Posts Tagged ‘Art’

A salaried artist in 1973 (Auto biography)

August 2, 2015
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.,1185173&hl=en

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)


December 30, 2011

There can never be the act of ‘creating’ when it has already been pre-conceived, totally digested and worked out. This is the problem faced to those that want to have a go at anything original or creative. I don’t pretend to know much about the act of creating but have given it some thought and reflection after some of my own efforts in doing something ‘new’.

Many years ago, and in the middle of unprecedented spending on art, artists and all things ‘creative’ in The Netherlands during the seventies, I was given the task of running the art section of a school loftily titled “ Creative Development for Adults”. It was supposed to install or perhaps re-install the ‘creative’ instinct into those adults that were brave enough to enroll. Dutch society would be the better for it and a new ‘Golden Age’ would inevitably rise up again.

After a well appointed art section was built, from the smallest brush to huge kilns, drums of clay, shelves full of art material, etching presses, copper plates and lithograph stones weighing tons, I was introduced to a class of adults, mainly females. My skills in teaching were mainly in the area of being somewhat vague and unsure of how ‘art’ could be taught at all. Of course, skills and technique can; but Art? Fortunately, I had enjoyed a few art courses years before by artists who generally let you muddle along while they went to the pub. This stood me in good stead
I have yet to meet children that are not creative but the tragedy is that so many loose that when growing up into ‘responsible adults’. Go to an exhibition of pre-school or first few years of primary school kids’ drawings and it is always so surprising to see all that talent pinned up to the wall. See the kids at 12 or 13 and already there is a change into conformity and expectations for others, a keenness to be the same as others, be approved off and become accepted. The creative part seems to be dripping away. Why is that?

My part in teaching those adults was trying to get them back to the stage they were in as young kids. The most common few words that most of them uttered were: “I can’t do that”. I used to challenge them and say, “How do you know”. “Most of you would be fighting to do a painting or drawing when you were four or five; what has changed?” You don’t know till you try. There were adults that could not bring themselves to physically put a piece of charcoal to paper. Let yourself go, was the answer. Don’t be afraid. Go on strike a crooked line; don’t wait for the paper to come to you. Just do it!

Finally most of them just loved doing the course and after many years I still have contact with one of them who has become an accomplished painter with many exhibitions both in The Netherlands and other European countries. Just have a look at her work:

Many years ago, art was a very strict discipline. The Julian Ashton in Sydney school still teaches art as a strict discipline. One will spend months on getting a mere hint of a shadow right or years perfecting the painting of a single petunia. The results, in my opinion, are that students become so disciplined their work loses all creativity and the work becomes boring and repetitive. The need for accurate reproduction can now be done perfectly with a good camera. So… why not just paint, sculpt, potter, write, photograph or do anything,…. create by letting go of all pre-conceived ideas and just do it….Create something new….