The subject of beauty has always been a thorny one for many artists and critics to wrestle with. This is in part due to the difficulty of defining beauty, but also in light of evolving attitudes over time to the place that it should occupy in our public and private lives, and how—and whether—art should embody this. Is beauty, for starters, a matter of irrelevant superficiality, or central to what art is?
We are all routinely affected by the beauty that we perceive in our day-to-day lives—perhaps in a stunning sunset, a fellow human being or, of course, a work of art. But there have also been widespread questions in recent decades as to whether cultural relativism has served to foster a ‘cult of ugliness’ in contemporary art that is showing too few signs of going away any time soon.
To consider where beauty may be best perceived and positioned in the art of today, it is perhaps instructive to look to assessments of the beauty of the art of the past.
For instance, the man hailed by many as the ‘father of art history’, Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68), composed his History of Ancient Art at a time when the art of classical antiquity that he sought to study had long been largely destroyed, forcing him to depend to a great extent on the written records left by ancient travellers and historians.
Despite this, Winckelmann was a concerted believer in the notion that beauty did not arise in a work of art of its own accord, but instead as a result of a sort of collaboration between the work and the viewer. His texts reveal a passion for beauty as a characteristic emerging from prolonged contemplation and reflection. These include his assessment that “the first view of beautiful statues is… like the first glance over the open sea; we gaze on it bewildered, and with undistinguishing eyes, but after we have contemplated it repeatedly the soul becomes more tranquil and the eye more quiet, and capable of separating the whole into its particulars.”
Of surely no less relevance to today’s art lovers than it was to their counterparts he advised several centuries ago, Winckelmann noted that he had “imposed upon myself the rule of not turning back until I had discovered some beauty.” He urged students to approach works of Greek art “favourably prepossessed… for, being fully assured of finding much that is beautiful, they will seek for it, and a portion of it will be made visible to them.”
Do we, then, live amid a ‘cult of ugliness’ at all?
Even putting aside for one moment Winckelmann’s call for a sustained search for beauty even in those artworks that may not initially seem to yield it, there is plenty of reason for optimism about the role of beauty—or the lack of it—in the art of today.
The Beauty of Death
Beauty has, for one thing, re-entered the critical conversation in recent decades. The Dutch artist Marlene Dumas (born 1953), for example, has mused that “one cannot paint a picture of or make an image of a woman and not deal with the concept of beauty.”
Fellow artist Agnes Martin (1912-2004), meanwhile, signalled her appreciation of beauty as existing in the present moment of the viewer’s judgement, when she declared in her 1989 essay ‘Beauty Is the Mystery of Life’: “When a beautiful rose dies, beauty does not die because it is not really in the rose. Beauty is an awareness in the mind. It is a mental and emotional response that we make.”
Regardless, in iconic artworks of recent decades ranging from Irish artist Mary Duffy’s evocations of statues like the Venus de Milo to reveal the beauty of her own body, right through to Greek artist Jannis Kounellis’ (1936-2017) juxtaposition of fragmentary casts of ancient sculpture within a doorway for 1980’s Untitled, there are surely abundant examples of how beauty in art is by no means long gone.
So, what do you think? What leads you to consider a work of art to be beautiful, or not beautiful? Are we impacted by a ‘cult of ugliness’, or are we simply not searching hard enough for the beauty in the art of today? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Many of us may have a sense of what we think male nudity ultimately means — in this, or any other era. But for a fuller appreciation of the complexity of the subject, including changing attitudes over time, one must look not merely within the furthest reaches of our own living memories, but instead back centuries, and perhaps even thousands of years of human civilisation.
Male Nude Gold
Manifestations of the male nude in art have, after all, long been reflective of wider societies’ views of male nakedness in real life.
The colourful journey of men’s nudity… or nakedness
Kenneth Clark, in his seminal 1956 tome The Nude, posited the still-enduring thesis that “to be naked is to be deprived of our clothes and the word implies some of the embarrassment which most of us feel in that condition,” while the word nude suggested not “a huddled and defenceless body,” but “a balanced, prosperous and confident body: the body reformed.”
Clark also reminded his readers of the ancient Greek custom “that in the gymnasium and the sports-ground… young men displayed themselves totally naked.” It’s fair to say that the male nude in art has undergone something of a chequered history since then.
Fast-forward to 1978, and Margaret Walters observed in her introduction to The Nude Male: A New Perspective that “the male nude is a forgotten subject. For most people the word nude conjures up the image of a naked woman — a pinup in a girlie magazine or a Venus de Milo. Over the last two hundred years or so, most artists interested in the human body have been obsessed by the female nude.”
