Why I stopped doing most of the exhibitions (and collaborations) as an artist
First let me begin with explaining the situation a bit. I am an artist living in the Netherlands. I’ve graduated from art school (fine arts). My main working areas are sculpture, installations and performance.
But having said that, I want to clarify that art is not bound to restrictions. It’s one of the very few, if not only, dimension-construction in our reality that is not bound to anything. That’s the whole purpose of its existence. So, if tomorrow I want to draw I will. If I want to perform I will. If I want to climb a tree I will. There is no reason to make art unless you want to. Art is about ideas and manifesting them. I think this acknowledgment is even more important than explaining your main working area(s) as an artist.
In the Netherlands we have some funding from the government available for artist which is a good thing but unfortunately these funding are rare and they are bound to a certain perception of what art should be, which then only includes those artists who appeal to that paradigm.
It would not be the Netherlands of course if they would not value an overkill to an over rationalized form of art because here we’re proud of our rationality and pride makes blind. It makes you see only what you want to see. I don’t really know how to exactly explain it in words but the emphasis lies on “the story behind” and art is better when it’s visually unappealing cause that is seen as complex, which they think equates smartness.
It need to be dry, boring, endlessly theoretical without a point to make just for the sake of appearing difficult and as vague as possible so that man can act as if it’s just “too difficult and too deep" for the common man to understand and they are above them and are in possession of higher knowledge.
Something made out of the heart, feelings wantings or dreams is considered low because that is superficial and below our rationality. It’s not "explainable”.
I’m not saying this is always the case nor that everyone here thinks this way but this just is the mainstream sphere in the funding world, as well as in both of the art schools I graduated from.
I always had this idea that I had to build up my cv with anything. Didn’t even matter what is was or if the exhibition places were any good. I thought I needed a big cv in order to show the funding world that I was active in the artistic community in the Netherlands.
Of course, this did not matter and they still rejected me.
For me everything started to make sense about why I was so extremely unhappy, burnt out, and getting nowhere after I read the book Essentialism by Greg Mckeown in the beginning of 2019. It explained why I lost so much time in the previous years and why I was getting nowhere.
During art school teachers told me to grab everything that is being thrown at me because I was just a poor starting artist and was completely dependent upon everyone else. My future was in everyone elses hands except mine. So I did. I said yes to everything being thrown at me. It didn’t matter how unimportant it was, how unprofessional, how unrespectful with my time and resources they were, how almost nobody paid me anything, and how it literally did not matter. And I did it again and again, year after year.
Every request towards me: yes. Every open call: yes. I felt desperate to make it as an young emerging artist. And desperate to the mercy of others. And I burnt out. And it brought me nothing. And I got nowhere. And even worst I lost time, money, focus, attention to that what mattered.
And it’s not just the making of/building up of the exhibitions. It’s especially the extremely disproportional “preparation” beforehand and its endless continuation. Like the never ending stream of e-mails written in the most unproductive ineffective way. It’s not like most people working for art places will give you all the information and ask you all the questions in one email or a couple to be as sufficient as possible with your time. No, no, absolutely not, they are going to bother you every single day. In a lot of cases it’s also an endless stream of request they (suddenly) want from you. Write a piece of text. Do this do that. Invite people. Share this. Make a drawing. Come by an extra time to discuss (nothing important). Give a presentation. Give an artist talk. Oh you know what make a short video of your working process, that would be so nice for the guest.
Remember that in most cases they pay nothing, and in the cases they do it’s even worse. It never covers even 1% of the amount of time and effort you have to put in to answering emails, go to thousands pointless meetings and so forth.
Organizations often get paid by hour so they love to make up a lot of work. And it’s going to be your time that is wasted. Even if they pay you you will end up spending more just to confirm to all the demands (because people who pay artist have this illusion they can now ask anything anytime from the artist).
If the exhibition is in another city you will have to drive at least 6 times back and forth (and that’s if you’re lucky). That will cost you a lot of time and money.
It never stops. It never leaves you alone. There is no weekend, no evening hours or whatsoever. And eventually they don’t even have the respect to stick to emails and in a lot of cases they will intrude your time even more through WhatsApp.
