On Journalism and Fiction

Summary: This really annoyed me and I’ve been stewing over it all week.

Bobbie Johnson, who I don’t know personally but who is within a couple of degrees of some people I do know from the old-school UK blogging scene, and whose work I’ve been reading and often enjoying for over a decade, currently works for Medium, the “Twitter for Long From Writing” set up by Ev Williams the guy who ran Blogger and Twitter. Bobbie’s bit of Medium is called Matter and was an attempt to run a serious online journalism business funded by subscription until Medium bought them. Medium is currently running on investor cash while it scales up and figures out how to make money and as such is employing numerous writers to inject quality. At some point Medium will either figure out how to make money or the investors will demand a return on their investment and it’ll be sold, or it’ll close. But until then Medium is in the same la-la land as Twitter for the first few years of its existence, living on what Maciej Cegłowski calls Investor Storytime. The “Post-Web 2.0″ Internet we currently enjoy was built on this business model – a few years of utopia followed by a mad scrabble to make the money back by turning everything to shit. You can see Twitter navigating this scrabble since going public, slowly turning into Facebook-lite. Medium is still in utopia.

As you can probably tell I don’t think this model is a particularly good one. I don’t have a better answer, of course, but it seems clear to me that the way Silicon Valley runs is not sustainable nor in-keeping with the potential of the Internet. It might give people the freedom to experiment and push at boundaries but it also creates bubbles of unreality and privilege. This tension is tricky to navigate and almost impossible to judge. I benefit from a lot of the tools and services created in the unreality of investor storytime and on a personal level the mechanics of Arts Council funding has given me the same sort of space to think and develop in ways the freelance life doesn’t allow. I think the answer is somewhere in Dan Hon’s thinking about empathy in digital environments. When Twitter buys a service like Posterous purely to get the people who created Posterous out of their contract with their investors and then closes down Posterous, deleting thousands, if not millions, of individual people’s personal websites, did anyone think about how those people might feel? Did that come into the equation? Should it have?

Anyway, this preamble should serve to show that my feelings about Medium are, shall we say, mixed. I like that it has enabled a lot of good writing and raised the profile of long-form prose. But I really don’t like the idea of all blog-style / article writing being centralised on a platform which has no coherent business model and which could either vanish in a puff of investor-writeoff or turn into an advertising-ridden, behavour tracking nightmare like YouTube. Or something else entirely.

So, back to Bobbie Johnson and Matter. Bobbie wrote a short piece the other day titled On Journalism and it’s been bugging me every since. In it he explains the background to a feature he commissioned about Shanley Kane, a feminist writer on Silicon Valley issues. (Sidebar: Am I the only person who thought they were profiling UK underground cartoonist Shakey Kane? Thought so.) I don’t know Shanley and hadn’t heard of her until this week. For all I know she’s a canny media operator playing the PR game, but it seems to me she’s just a relatively normal person working in a slightly contentious area.

The report on Shanley is not going well. Bobbie writes:

Earlier this week Shanley took to Twitter to denounce us, accusing us of harassment and claiming that we coerced her and threatened to publish incorrect material about her if she didn’t cooperate.

None of these things are true.

Despite what you may have heard, we aren’t “investigating” Shanley, or threatening to dig up secrets from her personal life. We’re trying to produce an accurate profile of somebody doing interesting, vital, valuable work.

Bobbie’s defence is that Matter are doing journalism. The overriding assumption is that journalism, when governed by its ethics, is pure and for the good. There is this belief in the system, the process, that if it is followed correctly there will be no problems. If you don’t like what the system produces then that must be your problem, not that of the system.

Let’s assume that this system, established through the tradition of journalism over a few hundred years, is flawless. And let’s say you had done some stuff that had raised your profile to the point where a journalistic enterprise with sufficient budget wanted to write a story about you. How would you feel about the following (quoted from Bobbie’s piece)?

At many points, we’ve explained to Shanley how our reporting process works. It is, boringly, entirely typical: It involves talking to lots and lots of people. Not just the subject (even if they’re willing) but also friends, co-workers, contacts, and sometimes enemies too. It’s only with this kind of effort that you can ever hope to produce a realistic, three-dimensional portrait of somebody or their work.

Can you imagine someone you don’t know, someone who has great skill in using the written word to communicate ideas, talking to loads of people who think they know you and then defining you in a relatively high-profile publication that will be read by most of the people in your industry? And you have absolutely no say in how that definition is arrived at or communicated? And then, once it’s published, you have to dedicate unpaid time and effort to dealing with the fallout?

Would that not scare the shit out of you?

Bobbie says this is all okay because, effectively, that’s the way it’s always been.

