Volume 91, Issue 71

Wednesday, February 4, 1998

sock it


Starting Artists: London Artists look for a way to break out from the pack

By Ciara Rickard
Gazette Staff

So ya wanna be a writer, artist or poet for that matter? Like to earn money by climbing the creativity ladder? Well, forget it. As much as future Picassos and Shakespeares romanticize about such artistic aspirations and the world they encompass, trying to be an amateur artist doesn't flow like a masterpiece, but is rather a cut-and-paste experience.

Worming your way into the world of art, novels or poetry takes more than a degree in Arts and a dense résumé. Creating and presenting the best you have to offer is just as important to gain recognition. The city of London is abstracting into a great place for emerging artists of all kinds to get experience and exposure.

The Forest City Gallery shows primarily work from emerging artists. Most of the artists are in their first 10 years of showing or are just starting out. Jill Price, the gallery's director, says artists simply send in their work if they have hopes of showing and may be chosen from this group.

"When selecting artists we try to look at trends in our culture and issues in our society that affect the country – contemporary issues," Price says. "We look for continuity in the artist's work. They send us slides, artist's CV (curriculum vitae) and a statement on their work and purpose – we choose based on that."

Some might consider London to be small potatoes for aspiring artists, but Price says the art world has a large network reaching across the country that connects galleries and collectors. "You can get lost in a large place like Toronto," she says. "Work here in London is recognized across the country in magazines and through communication."

The McIntosh Gallery at Western is another venue exhibiting work from emerging artists, however, it does not exhibit work from amateurs except for student shows, held twice a year. London has become a competitive market recently for aspiring artists, says Catherine Elliot Shaw, curator of the gallery.

"About 10 or 15 years ago, there were more galleries and collectors," says Shaw. "Nowadays, there are more artists and fewer opportunities. It's often a very vicious circle – up until about six or seven years ago, people would graduate from visual arts programs and leave for New York or Toronto, but now, as a result of economics, people are staying in London and that limits opportunities. The opportunities that do come along are taken by the more established artists."

Contemporary art is as varied as ever, but trends are certainly visible in galleries and they vary according to the type of gallery, the community and the gallery itself – that is, the people who select the art to be shown. At the McIntosh Gallery, work is shown that includes issues relevant to the local community as well as how people create their identity with the surrounding community.

As for budding artists itching to have their work shown, initial presentation is key. "The advice I give to people all the time is that you have to create a package about yourself because you're going to have to present yourself – but you won't be there to explain in person," says Shaw.

She adds that the package should include certain things, but visuals are the most important. Ideally, using slides or sending prints or colour photocopies works best. "They must be high quality, since that is the only way galleries are going to see your work initially," she says.

The package should also include a CV with exhibition history, education and related activities; an artist's statement, which is optional; support material, like reviews from other shows about the work, which is also optional; and a cover letter that specifically states what the artist wants. When sending out work, the artist should target galleries that show similar work to their own. Shaw advises a visit to potential galleries to get a feel for the kind of shows they do and concentrate on the places with the highest probability of showing the artist's work.


As for writers, it's much the same deal – send out work as much as possible and hope that somebody likes it enough to publish it. Luckily, there are some organizations out there that can help budding writers get their start. The Canadian Author's Association is just one of those organizations.

"Generally speaking, aspiring writers benefit from being associated with one of our branches, because they get to associate with experienced writers," says Alec McEachern, administrator of the CAA. "It also gives them the opportunity to meet publishers and publishing companies."

Half the members of the CAA, founded in 1921 by Stephen Leacock, are unpublished writers. They put out a quarterly magazine, a newsletter and a writer's handbook. In each issue of the magazine, a segment called the Okanagan Reward offers amateur writers an opportunity to be published. The CAA is, says McEachern, an organization of "writers helping writers."

McEachern does have advice for amateur writers. "A lot of our members stay in [the CAA] because they credit the organization with learning. We've survived because people find it beneficial since there is a variety of writers with a variety of experience."


Though it is usually a much less lucrative career, even for those who succeed at it, poetry is still the dream of many young writers. Edita Petrauskaite, executive director of the League of Canadian Poets, recommends perseverance and hints that being a member of such an organization can sometimes help kick-start one's career.

"It's very difficult to get published – [publishers] don't want to risk publishing someone new so that's why we have separate memberships and contests for amateurs: winners can get their work published and with the youth contests, we publish the winners in our magazine. These contests can sometimes propel people into a career," explains Petrauskaite.

As for making a lucrative career solely of poetry, Petrauskaite says it's nearly impossible, but unpublished poets should put out their work as much as possible and use connections to the best of their advantage. She also notes that most, if not all, poets maintain some other job or even professional career so that they can continue to write.

Petrauskaite's advice to poets falls along the same lines as the advice from most professionals in the world of art and writing – do not give up. "People can take rejection personally, but even published poets get rejected. Be persistent, write everyday and don't get discouraged."

All graphics by Janice Olynich

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