How to forge a successful art career Katie Horneshaw
Imagine a full time artist. What springs to mind? Is your internal artist smartly dressed, liaising with a corporate client on their iPhone as they stride, confident, to the office? No? If your mental picture tended more toward the kooky, the long haired, the *cough cough*, poor, you’re not alone. Culturally imbedded notions of what today’s artist should look like may seem harmless, but they form the language of a system that accepts the ‘struggling artist’ tag as inevitable. The community’s casual endorsement of hardship for the artist renders success a very difficult goal indeed. So, how best to achieve it? Here, we enlist the help of graphic designer Tane Ozlu to unpick the question: How can an artist forge a durable career in the current state of the industry?
Looking at Tane’s Facebook, you could be forgiven for thinking her a born-and-bred Brunswick hipster. Dizzy smiles, over-sized sunnies, grainy videos of screaming Soundwave acts. But to meet her, and be surprised by her sing-song, Turkish accented chatter, is to realise that this woman isn’t just enthusiastic, she’s bloody business savvy. The girl knows her audience. This effort at connection is one of many reasons the graphic design graduate from Turkey has been able to etch out a successful career in Melbourne, where truly successful art careers are few. A woman of many talents, Tane incorporates her passions- illustration, beading, drawing- into a graphic design portfolio that is as in-demand as it is unique. Sitting down to beer and chips at her favourite watering hole, I want to nut out why it’s so damn tough to get to where she is right now.
First thing’s first. What, to Tane, constitutes success? ‘I think when you’re doing what you love, and you’ve found your audience, and when you can live off it financially.’ To some, simply being able to live off your own profession may seem a lowly ambition, but to the artist, it’s the Holly Grail. And it takes hard work to get there. What sort of hard work, I ask Tane? And are there any short cuts she can let us in on? ‘For me, it was moving to Australia from Turkey. The amalgamation of the two cultures has made me who I am, and fed my creative style.’ So, to have a strong sense of self is important? ‘Of course!’ Tane exclaims.
You can’t produce meaningful art unless it’s coming from a sincere place.’ She goes on to outline a few practical pointers for the emerging artist. ‘Make as many connections with other people in the industry as you possibly can, and try to say yes to every opportunity.’ Tane pauses, then giggles. ‘And I hate to say it, but free work, free work, and more free work. We all do it, and unless you’re really lucky, you’re going to have to do it too.’ The giggles mask an insidious truth. Across a wide spectrum of art forms, it might as well be stipulated in the contract that until you’ve made a name for yourself, people are going to expect you to work for nothing. Or, as Ozlu wryly points out, ‘pizza, beer, movie tickets. All stuff you can’t exchange for rent.’
So why, in a city that’s renowned for its artistic prowess, must the practicing artist work for pizza? ‘I think there is a problem with the culture surrounding artists,’ admits Tane, ‘there is this perception that they should be doing it for the love of it, that they shouldn’t want to be paid.’ Looking pensive, she continues; ‘I think there is a failure to understand that artists work hard, very hard, at what they do. That the creative process takes time. That just like any other career, it’s a full time job. I don’t know how people expect us to live off nothing!’ It’s not quite nothing, but many artists survive off very little, squeezing casual shifts in between their real work just to get by. At the heart of this phenomenon, suggests Tane quietly, is the perception from some that art careers are not ‘real jobs’.
With so many obstacles in their way, I want to know what Tane feels is the most common mistake made by up-and-comers. ‘That’s easy,’ she responds matter-of-factly, ‘when people waste time doing shit they’re not meant to do.’ She goes on to explain how early in her career, penniless, fed up and fearing judgements from cashed up friends, she took a job she hated. ‘I wasted two years doing that job, and all I realised was that I’d rather be poor and happy!’ She wants to encourage others to stick at it, to believe in themselves and tough it out through the me goreng years. ‘You will get there in the end.’
Ok, so there are some people out there that don’t think an art career is legit. But what about the government, and the civic community, is there enough support flowing from these groups? ‘I actually think that’s where a lot of the problems stem from,’ says Tane, ‘there are governments grants, but not nearly enough of them, and for the young artist, it can be really confusing to get access to that support.’ Tane recalls how, when she was starting out, she had no idea how to approach galleries. Cold calling, she felt like a ‘criminal’ when she was rejected time after time, each curator telling her to come back when she had more experience. Multiple rejections are the harsh reality for emerging artists, and with support often hard to find, those early attempts to get exposure can be very disheartening. I ask Tane is she has any advice for coping with the inevitable rejection. ‘First of all, remember it happens to everyone.’ She smiles. ‘And know that if you believe in what you do, you will find your audience. It might not be the first or the second place you approach, but eventually, you’ll find the people that love your art.’
All this seems rather grim, and Tane believes adamantly that finding success in art is more difficult than in other professions, but there is hope. ‘There’s no easy way to do it, you know, there’s no magic formula. But if you stick it out and work hard, you will get there, and then you get to do what you love!’ She beams. ‘How many people get to say that?’ She also believes there are signs of change. ‘Pop Up Shops, for example. They include multiple artists, and are experimental, so they are often easier to get into than an individual show.’ She loves the fact that through Pop Up Shops, the artist can reach an audience they might never have otherwise, as there is a lot of public interest in the notion of the temporary art space. All in all, she points out, the slog is well worth the rewards. ‘I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! When you’re at that point where you’re doing what you love, you look back and every single minute seems worth it.’
Tane Ozlu's work is featured at POP IT, 69 Studio Gallery, Fitzroy.