Four years ago I decided: I’m going to devote my life to photography and art. And that is what I am doing now, every day. It’s a great journey, but not always an easy journey. Artistry is not a hobby and it is no less heavy because it is my passion. But what does it mean to be an artist?
The difference between a photographer and an artist
I often notice that people do not really know what I do as a photographer. When I say that I am an autonomous photographer, an artist or someone who works on her own projects, people often look at me quite confused. What is an artist? It becomes even more dangerous when you also say that it is not ‘commercial’ what you do. Why would you do something and not make money with it?
Sometimes I don’t know if it has something to do with people not actually seeing me as an artist. To be honest, I find it hard to call myself an artist. That sounds so pretentious and I am a real Dutchy, so I don’t like to be pretentious. In front of you is a thirty-four year old woman in reasonably normal clothing (apart from the vagina earrings) with whom you have a reasonably normal conversation. Not that I want to say that artists are so wild and unreasonable. Absolutely not. But perhaps that is the image of artists that we have.
An artist investigates and brings a new perspective
Also confusing is the word ‘photographer’. For years, the art world did not consider photographers as artists. The relationship between photography and art has been the most difficult relationship within art for centuries. Everyone can take a photo. What does a photographer do then? I always say that I am not a photographer, but an image maker or artist. A storyteller. Someone who brings an idea into the world, who investigates things.
For example, I would never take a photo of a flower just because it’s beautiful, or because I can. I only take a picture of a flower if it is part of my research. Ok that sounds a bit intense. But I’ll illustrate what I mean by this. Within my research into sexuality, I also photographed flowers. Flowers and fruit are symbols of sexuality. Why is that? And how do we use these symbols? Why is it often put together with a nude woman and not with a nude man? These are the questions that I ask myself. I am investigating this subject and try to give a new perspective. That’s why I don’t just take pictures of every flower. And that distinguishes a photographer from an artist. I think.
In short, there are all kinds of associations and ideas that we have about these concepts like ‘photographer’ and ‘artist’ that sometimes make the communication about it very difficult. Regardless of whether or not you are an artist, I think that many people also have no clue what artistry actually means. You often hear the joke about artists who came up with their brilliant ideas in the shower. As if they don’t do anything all day long and then get inspired once and put that on paper within three days. Weeks of preparation preceded that idea. But ok.
Being an artist is a fulltime job
Now I can write a lot about other artists, but I always like to relate things to myself. I will explain to you what I do. I will tell you one thing: the mythical idea of the artist who has a free life and goes to work every day with a happy smile, is an illusion. I think I shoot photos about twenty percent of my time and eighty percent of the time I am doing other tasks.
Such as? I write and read a lot to develop my ideas, I go to exhibitions and museums to learn from other artists, I have to network, send emails every day, make contact with people, I go to print labs and frame makers to prepare work for my exhibitions, I go to shops to get material or maintain my cameras, I have to do marketing and accounting.
I can continue for a while but I think my point is clear. The bottom line is: it’s just a full-time job. You are an artist, but also an entrepreneur. You are your own boss. You do everything yourself. I don’t have a financial colleague who takes care of all finances. I don’t have a marketing department or PR colleagues who go to all events. I have no project department, no IT department or maintenance department. I am all of that. Oh yes and I forgot to say that I still work three days to actually support my life. Because although I do everything myself, I don’t earn anything with it (now).
Successful artists have a routine
What does this mean in practice? That I often work six to seven days a week. I don’t get up too early, around eight o’clock. I work every day untill five or six, then I eat, go exercising or do something else and around 9 o’clock in the evening I start to work a bit untill 11 or 12 ‘o clock. I don’t go partying a lot and when I go somewhere it is often photography or art related. I don’t drink much, because I have to be fit again the next day. Actually, I adhere to a very tight schedule.
And that is what every famous artist we know has also done: work hard every day and have a life full of routines. Don’t think Picasso could have made his art otherwise. In fact, the artists of that time often had a woman or worker who cooked for them and did all other tasks so that they could focus on their art. But that’s another story.
A good artist never puts work aside
The point is that we only see the result of the art process: a number of paintings, photos, sculptures or installations. We actually don’t know how much time it took to make something like that. It certainly doesn’t come from a simple idea in the shower. A whole life has been devoted to that. No free life. No sex, drugs and rock and roll. Just work. The project that I will be exhibiting in Gallery Olivijn in October is the result of 10 months of work. Day in day out. (a nice calculation by the way: I’m thirty-four now, so suppose I turn 100, then maybe I can do a total of 66 projects if I work hard)
The artistry continues 24/7. As Kamala Ishag said, the woman who won the Prince Claus Award this year at the age of eighty (!): “The most important thing I say is: never take a break so that your relationship with your art remains good. Do something every day. That may be a drawing on a small piece of paper that was wrapped in groceries you brought to the market. It doesn’t matter what it is. A good artist never puts his work aside. ”(Source: NRC) I recognize what Kamala says. Every day I do something for my projects. Even if it is not photography. I write, I read, I draw, I paint, I go to exhibitions or watch documentaries.
