I wrote the first Self-portrait as a subsidized artist for Valkeapää–Hoffrén’s performance 10 journeys to a place where nothing happens, in autumn 2010. Writing that I was living the last year of a three-year grant by the Finnish Cultural Foundation. I told how it was like to be a subsidized artist – I could do whatever I liked. I told also how it had been like before the grant – I could have done whatever I liked. I updated the Self-portrait in 2011, while we were touring with the piece, and my status as a subsidized artist had changed to a non-subsidized artist. I told how my life was like – I could do whatever I liked. Naturally, the stories were polarized, they were theatre, but they were not without a hint of truth, because one must choose, whether to make the project without a grant, a smaller version maybe, or to wait for the grant in order to realize the project in full scale.
Now I’m updating the Self-portrait for two reasons: after five years, Ten journeys… has been invited to a gig, and my status as a subsidized artist has changed once again.
Talking with foreign colleagues, I’ve praised the Finnish grant system often. I haven’t had to do other stuff for living, and I don’t even teach a lot. I have been able to focus to do what I want – art. Simultaneously, I’m calling, and I’m not the only one, the Finnish grant system art lottery. It depicts well the arbitrary system. ”I’ve been lucky”, I’ve said so many times. Can working as an artist depend on good luck? Ultimately not, it depends on choices and decisions, but good luck helps a lot. Or this is the way I feel about it.
I got my first working grant from the state in 2013, after working as an artist for nearly 20 years. I got five years right away. With friends, we laughed, that it was a prize for long and persistent work. For this year, after a gap year, I got a half-year grant. It felt like a booby prize. The feeling was mixed with the feeling of injustice, when I found out that they had given only one one-year grant and two half-year grants for live and performance art, although one could have applied for five years as well. Anyway, half a year is better than nothing. It ends now. In two weeks I’m not a subsidized artist anymore.
I don’t take negative grant decisions personally. It would be stupid. But a negative grant decision values the art I make. Do I create out of date, uninteresting crap, that contemplates my own navel only? And am I cheating myself, feeling that as an artist I’m better than ever? (With ”being a better artist”, I mean that I know and can more, am curious, and have some sense of proportion. And still, I can be surprised by the world.)
I used to think that if I can’t make my living as an artist, I must stop making it, and start making something else. After my fiftieth birthday, I thought that I don’t want to make anything else and I never will. Also, I’ve always thought that I just have to do my work well, and everything’s going to be allright. Hmm. What do I think now? I wonder.
Finally, a few words about art as a source of livelihood. First, one wants to make art. Secondly, one wants to do nothing else. One can combine these two and become a professional artist. Such person gets paid for his/her work. Simple, or what? Sorry. No. It becomes complicated, when one asks, who pays the salary. The market pays artists who make certain kind of art. If there was just certain kind of art in the world, the world would be smaller, flatter and blander place. Summa summarum, we need a society that supports art.
Photo: Reijo Haukia