Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Notes From The Lakes #1

Grants for the Arts: Individual Creators & Organisations

Sunday 20 October 2013

For those who did not go to the excellent festival in Kendal or could not make the workshop, here are my notes from a very useful session on funding:
     "The Lakes International Comic Art Festival aims to support creators and the development of comic art in the UK. As part of this we are pleased to be able to present a special session at the festival about the support available to individual creators and organizations from Arts Council England which will be run by David Gaffney.

    David is Relationship Manager in Combined Arts for the Arts Council in the North.  He will talk about how individual artists, arts organisations, and others can apply for Grants for the Arts lottery funding, covering what you can apply for,  how to make your application stand out, how applications are scored and appraised, how decisions are made, what match funding is required, and loads of other issues, along with invaluable tips on how to achieve funding success."

    • The Arts Council offers grants for the arts of between £1,000 and £100,000 - although government cuts have impacted on the high-end of this Lottery funding has increased so grants are not actually becoming harder to obtain
    • Projects/events must take place in England (although products may be sent abroad) and must be of identifiable benefit to people - if there is not an audience to engage then the project will struggle to get funding
    • From 2013 The Arts Council has split funding into two strands: for grants under and over the £15,000 mark
    • Most comic-related bids have a better chance if applied for in the Literary Arts category rather than the Visual Arts. Look up Relationship Manager, Literature at your regional Arts Council
    • There is a bigger pot under £15k and 60% of applications for funding are successful
    • Feedback on failed applications is not offered. but it seems Development Chats are possible before bidding and in advance of re-submitting a previously unsuccessful bid if you describe it as ' assistance to develop my bid'
    • Grants are intended to grow and develop artistic practices or to take arts to an audience - not for educational or commercial purposes, so don't overdo the 'teaching kids etc' angle
    • There are four criterion a bid is judged against - artistic quality; how it will engage the public; how it will be managed; the budget for your activity
    • More weight is given to artistic merit and management
    • At least 10% additional funding needs to be in place - but that can be your own salary expectations, or payment in support from third parties with an appropriate cash value
    • To emphasise that your project is growing the arts, any benefit in artistic development should be stressed - for yourself and any others involved in the project (including as many of your suppliers, consultants and advisors as possible)
    • There are many aspects of a project that can/should be covered in a request for funding - not just the production but research, mentoring, promotion etc
    • Do not cut your budget for payment to artists - The Arts Council wants to fund the arts not the managers
    • Be realistic with costs - if a similar project has been approved recently, it may be used as a benchmark to see if parts of your bid are priced much higher or lower and either may count against you
    • There is approximately a six week turnaround time between application and decision
    It sounds like a slow process of form filling, but with more small projects being funded than before, now would be a good time to knuckle down to some paperwork as long as you approach it in a business like manner. Proper Arts Council guidance can be downloaded here

    Good Luck!

    Wednesday, 29 May 2013

    My Stuff: Attack of the Demyelinator

    Working with 'The Three Doctors' I drew a strip to illustrate their article on 'neuophobia' in the next issue of that must-read journal, Practical Neurology (well, it's a must-read for neurologists) 

    It's a fun project, turning highly technical medical terminology into a visual narrative and although I don't understand half of the text (or most of the subtext) it seems to make the medically-aware chuckle.

    The writers David Bargiela, Thomas Moon and Elisaveta Sokolov - are recently qualified doctors with a strong desire to pass on their knowledge in new and interesting ways. Along with their mentor Peter G Bain, they identified comics as an effective medium. It's been a great experience making the first strip cartoon for such a respected academic journal and plans are afoot for an ongoing series of articles-with-strips.

    Look out for these writers if you're at the Ethics Under Cover: Comics Medicine and Society conference in Brighton this July.

    Thursday, 23 May 2013

    My Stuff - Roy part 2


    I wanted to have a proper look at the process and practice of Roy Lichtenstein, but the pre-publicity for this year's big Tate show meant my comments would be lost in the greater debate (I hoped), but apart from the Image Duplicator show Rian Hughes has organised at Orbital Comics there doesn't seem to have been much consideration of the man's work. The conversation has been steered towards his celebrity and the weak controversy of his alleged theft of other artist's imagery.

    So, in brief, my own thoughts after looking at Lichtenstein's history and the big exhibition run something like this:

    • Lichtenstein's comic-based canvasses were a clever idea, but after a series of paintings/one show, any serious artist would have moved on to new ideas or to build a dialogue with his source material and his audience. To continue in the same vein for so long should bring his credentials as an artist into question and suggest that he was more a producer of merchandise.

    • The man himself did not plagiarise comic-books, although he did copy them clumsily without acknowledging the original artists – even when confronted with their identities.

    • Any criticism from cartoonists of Lichtenstein gets dismissed as financial jealousy by the wider world, and if their claims were ever taken seriously they would quickly be derailed by the observation that the cartoonists he copied were working in a field where it was common practice to base drawings on previous cartoonists' work or clippings from other media. This doesn't make his activities ethical, but it does make the outraged reactions to him easier to dismiss.

