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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Cultural Careers

The art project I'll be starting with the school kids on Monday is a bit of a strange one. It comes under the heading of Cultural Careers and part of the reason I'm there is to explain to the kids that being an artist is a bona fide proper job (couldn't they get you under the trades descriptions for that?) So I tell them the story of my life, or the relevant edited highlights anyway. Did this last year and these are some of the resulting images. Their teacher wanted them to make Native American /First Nation Canadian art. We make a kind of Scottish eco art interpretation with a large pinch of salt.

I'm also going to post the talk I give to the kids. Please excuse the patronising tone. Not aimed at you, my erudite readers. Would appreciate your comments though, if you feel like commenting, as to the suitability for the delicate ears of budding artists.. So here we go, the story of my life.

Hello Children

My name is Grumpy and I am an artist and maker. That means I make things. You are all makers too. You make things, don’t you? I brought with me today some of the things I’ve made to show you and I wanted to tell you a bit about how I became an artist. I don’t know if you realise that all of you could be artists too if you wanted to. That could be your job when you leave school.

If someone asked you what does an artist do, you would probably say they paints pictures and yes, that is one kind of artist but there are many, many different kinds of artists or designers as they are sometimes called. Practically everything manmade that we use in out daily life was designed by an artist.

The school building that we are sitting in – that was designed by a special kind of artist with a special name. Does anyone know the name for someone who designs buildings? They are called an architect. Have you heard that word before? That means a building designer.

The clothes we are wearing today were designed by an artist employed in the textile industry. A fashion designer.

If you came to school by car, your car was designed by an automotive designer.

If you stood at a bus stop, the bus stop itself was designed by an industrial designer.

If you had a bowl of cornflakes, the packet was designed by a product designer.

You get the idea? I think you’d have a hard job finding something man made that wasn’t designed by an artist which means there are lots and lot of different jobs out there for creative people and you could be one of those creative people, if you chose to be.

So how do you become an artist? There are lots of different ways. I’ll tell you my story first of all.

I was at school almost 50 years ago which is a long, long time ago. Perhaps you’ve visited the old school in Scotland Street in Glasgow and seen the leather belt that the teachers used to hit the children with. That’s what they did when I was at school.

Although I worked hard and paid attention I didn’t really understand what was going on at school so the result was I didn’t learn much and I didn’t pass any exams. Now if that was happening to you today you would get help because teachers and schools are great nowadays but when I was wee, they just hit you with a leather belt. So the sooner I could get out of school the better. But I didn’t have any qualification or training and it’s not a good idea to be looking for a job without qualifications or training.

You’ll know that today good jobs today are hard to find but luckily for me, 50 years ago it was a lot easier. I’ve always had a big mouth and liked talking to people and that’s a good qualification for being a sales person. So that’s what I started doing, selling things. In shops and garages and all kinds of places. I as got better at it I started getting better jobs and I worked in advertising agencies and eventually I ran my own newspaper. But it was just going to work and coming home, going to work and coming home and something was missing in my life so when I was almost the same age as some of your grannies I decided that finally I would go to college and I would learn to do something properly.

This was quite frightening for me because I didn’t know if I could learn something properly but I decided that I would try and trying is the important thing.

So off I went to college in Glasgow to decide what I was going to learn. I chose embroidery because I’ve always liked doing things with my hands and I thought how hard can that be? When you think of embroidery you think of an old lady sewing in a rocking chair, don’t you so I thought this would be a good old lady thing for me to do.

But when I arrived at college –WOW-this whole world of learning opened up in front of me and it was marvellous. And of course I could do it. Here, I’m not as daft as I thought I was!

So for four years I studied design and history and technique and now I have a City and Guilds qualification in creative embroidery. But more importantly, the whole world of art opened up to me and I set off to do some independent learning. That’s where nobody actually teaches you, you just get books and read about things for yourself. I studied art history, drawing and painting, modern art and went to lots of galleries and had a wonderful time. Also I discovered that I was good at this, I could do this. But once a salesperson always a salesperson and I stared to think, okay, how can I use my new skills and abilities to get myself a job as an artist.

