Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Giving and Getting

Blackbird Singing. Lino print, 2015

There are quite a few proverbs and sayings along the theme of giving and getting; you reap what you sow, you get what you give and so on. The moral of the majority of these sayings is that what you put into something you will get back out, so put a lot of effort in and you will get a a great reward. In real life this is of course not always totally true but I do believe that in the bigger picture it is more or less true. I think that our understanding and belief in this concept varies greatly depending on what we regard as a reward or 'getting.' I'm a firm believer that there is a lot more to life than material gain (as much as I love shiny things) and that often the things one gets from giving are intangible; a sense of well-being or satisfaction for instance.

At the start of February Prism Arts funded me to travel up to Dumfries for a symposium run by Upland. It was a full on and really interesting day with great speakers and discussions. Although Cumbria is generally included in the North West region of England I sometimes feel, especially in North Cumbria, that we have a lot more in common with South West Scotland. The English North West includes the large urban areas of Liverpool and Manchester which are very different to rural Cumbria.

One of the recurring themes of the day was networks and 'giving it away.' As we all know times are hard, cuts are everywhere and it is becoming harder and harder to secure funding for arts projects. Increasingly artists and arts organisations are looking at different ways of working and networks and communities are a core part of this. Throughout the day the organisations and individuals speaking showed a general unwillingness to address the financial aspect of their projects, which was a bit frustrating but understandable. The focus was very much on the benefits of collaboration and giving it away (whether 'it' was responsibility for an aspect of running an organisation or an idea or information.)

Traditionally, many artists, makers and organisations have been quite closed, guarding their secrets closely and have shown a reluctance to share skills and knowledge; often due to a very reasonable and legitimate fear of being copied. In my own practice I have always been very willing to share my skills and knowledge, I like to think that I have more to gain than to lose by sharing what I know and I enjoy helping other people try out new techniques. I have had my work copied and it is frustrating but I think in most cases if your work has honesty and integrity this shows through. Work that is copied without due credit does not have this and I think people can spot that.

Swans, colouring book page. Pen on paper, 2016

As I was writing this post I was thinking about how, apart from my participatory practice, I myself put the giving and getting idea into practice and two particular examples came to mind. In December Cumbria was hit by massive flooding, affecting thousands of people and devastating many homes and businesses. Whilst it was terrible to see the damage and destruction what really stood out was how people came together to support each other. In many cases this was in very practical ways such as donating food and clothes, tradespeople offering to work for free and people offering up spare rooms and holiday cottages.

For the less practical but more artistic amongst us Gavin Pollock came up with the idea of creating a colouring book which could then be sold to raise money for the flood appeal. This was a way I could definitely help so I contributed a drawing of a swan with her cygnets safely tucked under her wings sailing through stormy waters. I wanted to create an image that showed the caring and compassionate side of the disaster as well as the water. [The book is still in production, details will follow!]

The second example of artists coming together and using their skills to benefit those affected by the floods is the LoveCumbria Art Auction, held at The Halston on 11th February. A great many artists, including myself, donated work to be auctioned off to raise funds for the Cumbria Community Foundation Flood Recovery Appeal. Lots of big names donated work and the event was a great success, raising £12,000 for the appeal.

The moral of this post? Sharing and giving is good and whilst what you get back might not be physical or tangible you will get something: I gave artwork and in return I got satisfaction, a bit of publicity and the knowledge that I'd been part of something big and worthwhile.

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