This approach is entirely normal in the course of journalism. But, she told us, it was off-limits for her. While she agreed to sit down and talk to us, she objected to us talking to anybody at all about her. That, for us, is antithetical to the idea of fair reporting: it is merely PR.

Journalism or PR. Black or white. No nuance, no middle ground. Either you’re helping us find “the truth” or you’re using us to promote your own agenda.

The problem I see is this system evolved in a world where only “public figures” were profiled in newspapers and magazines. These people are, to paraphrase Liz Hurley, professionals at being interviewed. They know when to speak and when to shut up. They have people on the payroll to deal with the fall-out. They have tight control over their image.

So when, as an investigative journalist, you’re profiling one of these people you’re effectively in combat against a heavily armoured foe. Your weapons are your questions and access to people who know stuff. Your aim is to piece the armour and get to the fleshy truth.

But “the truth” about any celebrity or public figure is not very interesting. What people want to ready about is the loose fiction they have created around themselves. And, I believe, the way people who find themselves in the spotlight of fame deal with the insanity of the situation is to maintain a distinction between that exciting fiction and their personal, boring, inner lives. Nobody wants to ready about Nicolas Cage doing his laundry. They want to read about Nicolas Cage being insane. They want to know more about the fiction, and that tends to be what the journalist will concentrate on, the truth about the fiction.

The more I think about it, the more fucked up and confused it gets. And into this crazy world come the civilians, people like you and me who, thanks to the internet, are able to have a voice without going through the battleground of being a “public figure”.

I am probably on the lowest run of being a “public figure”, so low that it doesn’t really count, but every so often I find myself in contact with professional journalists. They are, to a wo/man, lovely people who are conscientious and proud of their work (though I’ve never had contact with a tabloid journalist) but I have almost always refused to be profiled in any way. This is not out of ego or an overblown sense of importance. It is because I know I cannot control what they will write about me, so I would rather they write nothing at all. I do not see the benefit of having information that purports to tell “a truth” about me out in the world when I cannot do anything about it.

If this was because the people doing journalism on me might make mistakes which could be rectified then it wouldn’t be a problem. But because they are insulated by a system designed to pick at carefully constructed narratives, they are unlikely to see them as mistakes. The process produced this so it must be right, at least in part.

But I don’t know what the truth about me is. I haven’t written the bible of who I am. I’m just some guy blundering through life like all the other idiots out there, making it up as I go along. And I don’t have time to deal with this sort of shit.

Why is it journalists like Bobbie cannot see that people who have stumbled into the public eye might not have want to be “personalities”? Why can’t they see that, when it comes to human beings, the truth is massively complex and weird and very easy to get wrong. Why can’t they see that their hallowed processes are just systems, algorithms that might not apply to all circumstances?

The more I think about art and communication the more I’m convinced everything is to some extent fiction. Every story we are told is embellished with untruths and it is impossible to tell the pure truth through representational art, be it painting, sculpture or prose. Now, that art can tell us great truths about the world and our place it in, but in and of itself it is a fiction. I think everyone instinctively knows this, so when someone with a significant resources and influence wants to tell a story about them they instinctively balk.

Anyway, I guess I’m blogging again. Comments are open for a few weeks.

What DOES Pete do?

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.

If Wet… photo fundraiser

If Wet - April 01

As you may know I’ve been most taken with a monthly event called If Wet…. I went initially to support my chum Sam Underwood and his parter in audio crime David Morton and have a day out in the countryside. But I returned each month because it’s become an essential part of my artistic development. Also it’s one of the few chances I give myself to actually take photos for the sake of taking photos. (For whatever reason I don’t take good photos when I’m teaching photography or leading a photo walk. Different headspace I guess.)

I’ve blogged recently about If Wet on my Art Pete site here and here, so you can get a flavour of what it’s like and how it’s affected me. In short, I enjoy taking the explorations of sound artists and musicians and replacing “sound waves” with “light waves” to see where it takes me. I’ve also enjoyed the open and friendly ambiance they strive to create with artists free to discuss their work with their peers. It’s like nothing else I’m aware of and needs to keep happening.

If Wet 2 - May - 29

Sam and David have been running If Wet for the last 6 months fuelled by love and favours but as anyone knows this isn’t sustainable, so they’re doing a big fundraiser. I’d like to be part of that.

I’m offering prints of my photos from If Wet #1 through #5 as signed and framed prints. There are two sizes available at two prices. After production costs half the price of each sale will go to If Wet. (I’m obviously taking nothing.)

