Last year, in her heartfelt Manifesto for the
Young Artist during the Day of the Young Artist, Lara Staal pleaded: “Dear artists of the world, question each other and the systems we operate within, critically, form networks of solidarity to counter precarity, make work you believe in and unite.” Lara Staal was part of the Day of the Young Artist, an event that offers the possibility to explore and shape these systems and networks, and to reflect on working methods and beliefs.
Meetings and conversations
The Day of the Young Artist is organised each year by Kunstpodium T, in collaboration with Museum De Pont in Tilburg. The event provides room for exchanging stories, experiences and knowledge in contemporary art practices. The day is aimed at young artists who are relatively new to the field of art. Not only does it invigorate the local art community, it also embeds Tilburg in the art scene of Brabant, by being an accessible facilitator for meetings and conversations between artists, art academies and cultural organisations. Curator Tim Roerig composed the interdisciplinary program for this year’s edition. This varies from panel discussions to diverse workshops and presentations, all revolving around the central theme ‘Leaving the Studio’.
In a conversation with last year’s curator, Youri Appelo, he explains there is a continuous urge for learning environments amongst contemporary artists. A desire for a constant ‘feeding ground’. The Day of the Young Artist jumps in the niche of tackling the practical side of being an artist. It addresses, in Youri Appelo’s words, “what it means to be an artist, living in the twenty-first-century Netherlands.”
The 21st century
But what does it mean to be an artist in the twenty-first century? It revolves topics such as the decision whether or not to become a freelancer, physical as well as online visibility, flexibilisation of the labour market, a search for solidarity, mobilisation, and a globalising world. Tim Roerig decided to focus on ongoing fading boundaries: “between the studio and the presentation space, the museum and the art market, but also between work and leisure, artistic and non-artistic work.” His program stimulates the artist to think about self-presentation, and to challenge dominant expectations in the art world. Moreover, it encourages to explore one’s position in the intricacy of the art world, by hearing opinions and experiences of others.
A suffocating system
This self-positioning is essential nowadays, because, as Youri Appelo argues, there is something inherently wrong in the construct of the contemporary art world. According to him, the capitalist efficiency attitude is suffocating. That is to say, creativity, experiment and time-consuming innovative processes do not particularly withstand the hunger for profit, productivity and control. Supply and demand do not add up. The result is a world in which it became normal to work for anything other than basic living expenses. The mentality to work for exposure and passion instead of money would be ridiculous to apply to any other profession, so why is it so dominantly applied to the arts?
Do what you love?
Miya Tokumitsu, author of Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success and Happiness, criticises the mantra ‘do what you love’. She enlightens this problematic construct of the art world, by saying: “According to this [do what you love] way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient” (Tokumitsu, 2014). This toxic attitude is taking its toll on people in the art world, particularly the young and novice. It does not only increase the feeling of being insufficient, but it also makes vulnerable for exploitation (Tokumitsu, 2014; see also McRobbie, 2016; Dijksterhuis, 2019; Van den Berg et al, 2019). After all, if you don’t grab every chance you get, there are multiple people who will eagerly take your place.
Support and share
The constant pressure to prove oneself is a most present burden. Mental health issues are a symptom of this capitalist system and its short-term, result-oriented mentality. Workload, stress, high expectations and competition are more rule than exception (see, amongst others, Panepinto, 2019; Gentry, 2018; Nadorp, 2019; Berger, 2018). It is very easy to dissolve to the background, and very hard to get back to the front. However, a countermovement is growing. One that finds strength in working and thinking together, and in forming alliances. Promoting support rather than competition (Coumans and Cleveringa, 2019; Gielen, 2018; Nuchelmans, 2019). The Day of the Young Artist is a place to nourish these associations. It vitalises exchanging thoughts and approaches, challenges and resolutions.
Self-positioning and snowball effect
Events like Day of the Young Artist can help in finding your way and standing your ground in the harsh reality of the system. Moreover, it can cause a snowball effect that furthers this countermovement. Youri Appelo strongly believes that what you do directly influences the actions of others. That is, when you agree to work or exhibit for no fee, you do not only impact yourself but also your fellow artists and other people in the field. The standards and expectations stay intact like this. The high impact of this snowball effect exposes why days such as the Day of the Young Artist are so important. It highlights the importance of peers and encourages learning from each other. Taking place in Tilburg, it directly impacts the local art community, but it also fosters the contemporary art world at large. All attendees are part of a widespread web, in which gathered ideas and stories are spread.
Connect and collaborate
In the turbulent landscape that is the art world, self-positioning, self-reflection and self-organisation are crucial. One year after Lara Staal’s manifest, it seems as if more and more artists and art professionals adhere to the plea she makes. Alliances and collaborations are more relevant than ever. The significance of the Day of the Young Artist stands for a larger pressing matter: the need to connect and to break taboos of sensitive issues. Or, in the words of Youri Appelo: “we are all in this together, and all of us play a role in mobilising each other.”
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Cover image by Kayleigh Smetsers.