But in a current era of readily available online pornography, celebrity nude leaks and ‘confessional’ self-made material on ‘hook-up’ sites and apps, what can the male nude – in or out of art – now be truly said to mean?
The contemporary male nude — a new kind of performance
The male nude of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has certainly honed its transgressive verve through the world of out-and-out performance art, as in such noted examples as Keith Boadwee producing video loops depicting himself shooting streams of paint from his anus to create Pollockian painterly marks, or Bob Flanagan nailing his penis to a wooden board.
But male nudity has also taken somewhat gentler and tender forms in the art of recent decades. One might think back, for instance, to the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s One Tiger, Eight Breasts, which he published on Twitter in 2010. While the image played on the Western tradition of artists’ portraits with their assistants or models, it emphasised a suitably 2010s notion of equality in its disruption of the perennial power relation between the clothed male artist and the naked female subject. All five of the image’s subjects – including the artist himself – were unclothed.
Such hot-button issues as age and disability have also been addressed in male nudes of the last few decades, the latter by Artur Zmijewski’s large-format photographs and videos showing able-bodied people ‘lending’ a limb to help individuals with physical disabilities to stand, walk and wash. The former, meanwhile, was intriguingly embraced by John Coplans in confrontational black-and-white close-ups of his body dating from his sixties — in the process, defying society’s tendency to disregard old age as ugly and unwelcome.
Exploring the possibilities of a ‘female gaze’
But what of efforts to inject eroticism and even, dare we say it, objectification into the recent male nude in art, backing up Walters’ contention in the ‘70s that women were capable of viewing men — as men have traditionally viewed women – as sex objects?
A powerful case study here may be found in Paula Winkler’s series Centrefolds, which investigated the art-historical role of the male nude and how the male could be viewed in accordance with the female gaze. As Winkler told the art publication Elephant: “The male nude has been a genre in photography ever since its early invention, but mostly from a gay perspective. I do love those images, I always have, but I felt as if they were not directed at me and this bothered me.”
Her own snaps of the male nude combine conventionally attractive and traditionally masculine bodies with a certain playfulness quite unlike the disengaged poses associated with the subject in classical art.
It seems, then, that even as we look to the 2020s, engaging new possibilities are continuing to be uncovered for male nudity — in art, as in life. What part does this subject play in your own artistic practice, and are you intrigued by the dynamics of the nude across the gender divide? Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Acrylic is the painting medium that many of those who casually dabble in the discipline are most familiar with, and there are some very good reasons for this.
Alongside watercolour painting, acrylics are among the dazzlingly simplest paints to use, with hardly any preparation required compared to some of the alternatives. Provided that you have a few tubes of acrylic paint in your possession, together with some brushes, a palette and water, you are in a position to get started with acrylic painting.
However, it isn’t necessarily the minimal equipment needed that is the main factor behind acrylics being so renowned for their ease of use. Instead, it’s the sheer simplicity of the process of using such paints that helps to make them enjoyable for those of almost any and every level of confidence, skill and experience in painting.
A medium that works well with nearly any other
While the novice-friendliness of acrylic painting is certainly one thing to commend it, when you’re seeking a discipline that is ‘easy to get to grips with, but difficult to master’, acrylic can rank highly in this regard, too.
This is not least the case because it appears to work so well with nearly all other conventional media, such as drawing, coloured inks or gouache – in short, basically any medium that doesn’t contain oil.
Furthermore, the list of standard equipment that you’ll need just to get started with acrylics may be short – unlike the situation with oils – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot more equipment to which you can turn to expand the scope of your acrylic painting practice, when and if you feel the need for it. As you gain ever-greater experience with acrylic painting, you will gain the confidence to add and subtract items from your repertoire.
So, what really is acrylic paint?
Acrylic paint is created through the mixing of powdered pigment with acrylic adhesive. While the adhesive has a milky appearance when wet, it becomes transparent as it dries, thereby showing the true colour of the pigment.
Pigment, meanwhile, is the ingredient that acrylic paint shares with all other types of paint. Pigments are the colouring materials that make up paint, usually being created in the form of powders.
The manufacturing process of acrylic entails these two ingredients being mixed and then milled between steel rollers, followed by inspection and the paint being put into tubes. But the process is not as simple as it may sound, instead being characterised by the most fastidious precision and control as ingredients are carefully weighed and tested.
