Hope you are well. This is a long one so make a cup of tea (or skip it and read something shorter instead).
This is the Pete Ashton newsletter, archived on my blog, which you subscribed to at some point over the last decade. If you did so to keep up with my art, you’re in luck, cos this one is ALL about the art.
I had a quiet winter, writing-wise. I realised I was enjoying this period of intellectual hibernation, particularly over the Xmas break, so carried it on for a bit. The freedom to do nothing was quite delightful, and to be honest there wasn’t much to report.
The Winter lockdown was (and still is) so very boring, but its nice not to be constantly stressed and terrified by the gaping void of uncertainty. Now we’re just waiting, trying not to get too optimistic about the year ahead but looking forward to at least inviting people into our garden again.
It has helped that I’ve been kept very busy with Loaf this lockdown as we radically adjusted our working practices again in the new year, explained in this newsletter. I’ve been fully working from home running all the website and email stuff and while I haven’t always worked my full hours it’s certainly occupied by brain full time.
I did do one bit of writing though, marking the new Adam Curtis and noting that, to my surprise, I really liked it.
In other news, I published an Art which I’m pretty pleased with and want to make a fuss about.
Over the pandemic I’ve been occasionally putting Mr Johnson’s addresses through my image crunching processes. They seemed to resonate with the people I showed them to, so I decided to attack the whole archive of 10 Downing Street press conferences.
There were 89 briefings in 2020, starting with the panic of March and Johnson’s hospitalisation, moving through the false-dawn of the summer, returning to panic as the chickens came home to roost in the Autumn and then the clusterfuck of (not) cancelling Christmas.
As I looked at the image en mass it struck me they pretty much reflected what it was like to watch these woefully out-of-their-depth politicians attempt to reassure a public in desperate need of guidance.
The book is available as a free PDF or printed for £20 with £10 going directly to me as profit.
“They’re up there with Steadman’s manipulated polaroids” - Fairlywellselling author, artist and good egg Dave Shelton
“Reminds me of Francis Bacon” - Tomasso, partner of work colleague Valentina.
I joke, but in all seriousness, I’d like to get this out there more and I don’t have an agent or am particularly in with the political-digital-art intelligencia these days. So if you are and think this is worthy of note, please do pass it on to the great and/or the good.
Popping a profit margin onto the book cost is me dipping my toe into self-funding my art practice after a year of nearly zero paid freelance work. The governments furlough support scheme looks to be ending late Spring, early Summer, and my being available for work doesn’t mean there will actually be any for me, so maybe it’s finally time to sell my work directly, as it were.
I’ve always like the patron / membership / subscriber model which is seeing a resurgence with paid newsletters the big hot thing, in reaction to the failure of surveillance advertising to support a creative ecosystem.
But I’ve also been a passionate supporter of unlocking the commons. Paying for a creation - be it an essay, song, photograph, idea - it utterly pointless if I’m the only person who can experience it. How can we share a culture if that culture isn’t available to everyone?
Public service models like libraries and the BBC enable this, as does advertising supported and subsidised media where costs are shifted to the products being marketed. But paywalls create a two-tier culture, and that’s a regressive step, especially for the internet.
That’s why I am happy to pay for the Guardian even though the only difference is I don’t get pop-ups asking for support anymore. And it’s why I reluctantly pay for the Atlantic who no longer make everything available for free, except their Coronavirus coverage, which implies they know the damage holding back the rest does to the culture.
But the best justification for unlocking the commons is that in our current system the truth Is paywalled but the lies are free. This is a problem.
ANYway, that was a bit of a sidebar. The point being I’m not a fan of selling exclusives. So what am I selling?
This has been the question of my life, both as a joke (Fiona’s uncle Bill is endlessly fascinated by my lack of definability) but also practically. “Artist” works well because it’s so darned broad, like a massive blanket, with delightfully vague qualifiers like “multidisciplinary” and “transmedia” that aren’t seen as a cop-out.
But if I’m brutally honest it’s a flag of convenience. I’ve been part of the art world for over a decade, and I find it very useful and beneficial to my work. But there are whole swathes of what we might call the business of art that kinda repel me, from the Saachi-eque collectors market to the politicisation of state funding that I find alientating and constricting.
