To turn your occupation into “art” is the highest compliment you can earn, but to have “art” as an occupation is one of the dirtiest things you can utter.
Why do we turn art into a dirty word just as our children start their metamorphosis into adulthood and begin exploring identity and sexuality through art? You may remember the moment you stopped doing something that made you really happy. It may have gone something like this: “You can’t sing”, “You can’t paint”, “You can’t dance” or “You shouldn’t talk so loud”. When you see someone expressing themselves and they kind of suck, you cringe and feel embarrassed for them. Not because they’re embarrassing, but as you feel insecure by the idea of you in their place. This moment is called, “I could never do that. What would people think?!”
The haunting pain caused by society clipping our fledgling artists, as they start to spread their wings, often comes from the most beautifully complicated place - protecting the people we love. Our primal herd mentality has told us that standing out can get you killed. Moving away from the pack makes you vulnerable. It’s real basic ‘fight or flight’ stuff. Artists don’t stay with the pack - we stray. We hunt different perspectives on the world, ourselves and our existence. It begins as “instinctual”, but soon we roam knowingly. We are observers and the people that ask questions. Society, I believe, instinctively hurts or hinders young artists in an effort to protect them from what could cause temporary isolation from the group. We think we are “saving” our little wildebeest from getting mauled by a lion or worse, exposing a weakness in the herd, or even worse, challenging the status quo or leaders of the pack. But this unconscious thought process is based on the assumption that the artist feels the same embarrassment others do when faced with being uncomfortable or being vulnerable in society’s eye.
My friend, the difference is that we artist’s “practice”. We condition ourselves to the pain of humiliation and failure, because like an athlete needs to repeatedly damage their muscles so they repair stronger, so do we too get stronger. I don’t believe in failure anymore. Doing something different and sucking in a public way is the fastest way to improve. The lion can come at me and I’ll kick him in the balls. As an artist, I have increase how uncomfortable my expression makes you feel. Moving up the scale we become more comfortable with ourselves and our battles with the demons in our mind become less obvious. Transforming shit art into the complete suspension of reality. Accessing and activating the deepest levels of emotions makes our art unforgettable. We can show and inspire the herd to new or greener pastures.
Writing for this paper has changed my life. It’s connected me to you, my readers, and made space in my mind as I am purging my soul onto this page. Tim and John from Gippslandia had the power to clip my wings, but instead they’ve held my hand, making sure I didn’t slip and fall through the cracks. I write for Gippslandia as a volunteer, just like 95% of my work here in my native lands. I choose to write because I believe what this paper stands for is important. As a bonus I get 10 hours of writing practice every couple of months. I know I’ll be able to nail paid gigs in the future now that I’ve tested the waters and not died. Getting paid to write is what, my friends, I call a “soul goal”. If you’d asked me, what was the lion that stalked me six months ago, I would’ve said having my writing published for the world to judge. Now in my third outing, I’m totes chill about it.
I know my biggest fear as an artist is asking to be paid to do my art - knowing I’ve chosen to live life apart from the safety of the herd. It’s this fear, combined with my “do or die trying” attitude, that cost me my studio.
As much as I loved my Main Street life, I can’t grieve about its failure as a business model as its death provided the fertiliser to grow something truly beautiful - TOPshelf. Just after Gippslandia was first published I opened my studio doors to the wandering creative beasts that roam Gippsland in search of their own kind. I started a not-for-profit, The BIG Picture Space Inc., to take them in at no cost, like Gippslandia took me in. I shared openly with them, as I share with you. I passed on the learnings of my 10 years worth of survival skills for life on the fringe.
What began as six artists in Sale has now spread to over 30 in a region roaming from Traralgon to Lake Tyres in only a couple of months, with more joining every week. The badge system I first developed was based around simple to-do lists of how not to get eaten by lions, has now evolved into a tool to lead the fight for a full-blown art education revolution.
Gippsland is huge, but unless you have grown to fit the frequently conservative country mould, there isn’t a lot of room for you to express and explore your identity, sexuality, ideas, value system and goals. We know our regional people have incredible creativity and a solid work ethic, but from the New South Wales border to Melbourne there’s a desert of creative education opportunities and artistic pathways. Until now. Now you can be TOPshelfed by me.
I have tested my ideas and connected the unexpected, focused minds and kick started careers. Proving the gamification of learning works. Helping regional emerging, established and elite artists has totally consumed my life and their stories of completely surrendering to the arts, after years of fighting to stay in line has only fuelled the fire burning in my heart.
Over the last six months I’ve helped my creative creatures develop concepts, build exhibitions, gain grants and even full-time employment in their creative fields, and self-publish entire bodies of work. Now, my dear reader, the time has come for me to face my lion head on. I’m coming back to the safety of my herd to ask for help.
I’ve hunted and gathered a tribe of locally-sourced creatives, graphic designers, coders and artists to birth a totally new badass TOPshelf system. Our next phase is to take this bad boy online to the people. Users will be able to subscribe to our compassionate, but intense, step-by-step badge system to help them get from concept to realisation of their desired soul goal. We will arm you with a mean set of tools, sweet hookups to local resources, networks and grant opportunities.
Luckily, I was able to be fed and be watered by Regional Arts Victoria and Pozible, Australia’s largest crowdfunding platform, sheltered by Federation Uni, Churchill, in their new creative village and loved by The VRI and FLOAT as I have worked to create a campaign to raise the $35,000 needed to launch a new breed of art education for Gippslanders. If you have ever taken comfort in my words, have been inspired to create more art or understand a friend or family member a little better, you now have a chance to really help me to help others. To take your hand, leave the herd and chase your soul goal as we face the lions together.
Regardless of whether you donate or not, for the short time we’ve had together I’d love for you to fold this paper and walk away knowing you’re an artist, constantly working on the greatest masterpiece ever created - you.
Every day we make decisions on how we look, feel and see the world. To be a “practicing” artist you just have to add a simple question in front of every decision - have I lived my life in fear? Once every action has a conscious thought behind it we start actively choosing the life we want. Will you continue to follow the person in front or stray?
Gippslandia loves having PollyannaR’s passionate and personal contributions in our newspaper every issue. We want the most vibrant Gippsland creative community possible, to see Gippslandians pursuing their artistic ambitions, so we implore you to support the TOPshelf Pozible campaign at rav.pozible.com/project/topshelf-1 before it closes on July 2nd.