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What does it mean to be an artist?

I went to art school in the 90s. 1991 to 1995 to be precise, at RMIT University, doing a major in painting. I was given a list of materials I needed and I bought them all from scratch, blindly: oil paints, brushes, linseed oil, gesso, canvas.

Melbourne was in an economic depression then, which was visible on the streets, which were dark. No gentry within 5 clicks of the inner city. Paying for everything on 100 dollars a week, owning nothing. No digital ‘devices’. No credit cards. A heavy layer of smoke in the air.

Since art school I’ve attempted an answer to that question within the framework of institutions that we’ve got: artist-run spaces, public institutions, commercial galleries, the currency of reputation.

I also went back to university to do postgraduate studies in linguistics and philosophy (and escape art).

Over the arc of my life as an artist the world has changed. That arc runs parallel to the rise of the market as the answer to every question about value, meaning and even–we see now–knowledge.

More and more I think that art is one of the most vital things a person can do. It remains so despite being so tangled up in contradictions that never get resolved. No matter how hard artists try. Which makes me ask: what are we attempting?

Someone said to me recently: art is what artists do.

It’s not a statement of exclusion or snobbery or expertise. It tells you something about where art comes from. It suggests something about what might happen when people make life-making commitments about form, meaning, value, imagination and the sources of human and non-human flourishing.