It is such a painstaking approach that enables the manufacture of huge numbers of tubes of paint of unerringly consistent colour, consistency and quality, thereby helping to make acrylic painting one of the mainstream ‘stars’ of art practice.
Other basics to be aware of before painting
One of the other big advantages of acrylics is the speed at which they dry, which brings us onto another important matter if you are to get the most out of your acrylic painting: that of achieving the right layers in your painting.
When you look at a painting, you may only be seeing one or more of its higher layers. A complete acrylic painting may comprise as many as 10 layers, starting – from the bottom – with the support such as paper, card, canvas or hardboard. To this is added the primer, which is likely to be gesso or acrylic white.
The other layers of a typical acrylic painting may include the likes of a wash or toned drawing, an underpainting that thinly blocks in the main areas of colour, a middle layer, impasto, glaze and varnish. You may only need to use a few of these layers in your next acrylic painting; nonetheless, it is vital that any painter knows about them.
It is essential, too, to consider what media you may use to make your acrylic paint flow better or to achieve different finishes. The most crucial of these will always be water, which is invaluable for not only thinning the paint, but also cleaning brushes and palettes. While it may not be technically impossible to paint in acrylics without water, you will find attempting to do so extremely difficult.
What are your own thoughts on acrylic painting, and what would you advise beginner and experienced acrylic painters alike to be mindful of? The comments section below is open for your feedback.
Ink isn’t merely a highly versatile and responsive art material — it also holds a position of fundamental importance in our recorded history, and the recording of history. How would we have documented so much of our past, if it wasn’t for ink?
Furthermore, as a drawing and painting medium, ink has been available to us for as long as almost any alternative. The history of ink can be traced back to about 2500 BC in China and Egypt, and it seems that it didn’t take too long after that for it to take flight as an art material.
Old Boat in the Slipway
Nor should that shock us; ink is easy to use, free-flowing and quick-drying. It has a permanence that few other artistic mediums can match, but also its own rich character. All the while, it is highly responsive to an artist’s unique personality and manner of working.
The scope for the imaginative artistic use of ink has therefore scarcely dimmed through the centuries, as every artist has shown new possibilities for its use. Here are a few examples.
Isn’t ink just about line?
Well, if it is, it certainly doesn’t have to be! In fact, the notion that you can only really use ink for pure line is largely Western, and may stem from printing and reproduction requirements.
Diluting ink with water is one of the first, simple steps that you can take to start discovering the rich washes one can create from ink, generating tonal variations ranging from the densest black to the palest and most delicate grey.
But you can also be as limited or as expressive with colour as you like
If you are only just venturing into the world of ink as an artist, you shouldn’t necessarily feel too pressured to start adding splashes of colour.
Traditional Oriental ink painting, for example, has long valued monochrome for expressing a subject’s true form and inner spiritual qualities. Although colour is frequently added to such paintings, it is considered an embellishment, with the painting’s fundamental meaning or essence instead depending on the artist’s use of pure black.
Such an attitude is beautifully summed up by the ancient Chinese maxim, “When you have ink, you have colour.” For much more recent historical examples of how this tenet has retained its relevance, you might look to such abstract expressionists as Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) and Franz Kline (1910-1962), whose works were often especially powerful when they restricted themselves to a monochrome approach.
The Pennell vs Renoir problem
Another great historical case study for how artists have negotiated the creative dilemmas presented by ink is the critical connection between two 19th-century contemporaries, Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
No one can question that the American artist and author, Pennell, was dedicated to the technical aspect of his craft, as is demonstrated by his intricate etchings and pen and ink drawings of architectural subjects. He was a master of delicate pen work.
However, his concerns for technical perfection were also apparent in his sometimes acidic comments about his fellow artists as a writer. He described Renoir’s own pen and ink drawings, for instance, as having “absolutely uninteresting and clumsy line”.
In fairness to Pennell, it is hardly Renoir’s use of a pen for which the leading Impressionist painter is most renowned in the popular imagination today. But when the 21st-century viewer actually consults such pen-and-ink creations by the latter as Bather Drying Herself, a debate could be had as to which artist’s works in the medium have aged best.
Renoir may have been tentative in his use of a pen, but his ink works also show the sound drawing and good design that characterise a master. By contrast, as surmised by author Fritz Henning, the craftsmanship of Pennell’s drawings “cannot be faulted. But as art, his pictures seem sterile and overwhelmingly factual. How much more exciting might they have been if there were a bit less emphasis on perfect strokes and a little more spontaneous emotion of [Antonio] Casanova [y Estorach] or [Francisco de] Goya.”
