Monday, February 27, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan - free drawing from life, copyright 2009
I am currently going through a very difficult inner process due to receiving a great number of rejections within a short period of time. I do start to think differently about my work and whether I can subject myself to such difficult feelings. Perhaps as a woman I harbour and process them much more than men do. I hate to say this but disabled people are also usually more fragile, which no one cares about of course. I feel as if I had lost something valuable to me, almost as if it was a pet or friend. 

The rejections hit me very hard this time, too many of them in too short a time, on top of my struggles to integrate into a new culture and feeling that I am generally speaking treated with indifference. All this has been hard, not mentioning how previously I have always tried to be tough and pursue what I thought of as my calling, believing I was doing it for people out there who would indeed be touched... there was a lot of stress involved in this. I have now started to doubt my calling and it's also true that I'm not sure if I can go on creating. However, it has become a life style and maybe at the end of my inner process I will come up with something new. I already had some ideas so perhaps all is not lost... but I will probably avoid dealing with the art establishment because I can't handle the harshness, commercial attitudes or the whims of authorities with narrow ideas of what constitutes contemporary art. Ultimately, I also shun the orders issued to various art establishments of a government who cares more about statistics than individual destinies.

I had started a discussion on Linked in about the difference between contemporary and modern art - I already posted some of my thoughts in my previous blog post. Here are some more. I hope it's not all too disjointed as they are copied from different posts.

I understand feedback about rejections is impractical, however it's also a bit of fad and it leads to people not even receiving a notification of failure a lot of the time. This is true for artists as well as anyone seeking a job in this country. Within the year and a half that I have lived here, this has happened to my husband countless of times. There is something cruel and unforgiving here in the UK which scares me. I don't think it's as much a matter of the quality of the work as snobbery. I personally suspect that the British are terrified of not seeming contemporary enough to the outside world because they have always been known as being quaint, conventional and old fashioned. I think this trauma, dating back to the Victorian times, makes all the difference. My images contain vintage imagery although the message is contemporary, and I don't believe for a second that anyone has looked beyond the surface. Martin also suspects that there is a great division between the normal audience who find an intellectual approach intimidating and will go for low brow art, and the "art establishment" which is trying to push their own image as supportive of only that which is currently approved as being innovative (i.e. in this case shunning any reference to what has been before). The latter is high brow art.

I had yet another rejection a few days ago, this time from a gallery in one of the bigger towns in this very rural backwards area, they are setting up an exhibition connected to Women's Day. This is ironic since I speak of women's issues in ways that are emotional and not too hard to understand, and I know this speaks to a general audience. But not so when it comes to the judges, who are obviously more interested in concepts. I'm saying this because my impression of this country is that it's a people hugely driven by their minds, rather than their hearts, they are what I would call "over-civilized". Don't get me wrong, I do actually like the British in many ways, but to be quite honest I value their heritage and old fashioned design, and find  whatever modern design I have come across really nondescript and uninteresting.

I'm not sure I believe that there is no age discrimination in regards to the arts in the UK. It seems to me that the more a country tries to be idealistic, the more it also highlights the problems with democracy. This is a very political and idealistic country, very much divided into two camps and very concerned with what it looks like to the outside world (it's after all a country with a glorious past as a world dominator).

I feel very strongly that up and coming young artists are exciting to the establishments while old farts like us are passe, not exciting. Of course I hope I'm wrong... but age discrimination is everywhere, in sneaky ways. 

Someone on Linkedin has put forth the idea that contemporary art should be judged by the level of experimentation of style, form and subject matter, but I'm not sure how one would go about judging someone's level of these things? It seems quite difficult to me and subject to a lot of woolly interpretations...

I think money is one of the worst enemies of art, we all need it desperately, few of us have enough of it, and it drives a lot of people in ways that are very unethical and unjust. By the end of the day, it's a mindset, which also influences other choices in life and lends itself to power tripping. I think this is where art is gone wrong - it's not connected to values of a more "spiritual" nature if one might say so. Empathy, compassion, feeling, sharing, togetherness, onenness, ---- fill in the rest as you see fit - they are all out of the equation (well, for the most part anyway). On the other hand it's difficult to get money from funders unless you're working for your community, but it's got very little to do with real ethical values because it's basically just orders from the government that are meant to boost the statistics and other superficial matters. I also want to point out that self-development can lead to collective development, as people reflect upon art that contains his element and see themselves in it.

I have to admit that Tracey Emin's art has an element of self-development in it, but as far as I can see this is not a reason for her fame, but rather just a side issue that makes her stuff more "sensational". See my blog post about her retrospective exhibition.

There are now plenty of gallery owners who are only in it for the money - I have been invited to show in  galleries that offer you very little space in London for vast amounts of money (several thousands of pounds for just a week). This is a new form of business, in which desperate artists are being taken advantage of. 

