What Does Success in the Arts Look Like - Interview XIII with artists Raquel Durán & Rut Briones

I'm really excited about this interview with the Spanish artists Raquel Durán and Rut Briones, who form together the Estudio Gheada - Factory of Stories. Last autumn I had the immense pleasure to work with them (and the artist David Cantarero Tomás) while they were on a 2 month long residency in the Austrian city of Bregenz and I curated their excibition On the Edge of.

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What are your thoughts on fame in the arts?
Raquel: The first question that came to my mind is who do I consider a famous artist: Damien Hirst, Banksy, Warhol, Duchamp, etc… They are on top of the mainstream artists. Artists, dead or alive, that everybody knows and every contemporary art museum owns or wants to have. There are other kinds of artists who are important but I don’t consider famous, like Bill Viola, Joseph Beuys, Piero Manzoni, etc… The difference, for me, is that these artists are not popular enough. Maybe,fame is only a measure of popularity for me .

Rut: I have to say I don’t have a positive notion of the concept of fame. It feels to me that, while traditionally fame was related to acknowledgement or in regard to someone’s achievements, nowadays it is more connected to TV and celebrity life, that is, to entertainment and personality. In that respect I really don’t have a positive view of fame.

However, talking about fame in the arts, fame as in acknowledgement or good reputation. It feels that it’s still linked to connections/relations, power, class, money, etc. The arts still feel like a quite elite-reserved sector and so fame within that sector is also going to be reserved to the club members, right? To me it’s all connected: who has the opportunities, who feeds the system, who “gets there” and gets the wheel to keep spinning…
 

What is your approach to rejection as a site of success?

Raquel: Do you mean like Van Gogh? In this case, for me “rejection as success” is old fashion. Sometimes it’s not the right time to use some kind of language or face some topics. In other words, the art environment isn’t ready or interested for what you are offering.

However, I also think that sometimes this environment needs a contemporary Van Gogh to keep the romantic illusion of the misunderstood artist alive. We love these kind of stories.

Rut: I don’t relate rejection to success in any way. Or to failure for that matter. I feel rejection is a natural part of the practise and it is due to more than one factor. On some occasions your work might be rejected because of the quality of the work itself, the style, the size or materials, the discipline you work in, on some others it might be rejected for so many other circumstances and most are beyond your control.

The truth is, it’s not personal, and if you are going to give it any thought at all, then it has to be analysed in a context. Take it as an opportunity to review your work and make sure you are doing what you want to do and following the path you’d like to follow. Then continue. And be patient.

The good Citizen, 2017 © Rut Briones & Raquel Durán

The good Citizen, 2017 © Rut Briones & Raquel Durán

What are your thoughts on income and financial stability?

Raquel: Nowadays it’s really difficult to have financial stability as an artist. There is an economic system around the precariousness of the artist. The artist has become a “cheap” producer of content for local museums, fairs, public centres, etc… In some cases, there are even business models based on obtaining economic benefits from the hope and eagerness of artists, certain art residencies, galleries or studios where you have to pay a fair amount of money to do your art projects or to be able to show your work.

Rut: I’m afraid I don’t know anyone that makes an income exclusively from their art production. However, I do know people that make an income from related activities, activities that also allow them to continue making art (for art’s sake). I may even count myself as one of them.

I believe the creative industry as a whole works fully in market terms. It’s a capitalistic enterprise through and through, one that takes advantage of the dreams of many of its workers, who are willing to clock in the hours for free, or give their work for nothing, or next to. I have seen it in the film industry. I have seen it in the spectacle industry. I see it continuously in the arts as well.

I was reading in your brief the percentage of UK and US based artists who receive nothing (not even expenses) to exhibit their work. 58-59%. I can imagine that figure in Spain growing to the 80-90 percentages. This is a discussion that a lot of professionals in our generation are having right now. And it can be summed up pretty easily: we all feel that we are providing content for free, and that everyone gets paid except for the artist. So for example, you put on a theatre play and the technicians in the theatre get paid 3 and 4 times more than the artistic team. In a museum the professionals who put up the work on the walls will get paid, the artist quite often does not… and so on and so forth. Think about musicians, photographers, writers, painters, illustrators… we all feel we are providing the content for free, living on the expectation that at some point we will reap some benefit.

I just realised I’ve described a pretty grim outlook. But I will also say that there are small niches and ways of making a living with an activity related to your art. You will still not earn what people earn in many other professions though, your salary will most likely be still lower than average. The good side of this? As more and more people work in the creative industries (and they grow) this is a conversation that pops up everywhere. It’s bound to change eventually. 

Raquel Durán, © Estudio Gheada

Raquel Durán, © Estudio Gheada

Rut Briones, © Estudio Gheada

Rut Briones, © Estudio Gheada

How do you define success in the arts?

