If I had to state, under threat of physical harm, what has been the unifying thread through my adult life, or at least the last decade since I severed ties with bookselling, it would be figuring out what I do for a living. I know I do things and I know I manage to earn a living, but pinpointing exactly what it is, and what it might be in the future, has never been simple. It’s one of the reasons I reluctantly went with the “consultant” badge, despite the connotations (while I do have respect for what useful consultants do, like “social media” the brand is tainted) and am now enthusiastically embracing my shiny new “artist” badge. They allow me to do a broad range of things without having to change the business cards too often. (Not that I have business cards these days – I just hand out Photo School stickers.)
Sidebar: It occurs to me now that this was the same reason I chose to study Philosophy at University, beyond a genuine interest in the subject. All the other courses felt a bit restrictive, in that they’d lead me into a particular vocation or career. Philosophy was, by definition, about how we understand everything and therefore would leave my options open as much as possible. I might not have completed the degree (my aversion to academic study is on record and makes for very amusing talks to school kids when I reveal I have no qualifications of any real value) but I suspect doing so wouldn’t have made that much difference to my outlook. Keep it vague, keep it open.
So whenever someone asks, with genuine curiosity, whether the thing I just did with them is what I do for a living or if I do something else or just how the hell do you even exist in modern society don’t you know there’s a ideologically induced recession on for heavens sake, I tend to bluster around giving ten answers when one will probably do, ultimately admitting that I don’t know but the bills seem to get paid eventually. And Fiona’s agreed to marry me so I must be doing something right because she’s well careful about money.
It happened today at the end of my Beginners Photography class. As I was packing up one of the student innocently asked if this was my full time job. As I went through the usual bluster it occurred to me that, slowly but with a strange inevitability, this is becoming my full time job, in that everything I do can be connected in some way to this class.
A few weeks back, when I was in the middle of the ideas-soup of my Arts Council funded thingy (documented at length on Art-Pete if you only check this site and have been wondering where I’ve been), I broke out the whiteboard and looked at the things I did for cash, now that I’ve stopped doing website building and had stood down from the volunteer co-ordinator job at Stirchley Stores.
Sidebar: I stood down from the volunteer co-ordinator job at Stirchley Stores which I took on in July. It was a shame but I genuinely didn’t have time to do it alongside the other stuff in my life and I realised it was the one thing that didn’t fit. Back when I took the job it looked like I was heading towards events and people management, which there’s always a good demand for in the volunteer-supported culture sector. Then I got the Arts Council grant and my life, once again, changed direction. So you see why I bluster when asked what I do. It so often changes with the wind.
I drew up four columns. Making, Thinking, Teaching and Other.
Making is when I create stuff, mostly as an artist. It’s the things that are a product of my own hands and ideas or as part of a collaboration. I’m working on a project with Jenny Duffin at the moment (to be revealed either next month or in January, depending on things) which very much comes under the Making banner. Making also included my own photography. In short, it’s when the conduit to the creation of a thing is myself.
Thinking is when I marshall stuff that isn’t made by me. I initially called this Curating but that felt too constrained, though it is part of it. This could be something as simple as my Tumblr or it could be the Bring Your Own Beamer group show I’m co-curating with Antonio Roberts this month. This is things that I maybe can’t do myself but am interested in and want to make sense of. New developments in cameras and image capture would come under this. It fascinates me but I’m not at MIT.
Teaching needs less explanation. It holds Photo School and related photography workshops but also leaves me open to earn from my digital skills knowledge bank. For example, Fiona and I are currently pitching a Digital Skills for Writers and Editors course which builds on the course I helped her run last year. I might not be taking the Social Media coin (that money-tree has fully sailed into marketing and PR land now, to mix a metaphor) but I still enjoy explaining how all this stuff works on a fundamental level, and that kind of literacy about the digital tools that inform our work is more essential than ever.
Other is all the stuff that takes up my time but which doesn’t earn me money, or support the earning of money (the art, for example, might not bring in the bucks but it leads to workshops and keeps me fresh for teaching). Currently the list holds Rabbits, Wedding, House Stuff and Admin. I guess Admin does support my earnings, but whatever, it’s the bucket at the end of the conveyor belt. The main thing is I don’t forget about these things and their importance.
I then added a fifth column, Development. This Arts Council funded period has been a fantastic piece of personal development and I need to keep that going. How I do this is something I’ll work out in December during the evaluation but it will involve going to more conferences and festivals (I’ve booked a ticket for Resonate in Belgrade next Spring) and learning new skills (I’ve had a Arduino sitting in my desk drawer since the summer).
So, Pete does all of these things and, I hope they all relate to each other, in the sense that they all support each other. Even the rabbits who genuinely bring me well being. I never knew animal husbandry was such a mentally beneficial thing. It’s all good.
Fi is in Belgium with a friend this weekend and messaged me to say she’d had the “do what does Pete do” conversation with said friend and had actually managed to answer it this time. I asked her what she’d said, as the view from outside my head is always welcome. She wrote:
Brings clarity and engages interest and participation through creative experimentation with digital and other tools. Plays around with stuff the rest of us don’t have the time, interest or inclination to explore, thereby building a bridge to follow.
It’s still a bit wordy but there’s a coherence there.
What do you think I do? Comments are on.