I suppose it's basically a good thing that the way we see art is widening, you see this for instance in the case of Deller ( ) who won the Turner prize in 2004 and is now presented at the Hayward Gallery in London. He doesn't even know how to draw or paint. He follows his whims and does whatever comes to his mind. How he has been able to afford this is a mystery to me. Not many have the luxury of experimenting as wildly as he has (many of the projects have involved a lot of people). I saw an hour long documentary but was so bored I skipped over a lot of it. It's not because I condemn what he does but because it's so jerky and lacking in a sense of personal development. I think some of the stuff could have an emotional impact on me but I'm not sure I would believe in the sincereness behind it. Anyway, this guy gets a lot of attention, while others who are deeply involved with exploring their inner selves are never going to be presented by the art establishment (I'm speaking of the ones who run these big awards and set up important exhibitions in non-commercial museum galleries - and in the UK it's obviously in London).

So Deller might be a good artist in the sense that he helps challenge people's perception of art (I shall pass no personal judgement in this regard as I haven't seen the exhibition, all I can say is that I'm not convinced as yet) but it's easy for the authorities to get so stuck on the names that have made it and the art these people produce that any other form of art gets ignored. Experimentation can remain a very shallow concept, one that encompasses surface but not contents. This is the bit that worries me the most.

More in previous blog posts, e.g. this one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2011 "Tied Up" (copyright)
After months of encouragement from the Arts Council of Wales, the meeting that was due on Friday in my home was cancelled because there has been a great deal of interest in their programme for disabled artists, and others who are more deserving than me have taken precedence. I do get it. I don't blame them. At least they talk to you and inform you in person, and give some kind of explanation to their process of elimination.

The bottom line is, I'm too articulate and have too big a body of work, so supporting me and my development doesn't meet with the criteria that have been set up for this funding project. I think the idea has been that truly disadvantaged people with no voice but artistic potential can emerge. These criteria are not set up by the officials but come from higher up the rank. It doesn't matter that my CV is not as great as it could be because I have not had all the opportunities of a healthy person, nor that I have great trouble reading complicated guidelines, or that I have wanted to get serious messages across about the reality of invisible illness. In fact, if you're articulate enough to describe your need for a grant in great detail, it's probably the reason you won't get it through this programme. It's a Catch22, I fall into a slot, in a no man's land. I belong nowhere, fit in nowhere, and my art cannot be neatly categorized. I'm too healthy to be a real outsider and too ill to be able to keep up with the normal people. This makes for a very lonely journey, which to be quite honest is starting to look really pointless. And seriously - trying to save the world is such a juvenile notion.

The support would not only have included some money (I desperately need a printer in order to do anything with the abstract photography), but also mentorship and help with contacting galleries and reaching an audience. I admit that I broke down on the phone to the lady I've been dealing with. I know none of this is her fault, and I told her so. But my sense of desolation is very real, I simply couldn't hold back my emotional reaction. I guess by the end of the day, the encouragement I received was the last straw of hope I was holding onto. You could argue that it wasn't wasted, that I learnt a lot in the process, and not least, that I specified ideas that I might put forward through the ordinary grant application process. The reality is, however, that I feel really spent, and that Martin would have to be my mentor and assistant to make sure that I got it right. It's not fair on him, he needs to work on his own artistic process and on trying to make a bit of money that we can live off as our finances are not adding up at the moment.

As far as reading guidelines goes, that's exactly where my disability really hits me, as I have no ability to read complicated text without a great deal of difficulty and multiple re-reading and double checking. It may not seem that way, because I can write - this is the irony, I can more or less follow my own train of thought (though it's getting harder to reach my thoughts due to brain fog) but there is no way I can apply for grants as if I was a normal person. On top of that I find this country incredibly competitive, which to me simply soul destroying for someone as sensitive as myself, and I ask myself if I should withdraw altogether because this never ending struggle to receive some valid recognition is just taking too much of a toll on me. In fact I dream of relaxing in a nice country house and spending the rest of my days away from civilisation.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2010 in Hanko, Finland (copyright)

The ideas that I presented to the Arts Council was about my own development, about making it even more contemporary by integrating my abstract photography into collages about invisible illness. I was going to start with myself (well, continue doing what I have already doing but in a more poignant fashion) and then I was going to bring in other people's experiences in order to create a new and much more meaningful body of work.

Ah, in fact I just got some more feedback and it seems that the themes I wanted to work on were interesting to the Arts Council but for whatever reason that remains elusive to me were not at the top of the list of priorities.

As it is, I'm tired of seeing the old work on my walls and I am prepared to get rid of it at almost any price - in fact, I will have to lower myself to the level of an amateur artist in order to have greater chances of selling anything. Even then, there is no guarantee it will sell or that I have the energy to put into this process.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2010 in Hanko, Finland (copyright)

After the rejection from Axis, I started a discussion on Linkedin and the Facebook site for Disability Arts Cymru (Wales) about the difference between modern and contemporary art, A few people have joined in, which I have much appreciated. Some have been encouraging, and I thank them warmly.