You don’t see many jobs as artists advertised in the local paper and I didn’t want to travel up to Glasgow, I wanted to work locally. You don’t see many jobs for artists in the job centre either so I decided I would become self employed. That means you don’t have a boss, you work for yourself. I’m sure you know lots of people who are self employed. Painters and decorators, plumbers, joiners, electricians. You see them advertising in the paper don’t you? That’s how they get work. You’ve maybe heard the adults in your house saying I must phone the plumber, time we had the painter in, I’ll get the joiner to do that for me but I bet you’ve never heard them say – time we had an artist in here! So advertising in the paper wasn’t going to work for me.

But it’s no good being the best artist in the world sitting in the house if nobody knows about you. You’ve got to let people know what you can do for them. So if advertising wasn’t going to work, how else could I let them know?

I’m sure you’ve been to exhibitions haven’t you? A big white room usually with lots of things in it that people have made. That’s an exhibition. That’s one way of letting people know what you do as an artist and I wanted to have an exhibition that was all my own work. So I started to phone round local galleries to see who would let me have a solo exhibition, that’s a one woman show.

I found a gallery who agreed to let me have my one woman show and I took all my work along and hung it up on the walls in the Harbour Arts Centre.

When you have an exhibition it’s a bit like having a party. You send out invitations and then other people come along just because they want to see what’s going on and you just never know who is going to turn up. I met lots of interesting people like other artists and teachers people who run galleries and I asked some of these people if I could come and run workshops for them. A workshop is what I’m doing with you today, making things. This is part of the way I earn my living as an artist, by running workshops in schools and galleries and by making art and selling it at exhibitions.

But I don’t want you to wait until you are as old as your granny to discover you have a love for art. A much better idea would be to work hard at school, get the qualifications you need and then go to art school where you can chose to learn how to make sculpture or jewellery, paintings, art in the environment, that means art outside, and all kinds of things

Sometimes, if they’re lucky, artists become very rich and famous. In London there is a gallery owned by a very rich man called Charles Satcchie. Charles Saatchi buys the kind of art for his gallery that is like nothing you have ever seen before in your life.

I want you to imaging you’ve been ill in bed for a few days and making a bit of a mess. The floor is all covered in magazines and old hankies and the remains of your dinner and empty juice bottles. It’s a tip, in other words. You fling back the covers and you get out of bed and you stand and a look at your very messy unmade bed and art is maybe not the first thing that comes into you head. But it was the first thing that came into the head of Tracey Emmen, a very famous artist. She said my horrible, messy unmade bed is a piece of art and this very rich man Charles Saatchi agreed with her and bought her messy bed for lots and lots of money and put in his art gallery in London. Can you image that!

There is another artist like that called Damien Hurst and his work is in Charles Saatchi's gallery too. This time I want you to imaging a big glass tank. Inside the glass tank is what looks like an office. A table and chair and a computer. It looks as if someone has just taken of their watch and left the office. The watch is lying on the computer keyboard. Not so strange you might thing. But keep this picture in your head of the office in a glass tank. Now fill the tankup to the very top with water and add a whole lot of great big fish. So the table and chair and computer and watch are all under water and have fish swimming through them and this is art made by Damien Hurst’s and bought by Charles Saatchi. So if you are very lucky, you can become a rich and famous artist like them, by making the most unusual art you’ve ever seen......
.....or, you could go get a proper job!


Celeste said...

Wonderful story! You really should try your hand at a book!

MargaretR said...

Sally, you are one very talented lady. I so enjoyed that story and having taught all my life I know how those ch'n will look at you and take it all in. I loved telling stories and seeing their faces in response. I can see a whole generation of Scottish ch'n
becoming famous and quoting their inspiration by a lady called Grumpy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sally,
Been trying to set up how to send a comment for daysand the sytem wouldn't accept any of the names I typed in... just saw your reply to Carol so I am trying it this way.
I have you set up on my rss feed as well.
I like the way you have said all that to the children. Well done you. (check the name of Saatchi though! grin)


ambermoggie said...

Very inspiring Sally and I think it would make lots of them want to take up art

Sue Sanderson said...


wish I could get your for Beth's school. I'm going to send your blog to my sis and have her read it to Beth - who loves stories.

You are - as we constantly tell you - talented - and do you rmember that phrase I told everyone about from my C&G days - you are a WOnderful Woman!!

Sue xx

Yvonne said...

Why oh why did I not get to talk to people like you when I was at school!

I'm fascinated by your blog, keep up the good work and I may see you again in Glasgow (if they let me back) in March

helen suzanne said...

Superb Sally... I was a small child sitting on the floor entranced with the excitement of possiblities just then :))