    • The critics who champion Lichtenstein (David Sylvester aside) tend to be lightweight arts writers with little significant writing behind them – Alistair Sooke for instance, who wrote the book of the current exhibition and presented the tv documentary preview is an art critic for the Daily Telegraph with a leaden approach that focuses more on the fame or notoriety of a work than any intrinsic merit. The art critics who talk about him at all either over reach ("I Can See the Whole Room … quotes abstract expressionism – the image suggests such seminal works as Kazimir Malevich's 1915 Black Square – while entirely subverting its tone" said Sarah Churchwell in The Guardian!) or concentrate on his novelty value, which was surely played out the first time an art student mimicked his paintings to promote a student union gig.
    • The commercial nature of the fine art world will naturally insist that any high-priced works are high art. There will never be anything permitted within that bubble that might argue seriously against the status (read: value) of the works. It's noticeable how the original sources for Lichtenstein's works are always referred to as 'commercial artists' without distinguishing how his work was every anything other than commercial.

    • My own criticism of Lichtenstein is simply that he was not very good (as opposed to not being successful) at what he chose to do. He had one  good idea, but the mediocrity of his craftsmanship undermined the work and the paucity of his imagination prevented him taking the idea anywhere beyond the surface. There are no convincing dialogues with previous, contemporary or future artworks in his paintings – just the same monologue repeated over and over again to diminishing effect. Lichtenstein, more than any other 20th Century artist, is frozen in his own perfect pregnant moment. Without the commercial value of his work, he would be a curious footnote in the story of art. None of his work at the Tate has anything to say to later generations as it was long ago assimilated by the rest of the world – he is visual art's equivalent of the miniskirt: shocking at the time but quaint within a decade.

    • Lichtenstein's 1958 ink drawings Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse 1 are a curiously harsh look at two cultural icons. Unlike his famous paintings, there's a strong indication of the artist's hand here as with his first few 'comic panels'. These are both signed – as was his first recognised  comic painting, Look Mickey – which undermines the amateur apologist's defence that 'he didn't sign his paintings so why should he put anyone else's [i.e. the cartoonists he appropriated] on them?'

    • I had hoped that the scale of Lichtenstein's work in the context of a serious retrospective would lend previously unseen weight to his imagery, but of all the paintings on show, only the Rouen Cathedral set (three pictures based on the work of Monet) are particularly effective. The viewer can lose oneself and the image in a blur of colour as one approaches these canvasses – this is true of the original Manets, of course, but exaggerated here to dramatic effect. These pictures would make for great public art or marketing in a passageway. 

    • The other fine art appropriations presented fail on almost every level. Often distinctly amateurish in execution and showing a level of aesthetic decision-making on a par with decorating tips one might glean from a home makeover show. 

    • As with the cartoons, there are no attributions in labelling the images based on paintings. It seems that for the critics and the gallery, Lichtenstein's work uniquely exists in a vacuum - apart from the cultural and artistic legacies it trades on.
    • Surprisingly, the comic paintings don't gain any significant impact from scaling-up. I had expected them to have more 'oomph' after having seen them reproduced in books (etc, etc, etc). This was a noticeable distinction for me between Warhol's work and the mass-market presentation of the same, but in Lichtenstein's case bigger makes very little difference. 

    • His adjustments to compositions (seized on by critics as evidence of his artistic genius) are usually a case of not pushing far enough to develop whatever ideas he had of a "removed, technical almost engineering drawing style". And they hew too closely to their sources to effectively comment on any wider issues than an artist's predictable interest in the 'pregnant moment'. On the whole, Lichtenstein's changes to his appropriated artworks are considered but clumsy to the point of often seemingly arbitrary. Lacking subtlety, they demand serious attention to the compositions' potential connections/abstractions/contradictions, but the artist has been satisfied to crudely mix and shuffle elements of pre-existing works without adding anything new. 

    • The best that may best said for these pictures is that they are bright and decorative and the act of showing/selling them was provocative in the 60s. They are a historical curiosity that will satisfy the craft shopper but have little to offer a student of the form.
    • In a rare break from his habit, Lichtenstein's 1988 painting Laocoon features actual brushmarks. Like the Rouen images, this teasingly hints that the artist could have taken his idea forward into new and challenging territories, but he seems to have fallen back into the same tired commercial schtick soon after.

    • Lichtenstein's sculptures and Chinese landscapes (lauded by many visitors  and commentators purely for not being something they were previously aware of) are definitely preferable as decoration to similar works for sale in my local garden centre.
    • The mirrorsself-portrait and Interiors 'studio' of the 70s actually do something with the Lichtenstein style – showing a world from a specific perspective – and I have to say they do it rather well.

    • While the bulk of his work tends to elicit a jaded, nostalgic smile, the late nudes series is fun and potentially raises actual questions in the viewer (for me, accidentally sending criticisms through time of the sexualisation of children's comics prevalent today). If Lichtenstein had shown any real awareness of the comics industry, they might be considered a call back to the tales of cartoonist Jim Mooney drawing all his figures naked and adding costumes only at the inking stage of his process... but obviously they are not even as deep as that in-joke would be. They are merely another spin on an old idea. Which sums up Lichtenstein's oeuvre quite neatly.