Are You Having Enough Fun?

Essay Talk/Lecture  

This is the framework of a professional development session for artists led by James for the New Work Network at Hoxton Hall, London 8th September 2001

And reprised with added elements for Arts & Media, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester 1st December 2009

I haven’t done this kind of session before but it’s not rocket science and we can take it any way we want really. You’ve got to be honest but you don’t have to share everything with us. You may chose to do it more earnestly on the way home.

Being an artist is often taxing and the rewards are not always immediately obvious. The question I return to periodically, in the moments of deepest despair is “am I having enough fun to make all this worthwhile?”. So lets find out…

Part 1: Are You Having Enough Fun?
Answer the following questions as honestly as you can.

1: When have you been happiest (in life) – top five?
2: What are you best at (any talent) – top five?
3: What do you enjoy doing most?
4: What do you enjoy least (around work)?
5: What do you do most?

Now look back.

Do your answers to 2 and 5 correlate? If not maybe you’re wasting your talent.
Do your answers to 3 and 5 correlate? If not maybe you’re not having enough fun.
Do your answers to 2 and 4 correlate? If so you’re unusual and in trouble.
Do your answers to 4 and 5 correlate? If so we’ve got to find a way for you to stop it.

What do your answers to 1 tell you the relationship between your life and your work?
Can you take steps to make sure this kind of thing happens more?

Part 1 (supplementary): Is having fun productive?
6: What are the pieces you’ve been happiest with – why?
7: What pieces have you enjoyed making most – why?

I found there to be a fairly tight correlation between my answer to these two answers, but I’m not sure if this is significant or if I’m happier with them because I enjoyed making them more, or if I feel more kindly disposed towards them because they were successful.

When I started Stan’s Cafe with my mate Graeme I drew up a list of ambitions, thinking it would be useful to have empirical measures of success. I think I grew sceptical about what I’d put on this list at the same time as I lost the list. A few years ago West Midlands Arts suggested if we were going to make it, we would have made it by now – which was quite shocking as by my measures were were ‘making it’. Then last year West Midlands Arts again caused a bit of soul searching when they rejected our application form blandishments about our success with a call of ‘prove it’. So how do we know, let’s ask the question…

Part 2: Are you more or less successful than you think you are?
8: Whose opinions do you respect most about art (top five)?
9: Have they seen your work and have you talked to them about it?
10: What did they say?

If the answer to 9 is no, why not? Sort it out.
If the answer to 10 were negative would they still appear in 8?
Are they in 8 because you know 10 is exactly what they thought?

11: Who is it most important likes your work (top five in order)?

Do the people in 8 appear in 11?
Were you surprised by your answers?
Do you know if they do, how?

12: How do you measure your success?
13: Presuming you think it is, how do you know if your work is good?

Is there a correlation between your answers to 12 & 13?
I had clear answers to 12 and vague answers to 13. On reflection at true, clearer and more reassuring answer to 13 would have been ‘because my answers to 12 are all happening’.

14: Who’ve said the nicest things about your work (top five)?

There’s no real work to be done on 14 I just thought it would do us all good to see these things written down.

What pleases me is that my five are spread over twelve years and represent a range of people speaking. This reassures me that people haven’t stopped or started liking stuff. We’re not just getting good responses from specific interest groups. As they all comment on different aspects of the work. It makes me feel the work is well rounded.

I hope this has proved useful in it’s on-line state. I’m sorry we’re not in a room together to kick this around and decide how you could respond to the thoughts that have been thrown up but – as I’ve suggested – it’s not rocket science, you’ll be fine.

Recently I have had recommended and subsequently bought for me a book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It addresses the psycological and emotional challenges of being an artist, perhaps most obviously avisual artist or photographer. Many people seem to find it very useful, for me, I’m pleased to say that whilst finding it interesting I no longer feel I need help in this area. I am now HAVING ENOUGH FUN.