may make videos, whatever, and whilst the creation and production of your work may seem like a solitary pursuit, it has a context in the world. It may be relevant to a particular subculture or group, it may have specific relevance to a geographic location or non-art-based activity. Think around your practice and who might be interested in it. Of course your primary focus should remain on getting your work seen within an art context, but this expanded field of vision will be very useful when you come to write funding applications, or develop projects or just fancy taking a sideways step for a short while.
4, Don't worry about the other things you're doing to make money. It doesn't matter if they're not directly involved in the arts. Everyone has to make money to live, so do it however you can. Great if you can get a job in your local arts centre but, if not, work in the local call centre instead. In many ways having a totally unrelated job can help you focus on what you really want to be doing with your life.
5, Be nice. This should probably be at the top of the list. No-one wants to be friends with, or give a show to, or give support to, or give funding to, someone who isn't nice. Nice is a really bad word, but you get what I mean. Be yourself, be helpful and be proactive. (But if someone crosses you, bear a grudge forever. Not really). Be nice.
Image: S Mark Gubb, Alight 2014. Permanent work, Cardiff City Centre. Junction of Bridge Street & Barrack Lane. Image credit Jamie Woodley
- Published in Advice