A manifesto for the modern artist

The Artist's Yearbook 2006
January 20, 2006

This is the third volume of the annually updated The Artist's Yearbook . It seeks to meet the comprehensive needs of all aspiring artists, from students to career professionals. An ambitious range of information and resources is covered, from where to buy materials to how to apply for an Arts Council grant, it also includes details of studio organisations and art insurers.

The Yearbook 's telephone-directory thickness might seem off-putting, but it has a clear structure, exemplary page layouts and reference sections designed for rapid consultation. The format comprises ten chapters, each starting with a pertinent short essay, followed by an alphabetical listings section. This impressive collection of pithy written contributions gives the compendium enough discursive substance to be read for its insight into the art world, as much as for the practical information on it.

In the introduction, the editor Ossian Ward states that The Artist's Yearbook grew from the desire to answer the question, "How do I become an artist?" He makes a number of interesting observations about the diversity of contemporary art practice in the UK, acknowledging its hierarchical nature and asserting that he intends his encyclopaedia of art resources to be open in its appeal.

In Ward's own epithet, " The Artist's Yearbook is all about the business of art, not the art of business." The chosen contributors are among the UK art world's luminaries and most have a significant personal stake in the fields they precis. The most intriguing essays reveal the thinking of insiders at the centre of the establishment, particularly when they tackle the commercial business of art and how artists manage to survive financially.

The first chapter deals with commercial galleries, dealers and exhibition spaces. It has a preface by Nicholas Logsdail, director of the Lisson Gallery in London, which amounts to a manifesto on behalf of the commercial gallery system, in which his gallery is rightly regarded as a premier exponent.

Logsdail's tone is half avuncular and half public-service announcement, but it is a thoroughly compelling revelation of the motivations and perspective of a doyen of the art world. He outlines the reciprocal spheres of responsibility that artists and galleries owe each other. Particularly noteworthy is his distinction between galleries and dealers. Galleries, such as his own, he states, develop the emerging careers of their artists, creating communities of belonging. He asserts that although gallery turnovers can seem big, there is "often not much profit". By tying up capital in large-scale fabrication projects for uncertain returns, galleries' financial worries are closely linked with their artists. In contrast, Logsdail suggests that many art dealers do not nourish the relationship with living artists, therefore there is not the same depth of loyalty and dealers "only manage to sustain their contemporary art programmes through backroom sales of secondary market material". There then follows an excellent inventory of more than 600 commercial galleries and exhibition spaces, but how much more fun it would have been if Logsdail had identified each entry as belonging to either the "gallery" or "dealer" camp.

Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery, contributes a peppy piece entitled "Culture clashes - are museums where artists go to die?" It is written from the artist's point of view, posing the question of what it means to be purchased for a museum collection. Blazwick concludes that rather than being the mausoleums that Filippoo Tommaso Marinetti raged against in the Futurist Manifesto of 1909, museums are now fluid spaces:

"Playgrounds, cruising destinations, laboratories, political platforms, temples of worship, black boxes or white cubes - it's up to you." The average art consumer is invited, it seems, to experience the museum not necessarily as a temple to art but as more of a multifaceted leisure facility.

Nick Crowe's brief chapter on "The challenges of the internet as a site for artistic creativity" makes the case for this still-new medium as a viable alternative to the "serious acreage of white-walled exhibition space". Net art is, he argues, the real countercultural medium of the moment, being perpetually estranged from institutional patronage and naturally at home in the suburban bedroom, or, in J. G. Ballard's prophetic words, "the periphery... where the future reveals itself".

There are several other thoughtful contributions in the areas of materials and fabrication, art fairs and their impact on the UK art scene, and competitions and residencies. But in selecting contributors so closely identified with their area of expertise there is the risk that some of the essays read more like promotional copy for the interest groups or institutions the writers represent. In the sections on education, and public relations and the media, in particular, there seems an overt clash of self-interest and objective judgement.

In "Why art school? Options and approaches for training as an artist", Janet Hand and Gerard Hemsworth, respectively assistant director of research and director of postgraduate studies in fine art at Goldsmiths College, London, initially give useful general advice on identifying the type of course and college that suits your own needs. However, they go on to use their own institution as the role model in what becomes tantamount to a promotional pitch, listing illustrious alumni, present staff and courses offered. An opportunity is missed to discuss regional variations in tertiary education or indeed fee scales. Those with limited time would appreciate the inclusion of a reference list of part-time and residential art education course centres for adults.

My only cavil with this dynamic and engaging reference tool is that all the contributing writers (bar one) are London-based and the emphasis of the essays reflects the elite end of the UK art world rather than arguably the voice of the majority of amateur art practitioners.

Certainly this will be an annual purchase for my studio, which I shall look forward to reading and consulting every year.

Mark Cazalet is an artist and art tutor currently exhibiting at the Guildhall Art Gallery as part of London, a City of Heaven or a City of Hell?

The Artist's Yearbook 2006: All the Information and Advice You Need to Get Ahead in the UK Art World

Editor - Ossian Ward
Publisher - Thames and Hudson
Pages - 448
Price - £16.95
ISBN - 0 500 28577 2

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