But of course, both the Pennell and Renoir schools of thought on ink work have their validity — so we’ll leave it up to you to consider which category you may fall into as an artist.
Don’t be afraid to take a dive into the in-depth world of ink
From the days of Antonio Pisanello (c. 1395-1455) and Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) to the likes of Anders Zorn (1860-1920) and Emil Nolde (1867-1956), and encompassing the simplest pen and brush work, relief printing and lithography alike, artists down the generations have continued to show the creative inexhaustibility of ink.
What kind of template, then, could it serve as for your own art practice in 2019? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
What terms could possibly best sum up Berlin as an artists’ destination? After all, with its cultural stock having been built up over the years by such a large proportion of incomers, one could argue that in many ways, Berlin’s relative undefinability as an artists’ centre is its very strength.
It’s not as if the German capital is the art world’s main hub by any distance, at least in a commercial sense — that honour undeniably going to New York. Nor is it typically regarded as a museum quarter on quite the level of Paris, or to have as potent an auction scene as Hong Kong or London.
To many observers, in fact, former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit’s famous approximation of the city as “poor, but sexy” still rings relatively true. However, at a time when premiums for artists’ spaces seem to be spiralling across the globe, that quote may also go some way to explaining Berlin’s continued appeal for occasionally cash-strapped creatives.
Indeed, at a time when Berlin is primed to take over as the European Union (EU)’s most populous city ‘proper’ — provided that the UK’s departure from the bloc takes place as presently scheduled, on 29th March — now may be a great moment to look again at the German capital’s artistic credentials.
Arty things to see and do in Berlin
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Berlin must feel like a poor substitute to Paris as a museum and gallery epicentre. As it happens, almost every corner of the city is teeming with creative life, in keeping with its well-fostered liberal and multicultural reputation since reunification.
It is Berlin, after all, that is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Museum Island, comprising tourist essentials such as the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) with its collection of Neoclassical, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist and early Modernist artworks.
However, with the city said to be home to more than 600 art galleries, the rewards for culture vultures prepared to venture off the beaten track are considerable.
The latter is situated in an imposing building only accessible by appointment and guided tour, and which formerly served as a bomb shelter, prison, banana storeroom and S&M fetish club… although we should probably clarify, not simultaneously.
Meanwhile, taking pride of place in the stellar cultural events calendar is the Berlin Biennale, which is held every two years, with its 2018 running presenting works by such internationally acclaimed practitioners as Agnieszka Brzeżańska, Ana Mendieta and Oscar Murillo.
What about being an artist in the city yourself?
Unsurprisingly given the above factors, one could scarcely hope for a more inspiring and stimulating corner of the globe in which to create. You’ll certainly have no shortage of likeminded company to interact with, some estimates having put the number of artists in the city at about 60,000.
It is thought that about a quarter of this number originates from outside Germany, which simply further helps to cement the capital’s outward-facing, internationalist sensibility. As The New York Times observed last year: “No matter where they are from originally, they like to live and work in the German capital, producing art even if they don’t show it there.”
But if you are such a prospective artist resident of Berlin currently based overseas, it is naturally vital to familiarise yourself with the relevant paperwork entailed in such a move. As the Deutschland.de website explains, the process of obtaining an artist’s visa to stay in the city is a detailed one.
As a baseline, however, those living a lifestyle akin to a student can expect to be set back at least around €400 a month for a room in a shared apartment, with overall monthly expenses approaching €800. But as detailed by Artsy, you are also likely to have to pay at least several hundred more Euros for a studio space, despite Berlin’s relative international affordability.
One can hardly doubt the both breadth and depth of the Berlin artist community, which remains as renowned for its commitment as for its intellectual curiosity. Whatever the nature of your creative practice, you have as strong a chance of finding a home here as you do almost anywhere — subject to the kind of practical and budgetary constraints that apply everywhere else.
Nonetheless, if you are to establish yourself as an artist in the German capital, it pays to have a well-constructed plan, not least as the authorities will expect you to be able to support yourself as an artist during your time as a resident — whether that ultimately lasts for months, years or decades.
What do current artists make of Berlin as a place to live and create?
Berlin provides space. Space to experiment and create. Although rent prices for living and work spaces are heavily on the rise, they are still comparatively low to other European capitals. Generally, you get more for your money.
I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon pottering around the Yayoi Kusama Museum, the world’s only permanent gallery dedicated to her work.
