Confessions of a penniless artist

Confessions of a penniless artist

By Ali George 25/02/11

In the last few weeks, IdeasTap member and aspiring journalist Ali George has been sharing her own and other creatives' experiences of the recession. This week, Nicolas William Hughes, a 26-year-old contemporary artist from south Wales, shares his story...

Arts & Crafts was my best subject at school, but I never thought I’d become an artist as I couldn’t draw particularly well.

I was interested in photography as a youngster too, but studying it at college was the real turning point. Photography helped me discover I could create art without being a painter or sculptor, which empowered my creativity.

In 2008 I obtained a BA (Hons) in Photographic Art from Newport University, specialising in lens-based media, and since then I have been a “struggling” artist.

I’ll probably always have to work part-time jobs throughout my career. Right now, it’s bar work, labouring, small photography jobs and a bit of lecturing. Later on, lecturing in universities may be my bread and butter.

Although selling works for major bucks is the dream of all artists, financial gain is not the driving force behind what I do. I want to be comfortable, earning enough from my art to survive, but ultimately I prefer the notion of enjoying – as opposed to enduring – my career.

I could make a non-artistic living out of my skills and training – doing something like wedding photography – but it would feel like a cop out. Yes, it’s easy money and you meet lots of people, but there is nothing new or exciting about it.

Being an artist requires you to think and ask questions, bringing out an almost childlike side that wants to explore the world. Becoming a wedding photographer would stop this process.

There is different funding available for artists, even in the current financial climate. Most of the funding I’m applying for is aimed at “emerging artists”, but later I want to work on collaborations within the sciences or with other creative peers. Collaborative work opens doors to other funding bodies that may not be linked to the arts.

For the past year I have been working on a research project about our relationship with birds. This is based on academic theory, ornithology, non-academic text and anthropological findings.

Although this sounds a bit heavy, I believe in making contemporary artwork accessible to everybody, and to do this I include participatory elements in the work, as well as an element of humour. The final outcome will be a “best of” exhibition in the form of video projection and installation. These exhibitions will be held in Swansea, Cardiff and hopefully a solo show in Bristol.

The main advice I would give anyone in a creative career is: don’t be afraid to be wrong! Try new things and don’t worry about being put down, because if you’re scared of trying, you won’t ever come up with anything original.

Look for like-minded peers to bounce ideas off; you’ll find this a great source of inspiration and knowledge. Scour the internet to find opportunities – the internet is the greatest tool of our generation. Artist’s Newsletter is a good starting point.

Know how to talk about your work to others, then talk about your work to others: use blogs and social media to get your work out there.

And finally, remember: it is in times of austerity that the greatest art is made!


Nicolas was talking to Ali George.

Can you relate to Nicolas? Leave a comment!


More confessions:

Ali George – aspiring journalist

Hannah Drake – theatre director

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