I have cried and begged myself every one of the exhibitions and especially the paid ones that I just want to get away and would much rather just have a job as cleaner or something else. In all honestly of my heart I felt like a slave without being able to escape.
I noticed that a lot of Art organizations were doing this sort of endless activities, talks, workshops and so forth without any meaning just for the sake of it. Those of course all fell on our shoulders to do. The reason behind these activities is that they could prove to the municipality that they are active and are contributing to the city in order to get funding.
Almost no-one in the neighborhoods came to those activities. They then put the weight upon us. Literally they expected us to invite our whole family and friends circle. But I am not an artist in order for me to always drag my mother to these exhibitions so that she can see the same work over and over again. That is not my definition of making and showing art.
So to shorten this up. I was done with not being paid (get exposure) underpaid for the amount of hours and effort put in there. Feeling like I had to be happy and honored to be the chosen one so that I could impossible set boundaries. They felt all noble about paying but at the same time they felt entitled to asked all of your time devotion and without any boundaries. I felt dried to the bone. No energy left inside me. Just Burnt out constantly.
I stopt because of
Their endless stream of email, whatsapp, demands burnt me out constantly. I was more than done with having one burnout after another. And I was done with endless emailing.
I was not really living, just running, just doing wat everyone around me demanded, ‘because I had to play strategic to get what I want in the end’ but I was not doing what I wanted and that ‘end’ never came. On the contrary, I saw it slipping away further and further.
All my time was wasted. All I ever wanted to do is to own my life and do the things I wanted. But I had no time. I was working a side job to pay my bills and all the demands and materials. Driving all the time, going to meeting, emailing and so forth. Emotionally I was beyond exhausted. There was no time for me to make art. To live as I want to. Wasting all those years was killing me inside. I had nightmares of dying before I could make what I wanted, that I would never reach there and live my own life, and how fast the years went by. I had all these dreams, goals, aspirations, but my days went by wasting. I was unhappy and miserable And woke up every day in complete horror.
I gained nothing. Nothing ever came from it. No exposure. Even if I got paid, the time and effort put in to it was already more than the amount they gave me for it, so there was no win. I was constant in the min. Minus my time, my money, my energy. But gained nothing except a couple tags on fb. But then again I can just share my own work on social media. And at least I would have had time to make art.
There was so much bureaucracy, it was for them to get funding. To involve as much people as they can. To take as much time and energy from others as they can. It’s just a matter of taking. You know how difficult it is for people to say no. Even for those living in the area always pressured to come by, the family and everyone basically.
The audience were just some friends, family and neighbors who felt obligated. We were dragging people. I don’t want to be part of this culture of wasting other people’s time with wasteful activities. If they want to look at thing online they are welcome but I’m not going to force anyone.
Instead of wasting all my time to this I can make my own exhibitions setting and film it to show to the world in just seconds online, so why wouldn’t I?
I did not enjoy one single bit of it ever. I dread every part of it. except the part when it was over. I felt relief. And some hope again to be free. But before I knew it I was already stuck in another one of those obligations.
It made me poor. I spent a lot of time doing things for nothing and wasting my money on materials and gas to drive. I could have worked, saved and invested or spent it directly to materials.
I’m a highly sensitive person. This really affected me. And the building ups were destroying my mental health.
I was done with the endless activities that came along with the exhibition and that wasted my and other peoples times.
People have absolute no value for your time as an artist. Most of them get paid by hourly salaries which means they need up to fill all of their time
I also figured out that everything they were doing in very unessential ways, I could do myself way more effectively. Without wasting all that time for noting.
The building up is very stressful due to the lack of time they give you. You will be pressured to do everything within 1 or a couple days. In a lot of cases I had to work until the last minute before the opening which is so extremely stressful. And not because of my fault but because of their planning. Usually they have one exhibition after another and everything needs to be set up in limited time. The amount of stress, pressure and workload is unbearable. It’s also very unhealthy for the body when releasing this much cortisol and stress hormone. Can you image not being paid, putting your own money and being stressed out and burnt out till you almost drop dead, and all of this for basically nothing.
It’s always like it’s part of the game. But it’s not. I don’t want to be part of this game anymore, I refuse this to be the way art should be.