Alexander Johnson; getting paid, feeling valued.
Artists have almost always funded themselves throughout their careers by doing other jobs at the same time. Many were able to find jobs teaching in further education, indeed most of the tutors on my degree course were practising artists who were also running their own careers. Good in one way, bad in another, because this taught me even as a student that older artists who were good could still not make enough money to pay the rent and feed their families. Sadly, little has changed in 30 years.
I have worked in any number of part-time (and full-time) jobs to fund myself in the last 30 years and it is only relatively recently that I have begun to sell enough work to afford a full-time position in my own studio. The worrying thing is that since I have been solely concentrating on my work without the intrusions and stress of another job, it has improved so much. This leaves me feeling frustrated at the time I have wasted doing other jobs to pay the bills and begs the question, would other British artists also improve if they were able to become full-time? It seems hard to imagine that this wouldn't be the case, which is also sad.
There is also the question of being valued as a member of society when the fundamental way we do this is by getting paid for what we do, in turn paying our taxes to contribute to the greater good of our country. When you don't get paid for what you do, you are slightly infantilised by that fact; people don't take you seriously and in turn it is much more difficult to take yourself seriously. In one of my jobs, working in social care supporting adults with learning difficulties and mental health problems, one of the greatest challenges was how to foster self-esteem in adults who were often unable to undertake any paid work. It becomes difficult to value yourself when the world around you doesn't pay you for doing something.
On a positive note, it has been great this month to sell some paintings from my exhibition at the Project Gallery in Arundel, although there are always months that go by when I am in the studio working and with no major exhibitions, it's a good feeling to know that when the work is in a commercial setting, people do want to buy it. If you have ever bought artwork from an artist, I thank you on behalf of all of us. You were not just buying a piece of work you liked, you are strengthening the cultural fabric of our world and standing up for freedom of expression. We only have to look at oppressive regimes such as ISIS destroying art objects, China's difficulties with Ai Wei Wei or Putin's reaction to Pussy Riot to realise that one of the ways we still know that we live in a free society is that we are able to make the art we want, as well as buy it and hang it on our own walls.
Alexander Johnson, 2015.