Making art is hard work without a guarantee on success
What I still forget to say is that you have to continue this routine for your whole life. The most famous artists only received recognition for their work after twenty or thirty years. I mean in terms of appreciation or money. Of course there are artists nowadays who exhibit in big museums and earn a lot of money, but that is really only one percent of all artists in the world. Indeed, an artist who shows work in museums often does not earn much money at all. Being an artist does not usually make you rich. If you define rich in terms of money.
Now there’s another annoying rule: to get recognition, you have to work very hard – dedicate your life to it – but even if you work hard, you may never get this recognition. This reminds me of the project of my friend and artist David de Haan. He has made a work about the illusion of our dreams. He took the example of our Dutch ‘ice skating dream’. Everywhere in the Netherlands we build natural ice rinks, waiting for that one day when it is cold enough to be able to skate. In practice there are very few of these days. And yet we continue to work for it. Yet we continue to believe in it.
The same applies to artistry in itself. You never know if your work will ever be appreciated. Art is and remains subjective and subject to a system: the art market. An artist actually has little influence on success. Most of it is determined by who you know, how they appreciate your art and whether they share this with other people or not. So besides working hard, you also have to be very nice to people and gently get rid of all your competitors. Nice job to be an artist huh?
You don’t choose to be an artist, you just are
After this whole story you may think: why would you want to be an artist? That is a good question. Maybe I don’t want to be an artist, I am an artist. To illustrate this I will tell you a great story that I remember every day. Matt, my teacher at the Photo Academy, once said in a lesson that he makes art because it’s something he ‘must do’. It led to a fierce discussion later in the cafe next to our school. “Must? Must? What nonsense! You have passion as an artist, right ?! You don’t HAVE to do this, you WANT to do this!” Matt said to me,” If I don’t make art, I’m unhappy, and if I do, I am unhappy too.” How can you say this to someone who is just starting her art life?
After a long conversation I suddenly understood what Matt meant. Artistry is in your soul. In your veins. You have an enormous urge to make things, to tell stories and to discover the world. That urge is so strong that you would be unhappy if you do not make art. But artistry itself is not an ideal job or ideal life. Above all you have to work very hard, invest a lot of money (and therefore often have little money), accept a lot of failures, make sure you are ‘seen’ by people (and believe me that can be tough sometimes,) you have to be kind to people and yet be a bit competitive, but you also constantly have to make new work and show that to others, until you get tired and sick of it. You don’t earn a lot of money, so in addition to all this, you also have to get a job that earns you money to support your artist life (or find a rich partner, whatever you choose).
Art transcends the value of money
For me this is the exact distinction between artistry and hobby. Artistry means you make art and that you work for this every day. By this I do not mean that you take a photo every day or sit behind your canvas, but that you work every day to be able to make the final artwork. Artists devote their lives to art simply because they have an inner urge to create, to tell a story, to make a statement. They are people with an opinion, with a vision. They are the mirror of society. They talk about all subjects in life: death, birth, love, sadness, hope, discrimination, violence, politics etc. etc. It is a job where there is no direct monetary value. Making art transcends the value of money. That is the best way to explain it.
Now this is not a plea to show how tough I am nor is it a scream for attention. I love photography, I love art, I love my life. I enjoy it every day. But artistry is not a mythical life full of freedom and happiness. Making art is hard work. While others are sipping their cocktail (that is completely ok, don’t get me wrong), I am sitting in front of my computer in my small room, looking at my pictures and listening to my audio files for the fifth time. Trying to find this one sentence I need for my project. I don’t work for money, but for a higher purpose.
Artistry is a way of living
To me, being an artist is a way of living. It’s about an urge to create things and about having a vision. And work hard every day to achieve this and show the result to other people. I like to inspire people and get inspired by people. When someone asks me what I do at a party, or other get togethers, I don’t always feel like explaining it. Then I actually have to tell them this whole story and I don’t want to bother people with this story. Maybe when you read this, you can better understand what I do and why I do it and understant what it really means to be an artist. That saves me time. Which I can put into my art 🙂