The artist: Yayoi Kusama
The exhibition I attended—Here, Now, I have Reached the Grandest Start of My Life—follows Kusama’s footsteps as an artist, starting with early works from the 1950s and concluding with her more recent fare. Allegedly the most popular artist on the planet (at least in terms of visitor numbers), her galleries worldwide are often packed while they last—so naturally getting tickets can be a pain. More on that later.
A Face by Yayoi Kusama
Her works are famously fueled by intense visual and auditory hallucinations, which have inspired her remarkable output for more than 70 years. If bold colors, obsessive repetition, an elusive artist and many, many pumpkins sound like your idea of a cultured day out, you’re in the right place.
On the surface there’s not an awful lot to see on the first floor of the Yayoi Kusama Museum, but it’s a nice introduction to the space, with a brief explanation of the gallery printed on the wall in English and Japanese. You’ll also want to grab a program from the reception desk, since none of the pieces are marked in the gallery itself. There’s a small gift shop on this floor, but be warned, some of the prices are not for the faint of heart.
The second floor changes every few months, but when I went featured a showcase of Kusama’s early works. It doesn’t take an art critic to see stark differences in her style throughout her life. Her ‘50s works seems to lack the bright positivity that epitomizes her later style, but you can still see the occasional fields of nets and dots she later became famous for.
The current exhibition showcases botanical-themed works alongside several self-portraits that span from her early days as an artist to present day.
In with the new
The third floor features many of Kusama’s newer works, from her My Eternal Soul collection. If you’ve seen any recent promotional stuff, odds are you’ve seen a couple of these already. Brighter, louder and much, much bigger, there’s a lot to take in from the second you get to the top of the staircase.
The Infinity Room
The highlight of course, is one of Kusama’s famous infinity rooms, PUMPKINS SCREAMING ABOUT LOVE BEYOND INFINITY. Designed to reflect a small patch of pumpkins seemingly forever, peering into the box is a unique experience. Part of what makes it so jarring is your own lack of reflection in the mirrors, which took me longer than it should have to notice. Free of interference from the outside world, the inside of that box almost feels like it could be another dimension. Fair to say I’m probably missing the point, but the effect is both reflective and technically impressive.
The “library” and rooftop garden
The 5th floor features a (very) small library, with in-depth programs from selected galleries in several languages, as well as a reading area. The rooftop includes one last dazzling pumpkin statue. In the full light of a summer afternoon it really does shine, so if you plan to spend any time up there, shades might be a good call.
As a nice final touch, all the windows are shaded with a subtle matrix of tiny dots, which are cast across your view of the city. And you might just find that image follows you when you leave. Could be I’m just susceptible to suggestion, but I found myself fixating on incidental circles and repeating patterns in the world around me for a good while after leaving!
Few major cities have been as synonymous down the generations with the highest echelons of artistic achievement and influence as London, from the days of Sir Anthony van Dyck and Sir Peter Lely to the ‘Young British Artists’ – or YBAs – like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
To this day, there can be no doubt that London remains home to many of the world’s most significant artistic institutions and events. But if you are an artist contemplating setting up home or bolstering your activity in the British capital, what do you need to know right now?
London skyline from Tate Modern
Arty things to see and do in London
What can be said about London’s wealth of artistic sights, sounds and treasures that hasn’t been said already? Well, a surprising amount, actually.
Yes, there are the familiar tourist staples – from the Royal Academy of Arts and the National Gallery to Tate Modern and Tate Britain – that continue to produce must-see blockbuster exhibitions. But the capital is also a place to come for lesser-known galleries ranging from the South London Gallery and White Cube to Lazarides Gallery and the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art.
Moreover, you only need to idly wander around many London boroughs – such as Croydon, where RISEgallery’s Arts Quarter project – to see that you don’t even need to enter an art gallery to immerse yourself in the UK capital’s artistic spirit.
Street art in Shoreditch, London
What about being an artist in the city yourself?
Sadly, while London is still of absolute ‘box office’ appeal to artists, fewer of them are managing to establish firm roots in the city, with shrinking studio spaces and ever-escalating property prices forcing many to depart the capital altogether.
While organisations like Acme, Bow Arts and Space continue to provide access to studios in London, these spaces are increasingly at a premium, and the asking prices routinely eye-watering.
Indeed, Space chief executive Anna Harding painted a grim picture in her introduction to the recent book Artists in the City: SPACE in ’68 and Beyond, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the organisation set up key Op art proponents Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley, of the precarious lives now led by many artists in London.
She observed: “Lack of affordable living and working space for low-waged people in London is forcing many to reconsider their future in the capital. Increasing rents underpin the story of artists living and working in London, and the challenges of affording a studio and making work have worsened considerably.”
