Sunday, 30 August 2015

Women Artists Don't Understand Networking

The documentary about Tracy Emin caused me to think about all the evenings she has available for networking and how that time is well spent when you are meeting like-minded people with whom you can have conversations about shared interests, which may even lead to mutually beneficial opportunities.  I was reminded about the professional practice seminars I attended at art school when art dealers and artists all talked about the importance of 'networking'.  

This has long been an accepted way of progressing within the business world; one that harnesses relationships between entrepreneurs who recognise the value of collaboration.  Books about business skills tell you to attend events and strike up conversations with people and they will be relieved that someone has taken the first step.   You can then skip happily into the sunset together as you share contacts, ideas, and opinions.

In the art world this involves attending private views, lectures, or events run by publicly funded galleries and other arts organisations, which mainly occur in larger cities, particularly London.  Living in the countryside with two small children means that for me attending events in London is a huge deal involving a lot of organisation on the home front followed by a long journey by several modes of transport.  To make this worthwhile I need to feel that I have benefitted in some way (an enjoyable conversation at least) yet I rarely do.  Usually I come away feeling that most of the artists attending need not have bothered turning up.

At the last private view I attended I was snubbed by the other female artists I approached who preferred instead to huddle in a group with the people they arrived with.  Even worse, and not for the first time, I was introduced to another female artist by the host only to have her give me a cursory glance before walking away from me.  It couldn't have been made easier for them yet something prevented them from engaging in conversation.  What?  Lack of confidence, lack of interest, jealousy?

The men seem to be ahead of the game: over the years I have had much more success at being able to converse with the male artists who seem able, on the whole, not to feel threatened by me or insecure about their art.  But once the women see you talking to a man, particularly if he is important, the more confident ones flock around trying to direct the attention away from you to themselves - this has happened to me several times and I find it most annoying.

Perhaps the best way of ensuring that I fulfil my potential is to spend my precious spare time between my other roles in the studio, making and thinking about the work.  Then I can worry about how to get it out there once I have a body of work.

Back to work

Today I have been thinking about my imminent return to work. After almost five years looking after my two children I am planning to start on the creative process once again. I am still at the planning stage rather than the doing stage because first of all I need to build a new studio: the current one is very old, small, and damp having started life as a single garage back in the 1930s.

I have spent most of the summer with both children at home juggling emails, phone calls, and meetings with builders and architects. Finally we have agreed a price with the firm of builders we like and in a couple of months time, probably in November, I will have a much bigger space to work in complete with toilet and shower!

My biggest fear is not having the time to be able to spend doing anything constructive in it. I recently watched a documentary about Tracy Emin and got an insight into her typical working day. She isn't married and nor does she have children (having famously aborted one baby that we know about) so she has no distractions or responsibilities taking her away from what she wants to do.  Yet, she did complain about how the business side of showing the work takes her away from the making of it, which is something all artists have to reconcile if they want to be successful.

A single woman can still be 100% dedicated and focussed on being an artist and has the opportunity to fulfil her potential as an artist, which begs the question can a wife and mother also accomplish this in between school runs, housework, and childcare?

Today it has taken me four hours to get around to sitting down to write this piece. I had the idea as I emptied the dishwasher this morning and I have been prevented from being able to think about it by my household jobs and the demands of my children. I am now mentally exhausted from having to deal with bad behaviour (the eldest) and tantrums (the youngest) and frustrated because every meal we sit down to as a family is like a chimps tea party. It has been a very stressful day so far and I now feel resentful that the time has passed without my being able to articulate my thoughts about women and art.

Only three days until my youngest starts nursery and my eldest starts reception.