If Wet 5 - August - 27

The sizes are A4 in an IKEA Ribba 30x40cm frame for £20, and A3 in a Ribba 40x50cm frame for £40. The photos are mounted and I’ll sign the mount. I will print the photos to order and deliver them to If Wet on Saturday 30th November.

All my If Wet photos are in this Flickr set. Choose the one you’d like and paste its name in the box below. Select the size and pay by PayPal.

Name of photo

  • Deadline for orders is November 22nd. I’ll be printing them to order so will need a week.
  • Photos will be delivered brought to If Wet in Callow End on Saturday November 30th.
  • If you want something other than the above or want them posting, get in touch though be aware I’ll add a reasonable surcharge. I’m keeping this simple to make sure I can do it in good time.

The title of the photo can be found on Flickr in the indicated places. If you’re unsure copy and paste the web address. I’ll confirm the photo with you before ordering.

If Wet 3 - June - 30 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

State of the Pete: Social Media Consultant

I’m doing a thing at a thing for money and had to write a bio. It’s off the cuff but it’s a reasonable stab at how I professionally approach Internet stuff at the moment:

Pete Ashton is an artist and photography teacher based in Stirchley, Birmingham. Through combination of being an early adopter of blogging and Twitter and a disbelief that other people didn’t see how useful this stuff was, he gained a reputation as a “Social Media Consultant” in the West Midlands. In recent years he has tried to shake off this label as it has become colonised by snake-oil salesmen and charlatans, preferring the to describe his work in this area as Digital Literacy.

Pete believes the Internet is made of humans and is therefore a lot like the rest of the world: messy, confusing and often scary, but ultimately rewarding if you make the most of it. He uses the online tools that suit him and ignores the ones that don’t. You won’t find him on LinkedIn and he doesn’t check his Facebook messages. But his email inbox is always at zero.

Pete does his Digital Literacy work under the banner ASH-10. In return for money he’ll help you see the wood for the trees and gain some understanding of how and why things online work the way they do.

I’m chairing a panel discussion with Modified Toy Orchestra and Juneau Projects

Modified Toys 05

This one came completely out of the blue. While attending the launch of Square Wave, an exhibition of instruments made by the Modified Toy Orchestra and Juneau Projects at the A3 Project Space last week, curator Trevor Pitt asked me if I’d chair a panel discussion between the artists. I was slightly taken aback but his reasoning was I knew about both of them, being a massive MTO fan (I run a fan blog about them) and a long-time admirer of JP’s insistence of making their art fun (Cardboard Wars for heavens sake).

The event information is on a Facebook page, so to save you the teeth-gnashing, soul destroying experience of clicking that link, here’s all you need to know.

Square Wave Talk
Thursday 25th July 6.30pm
£4 (£2 unwaged)

Brian Duffy, Laurence Hunt, Phil Duckworth, Ben Sadler and Joeseph Weldon talk about their ideas behind making electronic instruments and music – hosted by Pete Ashton.

A3 Project Space, Unit A3, 2 Bowyer Street, Digbeth, Birmingham, B10 OSA
View Map

10 Bowyer St, Birmingham, West Midlands, UK - Google Maps

The £4/2 fee goes straight to the artists. I’m not taking a fee (though I did get given a lovely MTO Japan tour poster!) and the exhibition is not funded and this event serves to raise funds to pay them.

If you can’t make the talk the exhibition is open this Friday and Saturday, 12-5pm. (It’s just a short run.) I highly recommend going, but then I would.

Modified Toys 06



OK Craig, since you asked so nicely

Hit shuffle on iTunes while writing a blog post in the office. Bright Eyes, Camper Van Beethoven, Queen, Aphex Twin.

iPad on shuffle while working at Stirchley Stores in Loaf’s kitchen. Started with The Bad Plus’ cover of Veloria.

iPod on shuffle in the car (Tunng, Joni Mitchell) then generative 90s computer game music in a pub, then back in the car again (Elbow, Dead Can Dance).

Particularly notable birdsong in the garden.

Watched a music video embedded in a blog post.

Five seconds of a live-stream via a phone of someone at a gig I was considering going to.

As before, I became aware there are whole swathes of time when I have no music in my life at all and when I do it tends to be very much in the background. Also, as before, this happened on the same night as 8bit Lounge, which was an odd coincidence.

I recorded this using an iOS note taking app called Write which handily timestamps the title of a note by default. Since it’s on my phone, iPad and Macs it’s going to be everywhere I listen to music.

State of the Pete: Art

A few major things have happened to me over the last few months and I feel the need to put them into words and make those words public in order to make sense of them. This is the second bunch of words. Previously.