In light of the aforementioned warnings, the costs of London life as an artist are as daunting as you might expect. According to Numbeo, those seeking to rent a one-bedroom apartment outside the city centre can expect to be set back an average of £1,222.14 a month, as of December 2018.
Even when rental costs are excluded, a single person in the capital incurs typical monthly costs of almost £800. Such expenses force almost all artists in London to take on a sufficiently lucrative day-job alongside their practice, simply to stay afloat.
What residencies and funding opportunities are there?
If – as may be expected – making ends meet as a permanent resident of London would be a challenge too far for you, there’s always the option of applying for any of the capital’s various still-thriving residency opportunities.
One such possibility is the London Summer Intensive, which is a four-week residency for artists offered by the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London (UCL) and Camden Arts Centre. The programme was established in 2015, with the most recent one having run from 30th July to 26th August 2018; you can sign up to the mailing list for next year’s residency online now.
Several awards and opportunities are also provided by Acme, the London-based charity founded by Jonathan Harvey and David Panton in 1972. One of them is the two-year Associate Studio Programme, which is delivered in conjunction with Central Saint Martins and geared towards BA Fine Art graduates seeking a studio at a highly subsidised rent, together with opportunities for mentoring and critical dialogue.
Public art on Hackney Street, London
Will you thrive or fail as an artist in London?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question may depend heavily on your financial resources. Particular advantages of life as an artist in London today include the relative ease with which you should be able to secure a job to support your creative life here, as well as the city simply remaining one of the most inspiring locations on Earth in which to make, experience and talk about art.
The scale of the challenges, however, cannot be understated. Artists in the capital have become used to scrambling for costly and cramped spaces that they are often forced to share with others. Others have resorted to squatting in empty properties – and found themselves at loggerheads with local councils as a result.
Nonetheless, even if you decide against trying to set up home as an artist in London on a permanent basis, the UK capital’s pre-eminence as a place for artists from around the world to exhibit cannot be questioned, and this alone may be advantageous for your career.
As noted by Richard Sant, head of careers and employment at the University of the Arts London (UAL), to the Evening Standard: “When we ask artists what is important to them, many of them believe that the opportunity to be exhibited and recognised is more valuable to them than a large studio space, and that’s London’s appeal.
“And even those who do move elsewhere do still see London as a place their work is exhibited and recognised, despite living far away from the city. It’s international.”
What do current artists make of London as a place to live and create?
Having moved from Central London to Twickenham and now based on Eel Pie Island, I have found that my subject matter has changed considerably. Instead of viewing the Thames from the Embankment, I now cross it on a footbridge twice daily and even find myself occasionally wading through it at high tide.
This location has allowed me to feel at one with the tidal fluctuations and the changing seasons resulting in many misty and varied land and waterscapes. The famous view from Richmond Hill looking down across Petersham Meadow and a bend in the Thames (towards Eel Pie Island) has also provided me with an ever changing source of compositional challenges.
Barcelona may be the ultimate Spanish city to visit, but it is arguably Madrid that is the Spanish city in which to live, especially so for an artist. One only needs to wander around the capital to see all manner of colour and creativity, both traditional and modern.
There are, of course, potential downsides of life in Madrid – not least the notoriously severe climate that manifests in very hot summers and cold winters.
Nonetheless, with this area of the country home to many of its most celebrated cultural institutions – not least those making up the ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ – it’s understandable that you may be considering its merits as a location in which to live and produce contemporary art.
So, just how much of a destination is Madrid for today’s contemporary artists?
Arty things to see and do in Madrid
The ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ itself, comprising three museums along the Paseo del Prado, scarcely requires introduction for many enthusiasts of both historical and modern art.
The Museo del Prado has captured the imaginations of generations with its treasures by such greats as Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, while the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía houses Pablo Picasso’s incomparable Guernica. The Triangle’s third member, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, caters for gaps in the collections of its counterparts.
Highlights of the local cultural calendar, meanwhile, include the annual DecorAcción, which sees the city’s iconic Literary Quarter become a showcase for installations, street markets and a host of other artistic, design and decorative activity over four days.
What about being an artist in the city yourself?
Madrid’s contemporary art scene is a livelier and more dynamic one that you might think, given the city’s entrenched association with historical and classical art. Established galleries vie with newly set-up spaces, providing an already stimulating backdrop for a host of regular art fairs and events.
