Ruth Solomons | The ‘Artist’ in Current Public Discourse : an ethical examination of statements about the way artists work

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My practice-based research looks at statements about the way artists work, in relation to: the time and space needed for art practice; defining a Fine Art practice in terms of ‘work’; and the precarity of networked artist communities. The research both emerges from and is informed by my own painting practice.

More commonly found in the fields of Social Science and Economics, I use the term ‘precarity’ to describe the precarious nature of art practices which are subject to economic challenges. I draw both on my experience as a practicing artist, and on the observations of writers including Liam Gillick, Dave Beech and Briony Fer. The research aims to combine ethics and post-studio theory to build a network of judgements around notions of art as ‘work’. Gillick provides a useful example of an implied judgement in his essay The Good of Work (2012). He formulates the question: ‘What is the good of this work?’ (Gillick, 2012: 61). This question might appear to be trying to find out the result of the work of artists. However, Gillick explains how it contains implied judgements about the motivations for even undertaking such work:

The accusation inherent in the question is that artists are at best the ultimate freelance knowledge workers and at worst barely capable of distinguishing themselves from the consuming desire to work at all times (Gillick in E-Flux, 2012: 61).

Thus, the formulation of the question conveys a threat of approval/disapproval. Gillick uses the terms ‘best’ and ‘worst’ to elucidate the sense of impending judgement that artists experience: the range of ways within which it might be acceptable to ‘work’. My own comprehension of this sense of impending judgement, as a practicing artist, is a key motivational factor in my research.

Gillick, L. (2012) The Good of work. In: E-flux Journal. Are you working too much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art. USA: Sternberg Press

Ruth recently completed an MRes in Arts Practice at Chelsea College of Art & Design, where she carried out a research project looking at ethics and the strategies artists use to sustain their practices. In 2014 she was included in the following events: the five person show, Hey Days! at Bermondsey Project Space; the exhibition Speaker’s Corner – New Voices in Hackney Art at BL-ANK, Shoreditch; the international touring exhibition (detail); and both an installation of artworks and a talk for the Deptford X Festival in South London. Ruth also co-edits JAWS Journal, the Journal of Arts Writing by Students, which she helped to set up while on the MRes course.


She is the winner of the 2014-15 Student Competition, with the symposium Artist Identity, and co-editor of Special Issue: Artists IdentityDandelion, 6, 1, (2015)

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