U.J. Faculty of Arts Design and Architecture Talks Gordon Froud
Last edited: July 30, 2012
Posted by Business and Arts South Africa
The University of Johannesburg talks were kicked off by Gordon Froud, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture Department. As an introduction, Froud spoke quite broadly on a number of issues pertaining to the industry of the arts.
The South African arts sector is a fledgling industry, in its commercial infancy. Therefore there are a great number of considerations that young artists must pay careful attention to if they are to create successful careers. The first: there are growing numbers of fine art graduates churned out by a variety of universities nationwide, graduates who all have similar career ambitions and compete for a tiny piece of the same small pie. This isn’t even taking into consideration the self taught artists and those who are seasoned and have already carved out a place for themselves amongst the buyers and sellers.
Thus Froud stressed that it is imperative for the student to already start building a strong resume. He emphasised the fact that in the arts no achievement is too small or inconsequential. Therefore they should enter art competitions such as the ABSA l’atelier, take up apprenticeships and internships, find exhibitions to show work – even if it is just one or two pieces, get involved in arts fests, basically take advantage of any and every opportunity availed to them. Each one of these will act as a brick in building the foundation for a CV that will set them apart.
That being said, as mentioned above, the arts industry is one that is not unaccustomed to difficulty. Hence Froud described prominent galleries such as the Goodman and the Stevenson which have managed to find success, although a number of smaller galleries have not fared quite as well. For example, ten of eleven new galleries that opened in Johannesburg had to close their doors because they simply were not making enough money to stay afloat, in one year. The greatest exacerbating factor for the financial woes experienced by most galleries is the lack of consumption in the local market, which creates an economic imbalance where production far exceeds demand. Although this has always been a universal problem in creative industries, markets such as New York are far more stable and support many galleries. These, as Froud outlined, are some of realities the students must face and they must not limit themselves to an exclusively local market.
Even so, before they can even consider selling abroad they must make a name for themselves. This they can only accomplish by increasing their exposure. Hence they must begin the process of networking with various gallery owners and managers. This can be accomplished through a variety of strategies. Strategies such as seeking internships with the galleries to learn the inner workings of these spaces, attending exhibition openings and socialising with more established artists and people involved in arts management, they should also organise as many meetings as possible with various gallery managers to present their portfolios and share with them their visions...the list is inexhaustible.
With regards to artistic professionalism , he spoke of how the corporate sector is indeed a prominent buyer of art and therefore it is only sensible that artists build lasting relationships with them. The implications of this being that the artist must present themselves in such a way as to assure the companies that there is real value in partnering with the arts. He stressed that the arts are not a charity and that if artists presented themselves as donation hunters they would have to justify why they are more deserving recipients of this charity than orphans, disabled communities, people with chronic illnesses and other such disadvantaged individuals. Rather, the artists must present themselves as partners and investments. Therefore they must look the part – presentable -, they must conduct themselves in a professional manner, present appealing portfolios and artworks, speak assertively and confidently and sell their products with a similar exuberance to how marketers sell theirs. On this last point, the artist must also bear in mind that the companies will always ask the question “how will investing in art add greater mileage to my company brand than investing that same money in a professional marketing firm?”
Being that this was a room full of artists who are by inherent nature extroverts and rebels, they did not take too kindly to some of the points on how to make themselves more ‘marketable.’ Despite this, Mr. Froud did a very good job of painting a picture that illustrated just how dire the situation is in the arts thus however much we may want to cling to our bohemian ways we must make certain concessions if we are to survive in a very difficult industry.