February is an especially advantageous time to be in Madrid as an artist, as this is when the city’s annual Art Week takes place, comprising such events as the biggest contemporary art fair in the country, ARCOmadrid, and the youthful and urban Urvanity.
With the capital steadily growing in both economic and population terms as wider Spain continues its spirited recovery from the lows of the late 2000s global financial crisis, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the cost of living here is creeping up. Nonetheless, it remains a cheaper option than such other obvious major players as London and Paris.
The Nestpick site estimates that you will require a monthly income of between €1,000 and €1,400 to cover a budget or student standard of living in the city, including home cooked meals and a room in a shared apartment.
For a more professional standard of living, think closer to €2,000 a month – but remember that accommodation in the city centre does tend to be slightly pricier, and probably won’t include parking.
What residencies and funding opportunities are there?
Madrid is the base for Spain’s oldest active artist in residence (AIR) programme, Casa de Velázquez, which was established in the city in 1920, conceived along the lines of the French Academy in Rome, and continues to be operated by the French education ministry.
Matadero Madrid is another key centre for artist residencies in the city, stating its objectives to be to “stimulate the artistic production of work and knowledge, improve the mobility of local and national creators and generate learning environments for local artistic agents”.
Will you thrive or fail as an artist in Madrid?
First of all, the bad news: you are unlikely to get rich as an artist in Madrid. There is a notable scarcity of private collectors in Spain in general, not least because – as explained by ARTnews – art sales are highly taxed, by as much as 21% at one point, although this has since fallen to around 10%.
Furthermore, even among the big collectors that do exist, tastes can often lean towards classical art with a proven worth and provenance, instead of contemporary art that – when taking such forms as performances, videos and installations – can often be much more ephemeral, and therefore less collectible.
As art historian, critic and curator Barbara Rose has observed: “It almost seems that the way to be a successful artist in Spain is to leave. Today, many leading Spanish artists live not in Madrid or Barcelona but in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and New York.”
None of the above necessarily means you won’t do well as a Madrid-based artist yourself, of course. Nonetheless, such factors should give you reason to be realistic and embrace the in-the-moment vibrancy of the capital’s grassroots scene, instead of obsessing over the idea that this move will make you the next Antoni Tàpies, Salvador Dalí or Joan Miró.
What do current artists make of Madrid as a place to create?
We recently quizzed just two of the many current Madrid-based practitioners to give you an insight into what it truly means to live and work as an artist in the Spanish capital in 2018.
Madrid has a lot of cultural life, so you can keep learning about new ways and formats for making art. You can meet other people and create working groups, which helps me to think about new projects to keep learning and researching new ways to work.
What is your name?
What type of artwork do you produce?
Although I don’t completely feel identified with this term, I guess I’m a figurative painter as I paint people. It’s not what I paint, though, that I’m most interested in, but instead the changes that the portrayed subject suffers along the creative process.
Thankfully, the city offers some spaces on its outskirts that are still affordable and they’re hired by artists nowadays. That is the basic ingredient that a city can give to an active artist, as our practice depends on the space to create and produce art to a larger extent. This also helps to create a community among art peers, which makes progress easier and more enjoyable.
I’ve been here for a year now, having previously lived for six years in London, and I’m positively surprised by the cultural scene that our Spanish capital offers. There are always things going on around the city, and of different natures.
Host of Japan’s most prestigious contemporary print fair, the College Women’s Association of Japan is a little-known powerhouse of an organisation supporting women and the visually impaired in the country. Connected through a love of English, members of the CWAJ volunteer extensively and raise money for scholarships
Inspired by the publication of Oliver Statler’s book Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn in 1956, the organisation decided to try a new way of raising funds for its scholarships and held its first print fair that same year. Featuring pieces included in the book as well as many other pioneer artists of the “Creative Print Movement” — known in Japanese as Sosaku Hanga — the show was curated by Abe Yuji of the Yoseido Gallery.
A movement which combined the longstanding tradition of printmaking in Japan with a contemporary focus on individual expression, Sosaku Hanga had become popular internationally, but received little attention within Japan. Capitalising on this divide, the print fair showcased new and emerging talent alongside major names, soon becoming trailblazers in the contemporary print scene. Now in its 62nd year, the show is a staple of the art world’s calendar, with some surprisingly strict rules ensuring it maintains its grassroots focus and impressive reputation.
To ensure a level playing field, submissions are entered anonymously and selected by an independent jury of field professionals who change each year. Taking into consideration the technical skill displayed and the artistic merit of each print, around 200 prints from some 700 entries are chosen to offer a contemporary view of Japanese printmaking. The variety of styles, techniques and artists is a key factor, as well as that of price: ranging from 8,000 to 400,000 yen per print, it’s as accessible as it is varied. Setting the prices themselves, artists receive 50% of the sales while the remainder goes to the organisation — which is an entirely volunteer-run system with little organisational expenditure.