That said I’m in the process of setting up an arts organisation, so I’m on the cusp of being part of that system. Walkspace has started opening up to members and we are a collective of 16 now, with more to come. Right now we’re just chatting on a WhatsApp group, seeing what people are up to and getting and sense of what we need from this nascent collective.
The bit of Walkspace that I really want to develop is artist support and development, which you can interpret as “helping people do their stuff”. I’ve been effectively mentoring Fiona in developing her artistic practice over the last few months, helping her find the edges of her interests and understand what it means to make a “piece of art”. It’s been a really useful thing for me too, forcing me to articulate and refine the experiences, good and bad, I’ve have over the last decade.
I also did this in a limited way with Megan’s A Figure Walks project, ostensibly offering video/photo support to record her walk in the river Rea, but also being a sounding board as she worked through the problems and opportunities that presented themselves.
It’s also become apparent that despite being 20 years into the mass adoption of the web as a creative platform, artists are still struggling to get an online presence that works for them. This is something I want Walkspace to help with, given I have spent an excessive amount of time in this arena. It shouldn’t be hard or daunting - that’s a failure of the services, not the users. (My first freelance job in the tech/arts scene was a “blogging for artists” workshop with Dame Helga Henry circa 2006, so it’s both nice to come full circle and frustrating that I need to.)
Getting Walkspace to the point where it can raise money to pay us to deliver these sorts of things is going to take some time and is a classic chicken-egg situation, so for now it’s probably best seen as part of my general practice, akin to producing or curating, albeit in more collective / cooperative way. Community shepherding, or something.
Gosh, the interface between words and reality is hard. Hopefully you see what I mean.
(yes, it’s a West Wing reference)
Fi says I just do what I do and only really struggle when I try to define what I do in advance of doing it, so I should just do stuff and not worry about how it fits. I like that sort of hindsight approach to an artistic practice. I look at the miasma of stuff on my Art portfolio-thing and I can see patterns and themes that were utterly hidden from me at the time. That decade of work has a coherent and clear purpose now. At the time I was felt I was all over the place, unable to articulate what I was doing or why.
That decade of work has value to me. It helped me become the person I am now, and I’m fairly content with being that person, or at least more content that I was a decade or so back.
I have no idea what value the work has to other people, and not in a self-deprecating way. It genuinely doesn’t feel like it’s my place to value my work for others by whatever metric, emotionally, financially, culturally or otherwise. If it has no value at all, or worse a negative value, then that’s obviously a problem; part of the personal value is that connection and resonance with other people, which is why I put it out there. But the quantification and qualification of that value to you, a person who is not me, is by definition unknown, and that’s OK.
I support a bunch of people via services like Patreon, chucking them some digital coins every month or so. When I do this I rarely see it as a transaction. I want nothing material in exchange for my money, just the knowledge that they’re doing the thing they couldn’t otherwise do. I don’t need to see a video every month or a newsletter every week. Sometimes work needs to gestate for a while to take shape, and that’s great - just keep me posted that you’re still around.
Patronage for me is doing my small bit to ensure that the people whose work I enjoy and benefit from are able to spend time making it. Ideally I’d live in a culture with no-strings Basic Income that supported this, but I don’t, and the government has historically not wanted to increase tax revenue, let alone spend it on the arts, so we make do.
So let’s bring it to a close.
I did the maths and if I were to dedicate one day a week to making art and art-related stuff, I would ideally need it to generate £70, or £300 a month. That’s one of those sums that is both tediously small and annoyingly large, depending how you approach it.
Could I generate some or all of that from a Patreon-style system?
What would people want in return for supporting me?
Do I offer the full-fat Pete exploring everything of interest or a slimmed down Pete that fits into an easy category?
As a reader of this who’s made it to bottom I’d genuinely welcome your thoughts and opinions. I know I find things I find interesting interesting. But do you find them interesting enough to support me giving time to them? Or I am deluding myself?
Here’s a funny picture I saw on the internet. (via)
Thank you as ever for your time and interest,