One of the artists did not believe self-expression and social commentary were valid ways of defining either category. Another was of the opinion that the idea of a authority or "club" that gets to decide who is contemporary is against the very ideals of modern art, i.e. the freedom of expression. I answered: "The idea of freedom - that's very interesting and I wonder how one could analyse that even closer? I did a course on modern and contemporary art very long ago when I was at University, it was fascinating but I don't necessarily remember more than a vague distinction between modern and contemporary art. And much has happened in the art world since then. My illness and to be fair - a general lack of interest and a lack of information have been the reasons why I haven't pondered these issues until now when it's all opening up to me in a new way. The general definitions of these two categories were taken from some websites I quickly googled, I admit that I need to do much more extensive research. I do however think there is some general truth to the notion that modern art was a lot about individualism (hence the idea of self-expression), and that it evolved into the contemporary art scene where it's often the go getters with a strong sense of self or ego who manage to get the attention of collectors and funders. 

I do wonder, though, if anyone really knows exactly how to define these things, as the notion of freedom certainly implies that pretty much anything goes. It seems to me that you can make art the old fashioned way, in which case it's really almost a form of pastiche. There is a danger in not looking deep enough for more meaning than that, however. I have a suspicion, (though it remains a suspicion as I have no evidence to go by other than Axis's woolly guidelines) that the Axis judge who looked at my work went by a shallow interpretation of the elements of the work, thinking it all looks old fashioned, when in fact there is nothing old fashioned about my subject matter and my messages. And who knows... maybe he was also influenced by the fact that it is 2D, shock horror! 

I still maintain that there is much snobbery within the art world, and there is often nothing very exceptional in terms of message in work that suddenly "makes it" within the art world. As far as I can see there is also an even wider gap between the work that galleries are willing to represent because they know it will sell, art that collectors are willing to invest in because it seems novel, and art that public galleries are willing to show because it's not commercial. As usual, I personally seem to fall into a slot somewhere in a no man's land, and this is the reality myself and many other artists have to deal with. You do ask yourself if it's really worth the hassle."

All photographs are by myself and subject to copyright.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "X- Surviving in the World of the Fitter", 2011/2012)

Notice the changes? I decided - with a little help from Martin - that the figure was too domineering  and that I was going to take a chance with it and change it. I have also had so much anxiety about my art during the past three days that I have had to concede that large pictures like this just don't work for me. It's too hard for me physically, but it's also a process so long that I find it extremely hard to keep it all together. It's easy to feel stuck, to loose a sense of flow. Collaging by hand is difficult already as it is, because once you stick something down, it's very hard to change it. I will have to leave this one now but I feel that having spent so much time on it - two or three months all in all - it's very important to me. In fact, it's too important. I can't just discard it with any ease, and it weighs me down. I have felt like I'm cracking up, I have felt that I can't deal with being an artist. If I am to continue doing art, I have to re-discover some joy in the process, and that basically means it has to be much less effort and much less serious in terms of the energy I have spent on it. I also have to ask myself if it's that important to me to be considered a "contemporary artist" by people who have a very narrow definition of it. One of the crimes seems to be to express yourself  through your art work rather than comment on social injustice or attitudes, as this is the way many define "contemporary art". Perhaps I'm wrong but it seems to me that as soon as you speak of your subjective experiences, you're out of the game. From my point of view, however, you cannot be truly empathic and offer relevant social commentary unless you start with your own feelings. I actually try to do both.

Some events triggered very deep feelings in me regarding rejection and the eternal attempts to try and be strong within myself no matter what other people think - apparently I can only suppress my frustration for so long, and at some point the feelings need dealing with. Many small "hurts" accumulate and become an overwhelming avalanche by the end of the day...

By the way, Martin also feels that there is greater flow in his work now that he's not dwelling on oil paintings for months on end. I think he shouldn't abandon this medium but I do feel that it's very good for him to work more swiftly at this point in time, as he's able to build up a more substantial looking body of work quicker and also have a greater turn over of ideas. He's not getting any younger, and as much as I hate saying this it's a fact that the older you are when you emerge as an artist, the less likely you are to be taken seriously. Needless to say we both fight this trend but one also has to remain realistic. He has support from several people in the art world here in Wales, but being recognized is still a battle.

Friday, February 17, 2012


This is what Saatchi has to show for. What do you think, is it any good and if so, why? Is this better than my own work? I don't really want to criticize these much as that could come across as feelings of resentment. But I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that the compositions are very conventional, and that there are many faces or the upper part of bodies seen upfront - and they are portrayed in rather typical ways as often seen in Flickr collage groups, for instance (I recommend going there for some exciting collages). My favourite is "Circus, Circus" by Michael Tierney, as being the one with some innovation. Though to be honest I'm not sure what it is about. I cannot see any social messages here, which is what I expected to see.

You might also wonder why the one's with the country name are from the United Kingdom and some from the United States, and why the two other ones have no country?

This is where I wrote extensively about the Saatchi showdown that I took part in.

1st Place Showdown Winner

collage 4

by Kelly Susan

London, United Kingdom