Forerunners in visual impairment support, the organisation prides itself on the evolution of its support, especially the inclusion of the visually impaired community in the CWAJ art fair. With a guided service offered from the local station to and around the exhibition, they also have a selection of raised art pieces which allow visually impaired guests to participate in the event along with sighted visitors.
As well as offering young artists an opportunity to exhibit works in a prestigious exhibition, CWAJ began the Young Printmaker Award in 2005 to celebrate the 50th year of the print fair. Designed to support newcomers, it offers a cash award to help with training or equipment purchases as well as an opportunity to be exhibited in three years time in order to encourage their career development.
This year’s exhibition is complemented by the annual Associate Exhibition, a curated display with a different theme each year. Entitled Beyond the First Impression: Prints from Cover Artists, this year’s show will focus on the prints used on Print Show catalogues over the years. Celebrating the show’s history as well as the changing face of contemporary Japanese printmaking, the exhibition will run from October 16th to November 5th at the Tokyo American Club.
Offering scholarships to women and the visually impaired as well as running volunteer events and classes, the organisation also offered support in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. As well as a new bus for mental health services and English children’s events, a 10-year scholarship programme was created for nursing students in Fukushima.
The Print Show will be held at the Hillside Forum Gallery in Daikanyama, Tokyo from October 31st to November 4th 2018.
The digital art collective teamLab—an interdisciplinary group consisting of artists, scientists, and more—has had multiple exhibitions around and beyond Japan over the past few years. Though, despite its Japanese roots, it was only in 2018 that it finally launched permanent (or, at least, long-term) installations in Japan. Better late than never, we suppose. Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless—billed as the world’s first digital art museum—was unveiled in Odaiba on June 21st, 2018 to much fanfare.
It should go without saying that the Mori Building Digital Art Museum is unlike any museum that you’ve ever seen. This 10,000 sq m space uses 520 computers and 470 projectors to create an experience that will stimulate all five senses. There’s no set course for enjoying this digital art museum. Just let your curiosity and imagination wander, and pick any path to start.
The experience at Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless
You won’t step into the same museum twice as the art is dynamic and constantly in motion. In just a few minutes, you can experience a change of scenery—a burst of purple flowers here, a shower of sunflowers there—even while standing in the same spot. Step back into that same flower forest a little later, and you’ll find that the seasons have changed.
The museum isn’t called “Borderless” for nothing—the art moves freely. Walking down hallways, you might find yourself with interesting company, as a lively procession of performers joins you only to fade as you reach your destination.
Mori Building Digital Art Museum’s stunning installations make the perfect backdrop for #aesthetic shots. The <strong>two most popular installations are the Crystal World and the Forest of Resonating Lamps</strong>. The former is a room full of mirrors and dazzling, colorful LEDs (fun fact: you can change the colors with the teamLab app). At the latter, you can feel like Rapunzel in Tangled, as you marvel at the lanterns and their ever-changing colors.
While taking photos and videos is part of the experience, and is actually something that teamLab encourages, don’t just visit for the Instagram potential. You’re highly encouraged to experience the art in ways other than clicking away on your smartphone. After all, it’s been said that all art is an immersive experience, and you can truly feel that for yourself here. For one, you’ll find that some art projections react to touch.
For the kids
But wait—there’s more! The Athletics Forest is practically a digital art playground. Kids, as well as kids at heart, can create planets—or a black hole—with every bounce on the Multi-Jumping Universe trampoline, slide down a “fruit field”, or try bouldering in a “forest of light”. Note that you must have appropriate footwear here (i.e. no high heels, slippers, open-toe sandals).
Kids who prefer something more subdued can check out the Sketch Aquarium. The museum provides paper and crayons for kids to doodle and color. They can then have their drawings scanned to become part of a digital aquarium.
Chill out with some tea
Finally, after all that walking and playing, you might want to bask in the tranquility of En Tea House. We weren’t kidding when we said that this digital art museum is an experience for all the senses. In this dim, quiet space, you can unwind with a cup of tea—they recommend the yuzu green tea—for [price amount=500]. Watch digital flowers bloom in your cup, their petals scattering every so often.
In sum, Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless is a unique, memorable experience for all ages, as well as an easy gateway into art appreciation for millennials and Gen Z-ers.