A few years ago I decided to call myself An Artist. This was done mostly to see what would happen, if anything. Like most people, I’d subconsciously assumed that Capital A Artists, the sort who get retrospectives in galleries and commissions from noted bodies, were assigned that title, as a monarch might bestow a knighthood. Or that in order to be an Artist you needed to go to Art School. A cursory bit of thinking make it pretty clear that you didn’t need permission to call yourself an Artist. You just needed to be a good Artist to get away with it.

Of course that then unleashes the pool of turgid shit that is the “What is Art” debate but I found a ladder out of that with the following statement. “An Artist is a philosopher who understands the world through the making of things.” Things being anything from a painting to a play to a simple statement. This is distinct from the artist-as-craftsman (aka illustrator, cartoonist, painter, etc) who may or may not practice “Art” and does not denigrate their work.

Then one has to reconcile one’s practical skill in the making of things – in my case the act of photography – with the making of things in the pursuit of Art. It took me a while to understand the difference, the overlaps and the relative unimportance of worrying about it too much. Definitions both power creativity though imposing useful constraints and kill it through endless navel-gazing.

In the end it seemed to me Artistic Practice is akin in some ways to Religious Practice – the imposition of ritual in thought and action towards a noble, often unattainable, higher goal, where the journey is more important than the destination. The point is to do it.

Last year, as Photo School was finding its feet and getting noticed, Matt and I were approached by Karen Newman, a photography curator who was moving to Birmingham and wanted to set up a “space” of some sort to help the photography community in the West Midlands. We’d heard far too many plans like this, most of which were ill-conceived and overly optimistic, but we met up anyway. It turned out Karen had good ideas and a willingness to really understand this strange city before putting anything into practice. We left hopeful and impressed and invited Karen to sit in on one of our classes. In the pub after she addressed the elephant in the room – the fact that neither of us had taken any photos of any worth for ourselves in the last year – our creative energies being ploughed into teaching. Karen made the valid point than in order to be good teachers we needed to maintain our practice, since that was what made us good teachers in the first place. So I took that to heart.

A few weeks later I was photographing Antonio Robert’s Dirty New Media event, partly for the modest fee but mostly to make sure I attended all of it. As a successor to GLI.TC/H Birmingham which Ant curated in 2011 I knew it was going to be interesting and probably relevant to my interests. Throughout the day I my reactions ranged from “that’s good” to “that’s shit” to “that’s really missing the point” to “that connects a whole bunch of things I didn’t think could be connected” and by the end I knew what I had to do – follow the advice Helga Henry gave me waaay back in 2008. I asked Karen, who happened to be there for the last hours, if she’d be my mentor in whatever capacity suited. She agreed.

(It later turned out she’s mentor to a number of people and it’s kinda her job, so full points to me for recognising that.)

So we met up in the back room of the Big Bull’s Head, one of Digbeth’s many hidden gems, and I talked at her for two hours about all the things I’d done, from the “yes, that’s probably art” stuff like the Library exhibition with EC Arts to the silly itches I needed to scratch like finding the secret river in my local park.

Karen then went away and digested my ramblings into Curator Speak:

Pete Ashton’s work explores the collapse of time and space in the digital age. He uses a range of media, including photography, animation, the Internet, performance and low-fi materials, creating interventions in real and virtual spaces that challenge us to look closer, calling to question the very experience of seeing in today’s media saturated world.

Performative gestures underly Ashton’s investigations of time and space. He sets rules and parameters that shape his work, such as locating every video other than his own that has been uploaded to the Internet with the file name IMG_4228; attempting to photograph the planet Jupiter; photographing every other bus stop on the number 11 outer circle bus route in Birmingham; or making a journey to find the source of a river. This performative ethos follows through to the physical artworks, which often require the participation of the audience to complete the experience.

For an installation at Birmingham’s Central Library, for instance, Ashton invited passers by to peer through cardboard constructions to view animations on obsolete CRT computer screens. Ashton created the animations from photographs made through the difficult process of TtV, using a different viewfinder to his camera’s to photograph passers by against the backdrop of familiar architecture. Provocatively installed inside the window of the Birmingham Central Library, an iconic building of brutalist architecture on the brink of being destroyed, Ashton’s intervention into public space dealt, first and foremost, with the problem of getting local people to stop and look, and secondly, getting people to see beyond an aesthetic facade and find intrigue and delight at what lies beneath.

Key words:

  • Seeing / looking
  • ExperienceExperience
  • Consciousness
  • Catching people’s attention in a world of visual overload
  • Performance – yours in the process of making / others in the process of looking or viewing
  • Setting rules / Parameters / Instinct & restraint

I found this hilarious, seeing myself translated into Art-Wank. It’s the sort of language that I, and many others I know, find terribly off-putting, full of terms like “interventions” which always makes me think of an alcoholic being confronted by their family. Art-Wank is probably the main reason The Artist has this apparent holy status, bestowed after they have mastered the language and learned the codes.