Raquel: Success in the arts is achieving financial stability and social recognition.

Rut: Again, as with fame, I don’t like what the word success has come to mean in broad, social terms. I feel success is currently thought of as a quantifiable measure of your value. As in a how-much-you-are-worth sort of thing, or in other terms: if the ship sinks are you going on the lifesaving boat or will you be left behind.

I personally define success in the arts as that place in life where you can make a living from your art, or a related activity that allows you to continue making art. Success is:

  • Not being in debt.
  • Not wondering how you are going to make ends meet every single month.
  • Being able to settle. Not having to live off a suitcase from art residency programme to art residency programme.
  • Not having to finish your bill-paying job in order to go home/ the studio and start working again on your art. Not having a 12-hour work day as a norm.
  • Having holidays as everyone else, not having to dedicate your holidays (time and money) to an art residency/ project.
  • Being able to have a family if that’s what you want. 


Do you have role models for success and who are they?

Raquel: I'm not sure if I have role models for success. Of course, I have a long list of people that I admire for their art work or who inspire me. Lately, most of these people are women: Louise Bourgeois, Margaret Harrison, Esther Ferrer, Cristina Lucas, …  But, is Louise Bourgeois a success model? She was an artist who found recognition when she was about 70 years old, and until then she had lived from the support of her relatives. Obviously, she was a great artist, I love her work, but I’m not sure whether we can consider her a good model for success. Is there a woman who represents a good model of success? Does the environment allow this to happen? I have my doubts.

Rut: The truth is I don’t know that much about the background stories of the artists I like. However, a name that immediately popped up is Tove Jansson. She’s better known as the Swedish author of the Moomins.

The reason why I think she might be a role model for success (my role model) is that she did whatever she wanted. She did something beautiful. She did make a living out of part of her art. She did not make a living out of her paintings, but she was able to earn money with her writing and illustrations; and this fact allowed her to live where she wanted, have her own studio and in general terms live the life she wanted to have. She was respected for her work, she touched the sensibility of millions and she did whatever she frickin’ wanted. A sweet bad-ass of a woman, if I’m allowed to say so in here.

The good Citizen, 2017 © Rut Briones & Raquel Durán

The good Citizen, 2017 © Rut Briones & Raquel Durán

Which advice on success would you give your 18-year-old self?

Raquel: Go out, see new things everyday and talk to people. You have to create a strong network.

Rut: Oh dear, I have a bridge to sell you! I’d say move on and focus your attention on something that matters, like figuring out what you would like to do and how to get there. Don’t lose time trying to figure out what you should do. Enjoy the ride, it’s going to take a while and the views are astonishing.

Your thoughts on success in the arts and race/ gender

Raquel: I think that women and people of colour face more obstacles to achieve professional success. And it's more difficult if you don’t have money. Success in the arts has always been related to power, class, and/ or money. For example, if you lived in Paris during the first decades of the twentieth century you would have had to know the Stein Family, who were the major patrons of modern art at their time. These connections could be the key of your success. 

Rut: My thoughts on this matter are probably fairly obvious from my previous replies, but here we go. I think success in the arts (as in most disciplines) is still tied to opportunities, connections, money, class, etc. It is still pretty much a white boys club, but it is also an upper class elite. We are working on it, it’s not changing as fast as we would like to, but we’re making progress. I do feel that we are on the brink of a change in how art is produced and consumed and this is going to bring about new agents/ producers too. Let’s talk in a couple of decades, shall we?

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Raquel Durán and Rut Briones have partnered artistically since 2014, during a residency at Fundación Bilbao Arte (Bilbao, Spain). During that time they produced Foodlândia, a project that started as a series of short video segments that explore our relationship as society with food; and later on developed as an audiovisual installation. This project was selected by the art jury at Bilbao Arte to have an individual exhibition at the foundation in 2015. A year later, it was selected for the IX Premio Auditorio de Galicia (Santiago de Compostela, Galicia) and Kaleartean (Basauri, Basque Country). Also in 2015, they were part of ArteShop Bilbao, mentoring art students and producing Carnivale, a dark chronic of the post-industrial era exhibited at the office for Tourism at Bilbao’s Golden Mile. This is the first project in which the artists used the cinemagraph, a hybrid format half-way between photography and video. Profondément Superficiel (2016), also a cinemagraph, explores the concepts of appearance and the representation of the self, and was the precursor of the series Flâneur Domestique (2017), a work that addresses the anxieties and perceptions that our private spheres reveal. In autumn 2017 the artistic duo was part of an art residency in Bregenz, Austria; as part of an exchange programme between the Kunsthaus and Fundación Bilbao Arte. They took part in the final exhibition of the residency called On the Edge of where they presented their project The good Citizen.