Can the recession make your creativity thrive?

Back in November 09 (I write this as though it was years ago) I wrote this piece for the Pebble at the beginning of my tenure as co-creative editor, a position which I shared with another third year student called Virginia. At the beginning we were all very excited (and we still are but in different ways) as although this was the beginning of the paper’s third year, it was the first time the paper had been under complete student control, but still under the watchful eye of Joel the Comms Saab. The paper had a bit of a cutesy redesign (I was impressed with my pages at the time but now I the paper can look a million times better) and this my cover article for the section. I hoped I was giving out good advice, and hoped students would follow it by sending their work to publish in the Pebble, but it wasn’t to be. Published in the Nov issue of the Pebble.

Can the Recession make your creativity thrive?

It is hard not to be scared of the R word, particularly if you are about to Graduate. This year has seen a record number of university applications with more people scrambling for better career opportunities, with 350,000 people that graduated this summer luckily found themselves joining the other 2.47 million loitering in the unemployed pool. Supposedly things are worse now than they have been for over a decade. Although it may not seem like it, this bleak, competitive time actually breeds collective creativity.

Everyone has heard of the phrase; “you have to suffer for your art.” I think this is more relevant now than ever. Bad times bring people together. Most people (especially the pessimistic British) love to complain about the grumps and gripes of modern life because they can empathise with it, feeling better about themselves knowing they are not alone. While we are now facing tough times more than ever, I am still a firm believer in the notion that the greatest artists have either suffered for their work, or are mentally insane. I know which one I would rather be.

Meanwhile, depressive eras during the last century have witnessed the birth of some of the 20th Century’s brilliant creative minds. After the abolishment of slavery around the turn of the 19th Century, African-Americans turned to the entertainment industry for jobs, which lead to the creation of Jazz. Some of the most poignant photographs replicating the harsh realities of the Great Depression in the 1930’s were taken by Dorothea Lange including Migrant Mother, when she sidetracked from her brief set by the federal government. Many abstract expressionist artists commented on the harshness of city living during this time and made them seek to explore new boundaries. Even the YBA’s were not made of money all the time. Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas set up their own shop for 6 months in 1993 making their own T-shirts, small artworks and ashtrays with Damien Hurst’s face set as a cancerous dartboard. Now why didn’t I think of that?

So, how can you make the best out of a bad situation while still at uni ensuring you stand out when you graduate? To me, there seems to be a common theme with the people mentioned above. When things are not going their way, they are diversifying. Sticking to what you are good at may always seem the safe option, but innovating, stepping out of your comfort zone and making use of the short falls going on around you as is the key to staying ahead. The same is seen frequently in business. The cosmetics giant Revlon was founded during a recession in 1932 around one new product; nail varnish. Being original and thinking outside the box is the only way to stay one step ahead of competition.

Unsure how to get out of an institutionalised mode of thinking? Here are a few starting points for expanding your creative horizons.

  • Join a collective or a union – There is power in numbers. Not only can you bounce ideas off each other (like in crits) but exhibition fees can seem less costly when you are stumping up the money together. For me, the best work seen at this year’s Brighton art fair was presented by collective groups.
  • Be prepared to work for free – to begin with anyway, so you can build up your portfolio. This can be done via work placements/internships or the beginnings of freelance work to build up your experience. Don’t be afraid to ask to exchange favours (not of the sexual nature). Your strength may be another person’s weakness.
  • Get your work seen in as many places as possible – Enter competitions. Send your work to magazines. Generate a buzz by being a Guerrilla artist and taking your work to the streets. Get your work published here in the paper, see below for more information.
  • Think small before you think big – A ceramics tutor in my foundation year would always talk about how he could never sell his big work, yet he would sell hundreds of decorated tiles of £12 each. Many people want to buy art, but can’t afford the big price tag. Make smaller works to sell in markets and shops and before long you will get the chance to make a grander impact.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know – Luckily, you are studying in one of the most creative places in the UK, where there are many contacts to be made. Many freelancers attend business events where they can smooze with prospective clients. Don’t be afraid to ask how they became successful, compliments always make people spill. It always pays to be nice to people.
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