Recently on Facebook, I was looking at a piece of work by one of my old tutors. I mentioned that he really should start a blog to profile his work, and he asked me how he would do that given that he was such a ‘Dinosaur’. Andy Hawkins was my illustration tutor on my Foundation course at Amersham College of Art in the 80s’. I was in my teens, and Andy could have been no more than in his late twenties at the most, even possibly 30, and I think recently graduated from the RCA. I should mention by the way, that Andy is an amazing illustrator and currently lives and works in Saltburn-by-the-Sea in Yorkshire (and not a Dinosaur). Anyway, it got me to thinking how dramatically the landscape has changed for artists since we both graduated.
When I first left University, making a career for oneself as an artist was hard, VERY, VERY hard, and generally friends and family would discourage those seeking a future career in the art world for that reason. Opportunities for work were meager to say the least. Unless you went into Graphic or Fashion design (or similar), getting regular paid work was an incredible struggle. As an illustrator you were hopeful for book and album art commissions, possibly advertising. As a fine artist there were the galleries, though few people other than those who were wealthy bought original art. Getting your paintings into a gallery was hard. Then as now gallery commission rates were very high and competition for wall space was fierce. Plus which, unlike now, galleries were not interested in the work of young and emerging artists and only interested in the work of established and experienced artists with a proven track record of sales. You could of course host your own show, as some artists did (myself included), but venues to do so were hard to come by and it was an expensive undertaking with little likelihood of financial return. And of course, that left teaching. Most of us who graduated, unless we managed to get a position in the field of our study worked freelance, balanced with a full time job, or taught.
So, what has changed. Well, changing attitudes to some degree and the advent of the web mostly. More people on middle and lower incomes now buy original art, as it is not seen as being solely within the reach of the affluent only, and peoples tastes have become more sophisticated and eclectic, added to which is the availability of original art. It is of course now possible to buy original art without ever visiting a gallery, (which for some is a daunting experience) via the web. With the advent of the web, artists’ now have the opportunity to gain attention and raise their profiles in a way that was not available more than ten years ago. Having a website, a blog, membership of an online art community (deviantART, Saatchionline, Behance for instance) and the opportunity to sell original work and prints online via RedBubble, Etsy, Folksy, Imagekind, Big Cartel etc, has meant that artists can now gain a presence and following that would have been a dream to my ilk twenty years ago. ‘Pop-Up‘ shops and ‘Open Studios’ have meant that more artists have an opportunity for their work to be physically seen and purchased. Additionally, the current trend for traditional art to be featured in advertising and magazines etc, is providing illustrators with even more opportunities for work and recognition.
And then there is the ‘Handmade Movement‘. Despite the proliferation of cheap mass produced goods and items, the handmade movement has undergone a monumental renaissance in spite of this, with more and more online venues selling ‘handmade’ only, and physical shops opening up selling the same. The desire for ownership of quality handmade and artisan crafts is increasing all the time, which has consequently also seen the creation of more independent art, design and craft magazines, both online and physical; UK Handmade, Design Sponge, Indie Quarter, Ammo Magazine, Selvedge, Paper Runway, Oh Comely Magazine, Creative Boom and Blanket Magazine to name only a very few.
I know there is an argument that given the abundant opportunities for artists now, there is more competition than ever and yes, it’s still hard to make a living as an artist, particularly in the worst recession since the 20s’. But I still think in many ways how wonderfully exciting it must be to be starting over now, despite all this. I would LOVE to be a young artist fresh out of college, and am so jealous of the exciting opportunities there are for artists now. All I can say is, what a great time to be holding a pencil!