Building rockets with no fuel

maquette for '6 Days of Uncreation' (2012) with money rocket
maquette for ‘6 Days of Uncreation’ (2012) with money rocket

… and the cold water of rejection letters. In a week where I’ve heard that 5 applications for funding have met with negative responses, I have to lift the lid on this financial side of working. This year I’ve had 3 tremendous ‘successes’ in the form of a commission from Birth Rites with respect to One Born Every Minute, in inclusion in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and in my appointment as artist-in-residence here at Trinity College. Yet none has resulted in income. They remain my high points and they are in themselves hugely affirming, but they are costly.

In 6 out of the last 7 years I have declared a loss on my tax-return, because the material costs of producing art work largely outweigh any sales. There are so many factors: It’s exceptionally rare to find any job as an artist that pays for time, some will attempt to cover expenses, and often galleries will ask for a fee rather than give one. On top of the material costs, there are innumerable other time/financial aspects of my work: administration, scoping opportunities, making draft pieces, visiting exhibitions, insurance, travel, advertising, managing/updating my equipment, learning new skills. The debit column is a long one.

But then, like the calling to church ministry, this isn’t about fulfilling a specific job(s) and marking numbers in columns – it feels more like pursuing a vocation. The hand on my life impels me to make artwork even when there is no ‘job’. I can’t not do it. And I am HEART AND SOUL in it for the vision of renewed, reenchanted, resurrected photography that won’t accept poor workmanship or trite symbolism or sentimental spirituality; but that will stand up for a theology of images that is alive, and DV, holy. So if, in the pattern of God’s vocational workers, I am to be self-supporting rather than stipended, how do I actually do it? How does relentless self-promotion and the contortion of criteria-meeting applications result in any ‘success’? What about shrewdness? Expectation? Trust?

I claim benefits for childcare, and Trinity College offers a subsidised rate for their nursery – without this, I would not be able to work. So I am creating, I am employed, I am making a number of computer-based projects – but I am not making a living. And without fuel (including my own), what’s the point of building rockets?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *