I have been rejected by the Canada Council for the Arts in being defined as a “visual artist” for the purposes of applying for artist grants. This is not only confusing, but incredibly frustrating as there are a number of exciting projects that I’d like to dedicate time and resources to completing and this is exactly what these grants are designed to provide.
In conversations with the person who rejected my application today, there is a very narrow window of criteria that can allow someone to be accepted as an artist – essentially, I need to have had my artwork selected to be displayed in curated art museums or galleries.
- My work being displayed this fall in the Canadian Science and Technology Museum doesn’t qualify, as it’s not an art institution.
- My work designing a coin for the Royal Canadian Mint doesn’t qualify, as apparently currency isn’t art.
- Being featured on an episode of The Nature of Things holds no weight.
- My accreditations with the Professional Photographers of Canada didn’t count, apparently as there are many photographers that are not considered to be creators of modern art.
- Awards I have won (or have been nominated for) are not directly from curators of art content.
- Having my images on the covers of books and magazines is also irrelevant.
- Presentations and workshops don’t qualify, as teaching photography is not synonymous with creating art.
- My work for documentary programs like Forces of Nature (BBC) and Mosquito (Discovery Channel) aren’t applicable, even though my artistic efforts in both of those projects ended up as the title card.
There is an incredibly narrow definition to be considered a visual artist, and it’s one I never pursued before because I have found significant success away from traditional venues such as art galleries. Not that I have anything against them (I routinely visit them), it just hasn’t been on my radar. Because of the incredibly persnickety focus on what determines someone to be a visual artist, I cannot apply for any grants.
So, how can you help?
If you have a gallery near you, or you know someone that can put me in touch with curators at any public art gallery in Canada, make that connection happen. It would be my honour to put on a display of snowflakes, water droplets, infrared, you name it – or just an assortment of my best portfolio pieces of “the unseen world”.
I’m NOT asking you to complain to the Canada Council for the Arts about their decision. They have their rules, and they are modeled in a very traditional mindset in terms of validating the definition of a “visual artist”. While I doubt any of you would consider me anything less than this, I didn’t walk a predictable path to get where I am and I don’t fit the model. They won’t change their rules for me, I simply need to fit their definition.
So, a note to gallery curators: my largest pieces are 70” x 40” and smallest are 8”x8”, either fine art photographic prints, stretched canvas, or metal. Many images have a “behind the scenes” narrative and supporting images to keep people thinking and admiring the work for longer than a quick glance.
Case in point – the image attached to this message is one of my favourite water droplet images to date, titled “Essence of Reverie”. It was made with a Prairie Smoke wildflower seed clamped in place just under the surface of water in a bowl, filled to the brim, on my kitchen table. In behind is placed a variety of Osteospermum, otherwise known as an African daisy. The flower makes the out of focus background, but pops into focus inside each of the water droplets because they act like lenses and refract an image of the flower.
This shot was a challenge for a number of reasons beyond what you might imagine. If any light from the flash hit the clamp, you’d see it in the shot; very careful positioning of the light is required to predominantly hit the flower in the background which then illuminates the scene. Prairie Smoke seeds also “animate” when they get wet – twisting and turning in interesting ways. This makes it impossible to predict where the flower will bend and the frame needs to be re-composed on the fly – which is one of the reasons why this 15-image focus stack is shot entirely handheld.
Not only was the camera handheld, but so was the flash. In a similar way to how a police officer might hold both a flashlight and a gun at the same time, my left arm goes underneath the camera for support and my left hand holds the flash on the right side of the camera. From there, it’s all in the wrist to get the proper angle!
Here’s a behind-the-scenes image to go along with this description: http://donkom.ca/bts/DKP_0414-BTS.jpg
If you think such material is fit for a curated gallery exhibition, my e-mail is email@example.com – I look forward to hearing from you. :)