Now and then: two views on careers in the arts
Gerard Pas and Andres Garzon were both born in London, Ontario, but many years apart. Gerard has a decades-long career as a multimedia artist, acclaimed nationally and internationally, and taught at Fanshawe for several years until his retirement in 2020. Andres is an incredibly talented young artist, illustrator and writer. He explores his life and identity in his work, which have been featured in publications such as MUSE Magazine, See Collective, and Huron & Erie Regional Digest. I asked both for their views and opinions on having a career in art.
Here is what they said:
What made you decide to become an artist?
GERARD: Well, it was something that I did well. Something that I really enjoyed. And one of my friends from high school, he went to an art school which was great. He went to Bealart (H.B. Beal Secondary School), and I was so impressed with what he was doing, it looked so cool. So, I enrolled at Bealart, and then I realized. I never turned back, that was for the rest of my life.
ANDRES: It wasn't always a conscious decision. I was born with a love for art and artmaking, even if there were times in life when I was too distracted to make any art. But that instinct was always there. It wasn't until 2017, after graduating college, that I "decided" to become an artist again — as in, make it a goal to nurture my art practice until it was what sustained me. By this point, the decision was made out of a mix of faith and gut. I knew this what I was supposed to do, and I trusted that I could figure it out as I went.
What are your thoughts about the current career perspectives for new artists?
GERARD: Honestly, I don’t think that much has changed. If I look back through history, […] in the 50s or 40s, Willem de Kooning, a painter, came to New York and for many, many years he was a sign painter. But at the end, obviously he was selling paintings for $30 million. And I think that most of us do, or have, or are forced to find a job that permits us to both make our art and earn enough money to pay the rent. […] It’s an old story that continues, just that jobs might be different. So, you know, if you’re lucky and you have a high paying job, and you can work from home at the same time. The problem is you get addicted to the money and then you’re afraid to take the risk.
ANDRES: It's unfortunate to see artists lose public space: galleries, art renewal centres, family-friendly venues, you name it. So many have disappeared due to COVID-19, and therefore artists are having to reinvent our approach along with the rest of the world. This means current artists are seeing a dramatic shift in perspective. For me that has meant coming to terms with the fact that our prospects for the next few years will look different. Interaction with the public will be limited. We will need to get to know our audience better than ever, understand what they are feeling, and develop ways to get our message to them. I don't feel pessimistic. I have seen some amazing work come out of difficult circumstances. The art world is always changing, so we change along with it!
How do you think the art world changed between today and the last few decades?
GERARD: I don’t think it has changed much, other than some media. Everybody always tries to use the latest technologies, but otherwise I don’t think much has changed at all. It’s the same visual language. And we go through phases. Sometimes, like, in Canada in particular we were known as very political, art was very political […] but, those were paths more than anything.
ANDRES: The rise of technology has made some incredible things possible for artists all around the world. I think we are at the height of some of the best video, installation and performance artwork that has ever been made. At the same time, the art world has never been more saturated. It's difficult to stand out amongst so much greatness, and to see so can be discouraging for new artists. The ways that artists make a living is changing. Antiquated models of creating an income from our work are being replaced with a plethora of opportunities. Artists can create their own audiences online, can sell and ship their own work, etc. In my perspective, we are in a more accessible place in terms of art then we have ever been before.
What is your advice for the new generations of artists?
GERARD: It starts with a little thing that says, “to thine own self be true,” and that means, you know, be honest. And make the art you love. When art is no longer fun, or you no longer feel anything from it, maybe it’s time to take a break. You know in your heart what is good and moral. The rest is mechanical. I can give you career motivated advice, but I rather leave you with a philosophical one. After making art for 40 years, you have to ask yourself “why am I doing this?” And if it isn’t for the joy and creativity then you’ve got a problem. And that’s it.
ANDRES: Just keep going. The grind is hard and long, and it can be easy to lose momentum and joy. Don't forget why you started. Remember why it's important that you exist as an artist, and why your perspective is unique and valuable. This isn't always easy, nor does it come naturally, but I find that my work is more rewarding when I focus less on what others think about it and more on my personal connections to making it. The process is equally as important as the finished product. And it's messy, which is okay too. Lastly, —and if you can — get the money upfront!
If you want to know more about Andres and Gerard, you can check their websites (respectively): andresgarzon.ca, and gerardpas.com. Or reach them through e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.