Of course, this isn’t intentional. All industries and interests have their jargon serving as a valuable shorthand. The problem is when jargon escapes into the real world, as Art-Wank so often does in festival programmes and the like. An Artist Statement might be useful for an Artist to position their Art within the pantheon of other Art but it really shouldn’t be read by anyone who isn’t schooled in it.

I am also inherently resistant to any form of formal language. I very nearly failed my English GCSEs and have never gotten on with academia. What you’re reading now is the fruit of 20 years of self-teaching, writing for myself, building my vocab, discarding the made-up words and figuring out the rules and quirks as I went. The downside is I still find it very hard write prescriptively, and Art-Wank is very prescriptive.

But I digress. Karen’s translation was useful because it helped me look at what I was doing from another perspective. It didn’t change the work, just put it in a new context, as part of a different story, if you like. And that narrative helped me to make connections with the work I’ve done (and things I hadn’t considered work). In short, I started to appreciate the usefulness of Art-Wank as a tool, though I remain, at this stage, very resistant to using it.

The main thing Karen suggested I do was go for a Grant For The Arts (G4A) from the Arts Council to give me some space and time to develop my practice. I was a bit sceptical at first – why should the Government pay me to sit on my arse and think about stuff? – but it turns out artist development is one of the things the G4A is for. Not exclusively, obviously. There are plenty of other boxes that need to be ticked and there needs to be a tangible outcome of some kind. But ultimately, if I satisfied their requirements, I could get a sum of money to develop what I do.

And, to cut a long story short, I did. The confirmation letter came through on Friday and the sum on money will be in my bank account soon. According to the schedule I put in the application I officially become a funded artist on Monday 15th July, deliver my work during September and October and spend November preparing myself for The Future. It’s not full time – I’m giving myself one day a week minimum – so I’m able to do my other things, but the main point is I don’t have to scrabble around for little jobs here and there to pay the rent. I’ve got time and space to really knuckle down and turn my undirected enthusiasm (cf passim!) into something coherent and useful in 2014.

There’s a fair amount of muttering around arts funding, some of it justified. If you know how to play the game and have the right contacts you can carve a nice career out of writing arts bids. And then there’s the ethical side – should Art be funded by the state? Isn’t that intrinsically a bad thing? Shouldn’t I be striving to maintain my independence?

Firstly, yes, there is a lot of bad art produced by people who are skilled at writing bids. This is a problem but it doesn’t mean there can’t be good art from the same process. In fact, if more people felt able to go through the process maybe the career fundees might be squeezed out.

Secondly, the Arts Council isn’t there to give handouts to Artist Elite. Nor is it there to dictate a state programme of aesthetic control. But it does have some quite specific requirements and I find it helps to think of them as a client. In asking for funding what I’m actually doing is selling a service. They have needs within the context of Art and I am offering to fulfil those needs in the pursuit of my Art. Where my needs and theirs coincide is the point where it’s worth applying for funding.

In fact, the Arts Council system is possible the most open and accessible funding system I can think of. Imagine if you’re an independent chemist working from a lab in your shed. You want to investigate some new compound which you think might revolutionise batteries or somesuch. Can you apply to the Royal Society of Chemistry for a grant? I’d imagine you’d need to team up with a university or a large corporation before they’d consider you (if they even give grants – I’ve done no research in writing this analogy).

Sure, I’ve bent to their whims. I’ve used the language where appropriate and positioned myself as an emerging resource for the West Midlands artistic community, but only because I want to be in that position. I want to take what I develop over these next few months and turn it into something the arts organisations in Birmingham can employ me to do for them. Maybe that sounds a little to business-like for an “Artist” but, hey, that’s how you get paid, and as a framework of limitations to work within I did find it quite stimulating, forcing me to consider things I hadn’t previously.

This has turned out to be a bit more self-justifying than I anticipated but maybe, having travelled slowly from cynicism to acceptance to understanding of Arts Council funding, I needed to have this conversation with my younger self.

Of course, one of the big downsides of accepting the Council’s coin is I have to slap their bloody logo on whatever I do. Logo-itis, here I come!


So, what now?

Well, you’ll note I haven’t said exactly what I got the money for. I’m going to be talking about that over on Art-Pete, probably starting on Monday when I begin this whole thing. My plan is to document all of it, of course, and I’ve already started gathering inspiration and research on my newly reinvigorated Tumblr. And, as always, you can drop in on my Twitter for updates. I hope you’ll join me.

Next, Rabbits.