A salaried artist in 1973 (Auto biography)

In Holland 1973/74

In Holland 1973/74

As it happened back in the early seventies I read a Dutch magazine in which was featured a Mayor of a small Dutch town. In it he spoke about artists and how he wanted to encourage the arts to flourish in his municipality. Also in the same magazine was mentioned a Government initiative many years before to make this happen. It was very simple really. Artists would be paid a salary the same as most workers. It was argued, that the making of art was as valid as making bread or driving a train. Art was as necessary and equally esteemed as a bicycle.  Indeed, art was the very bicycle of the spirit and soul. Was it Marcel Duchamp who pointed that out? It was decided that in exchange for their production of art, the maker or creator of this art would be paid a salary which would enable him to live comfortably and with dignity. It seemed so pragmatically and so utterly Dutch.

The article struck me as a lightening bolt from the sky. I became feverishly emboldened and I promptly wrote to this Mayor in which I greatly appreciated his aim in encouraging creative work in Holland. At the same time I made enquiries on how the system of creating art in exchange for a salary worked.  While in Australia the combination running a business  as well as doing art worked reasonably well,  it wasn’t as ideal as it could be. The idea of a salaried artist germinated into fertile soil. I could not let go of the idea. At the same time I felt a rekindling of a kind and benevolent Holland. An artistic Dutch Nirvana! . I would again be regaining my home- country. It grew stronger by the day. Gone were the memories of daily rain and howling storms.  I pushed aside those earlier memories visiting my friends who put on the TV within minutes of my arrival. Instead, a welcoming home to this lost Dutch prodigal son from Australia emerged like a fata morgana strangely affixed amongst an aurora in a Nordic sky. Of course, it also grew out of all proportions. I was running a head of steam.

I received a letter back from this Mayor advising me to contact him if and when we would arrive. I still had the Dutch nationality and right from the beginning our stay in Australia was decided would be temporary. It was envisaged we somehow would get a house (hut) made of solid pine in a Finnish forest and Helvi would teach and I would paint. Life would be simple and joyous. The Mayor’s article and the Dutch artist salary made us decide to do the ‘simple and joyous’ in Holland instead. Please consider that we were young and idealistic. It was the only way to be. With ageing might come experiences that wilts idealism, or at least blows autumn leaves, sometimes even icy blasts. Of course, to keep going in making art that doesn’t give an income is the  slippery slope that bedevils many. The Dutch Government artist’s support whereby the art was bought for a monthly salary seemed so good, manna from heaven. It was so popular many overseas artists flocked to Holland. The art was used to decorate the walls, floors or gardens of public building. Jails, hospitals, parliament buildings, schools, libraries, child care, municipality town-halls, swimming pools, Law-Courts, Family-Divorce courts…  you name it, all were flooded with art works.


When those public buildings were saturated with paintings, ceramics, wall hangings, sculptures. A law was passed named ‘the percentage in art acquisition’. It forced all large planned private buildings to spend a percentage of the total building costs on buying creative works to decorate the new building with. It was a boon that created an enormous output of art surpassing the (over) production of the world’s largest EU butter mountain a few years later. Of course, it went without saying that libraries started lending art works as well. People would take a painting home for a few weeks and swap for another one.

In 1973, we sold Gertrude’s cottage, packed as many suitcases we could take on the plane and after landing at Schiphol, rented a car. We slept one night in a hotel near the airport. Next day, after breakfast of ham and cheese rolls and coffee, we drove North to the small town and the Mayor.  He was extremely helpful and indeed knew a farmer who had just moved into a new farm house who gave us the old farm-house to rent for the time being.  He had it arranged for us. How glorious. We had packed air mattresses for the five of us. (That’s right, between Helvi on holiday in Finland in 1972, with our two daughters and her return to Balmain, we had a third baby, a glorious boy this time). The second night we slept on those air mattresses on the floor of the old farm, quite chuffed that all had turned out so reasonably well.

It was a lovely spring and sunny. That helped a lot.

(more to come)

Tags: , , , , , ,

20 Responses to “A salaried artist in 1973 (Auto biography)”

  1. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Please don’t leave us waiting too long for the second instalment. I’m worried that this Dutch Artists Nirvana was too good to be true. I’m willing it to have a happy ending please! I think Pete and I would have done just the same, jumped on the plane with our suitcase and been excited to become part of an paid artists collective. It’s what we all dream about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The Dutch art Nirvana was true. I don’t know if it still exists. You had to submit your work for appraisal and if accepted your work would be bought and hung somewhere. ( I am almost inclined to say something rude here, but won’t) I was accepted for a while but more of that in the next edition. I love your lino cuts Lottie.


  2. Carrie Rubin Says:

    Salary for art seems too good to be true. Something tells me things weren’t that smooth. Guess I’ll have to wait and find out! Such an interesting bit of history.


  3. elizabeth2560 Says:

    Wow! That was a bold move.
    can’t wait to see how it turns out.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    It’s not really too good to be true when you think of 1% for art and probably more than that for landscaping. We’ve become accustomed to lovely public environments. You and Helvi were brave and young. and what an adventure! I wish we could keep that sense of adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you Kayti.
      I am at the high end of feeling adventurous when vacuuming the house now. I leave it so long till dust and Milo’s hairs pile up that he even notices it. No more camping or crossing raging rivers, rock fishing, horse riding.
      We feel like Tarzan and Jane after a reasonable night’s sleep.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Sounds familiar.


  6. greenwritingroom.com Says:

    This is too utopian to come out well. I sympathise I spent years applying for artist-in-residence posts.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It was utopian and it did work. Of course the aristocracy and the church used to be the benefactors of the arts. In Holland at least it did result of art being displayed all over the place. In Australia we see so little of that. Hardly any modern public sculptures. Just some old admiral or a stern looking Queen Victoria.
      Yet, plenty of big M golden arches and open car bonnets.


  7. rod Says:

    I was amused to find the article on the subject came under the heading SPORT! I was amazed to see how easily you upped stiocks and left the cottage. It will be interesting to rread how this venture turned out.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Both of us at thirty three thought it was a pretty normal thing to do. I spoke the language and Helvi had studied languages. This adventure was undertaken merely by the chance to do art full time and get a salary.Helvi was not unhappy with Australia to the same degree that I was.
      Holland was booming and schools for the kids were considered far more advanced than in Australia. We knew a few couples that had left Australia as well. But, I must admit it was also perhaps a bit of a whim!


  8. sedwith Says:

    Almost seen by some as leaping empty handed into the void…but not really so believing in yourself and your partners capacity to make something work for you..wonderful opportunity. If only our leaders were as grounded and wise. Why should artists struggle while other often less worthy ‘talents’ cruise?
    Damn my mobile phone couldn’t read the paper article even with my enabling magnifiers. Wondering where your productions were ‘hung’. Hopefully in a place they felt at home.


  9. Tolga Says:

    Hi old timer. Are you and H having a good chuckle? I’m having such a good time I’m having a ball 😉


  10. Patti Kuche Says:

    Well this is going to be an exciting turn of events!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: