Nobody is meant to enjoy networking. It’s just one of those things that you must do if you would like to find yourself in the sort of industry where you are awarded work based on your personal name recognition. Networking culture manufactures its own microcosm of celebrity important to only those inside the food chain of that eco-system. This eco-system is decidedly small, metropolitan and barricaded with layers of knowledge required to participate. The contemporary foundations of the arts industry (commercial or publicly funded) and the music industry are the networks formed at openings, pubs or the networking arena of Instagram. Despite these connections’ flimsy seeming nature, the bubble formed around the eco-system can feel to some daunting to enter and to others completely impenetrable. The nature of these connections and subsequent opportunities illuminates the complete corporate nature of the systems they exist in.
Lately, I have been listening to a podcast by the psychotherapist Esther Perel called “How’s work?”. Each episode is a couples counselling session for business partners conducted by Perel. Being the fly on the wall of this therapy satisfies a curiosity to watch conflict and aggression play out passively and unconsciously with no stakes. What I picked up listening to the qualms of business partners was the sheer amount of investment in industry awards and the subtle wording of a job title indicating social placement. The physicality of these industry awards is extremely easy to imagine; a flat, abstract, glass shape, etched with the company name. The job titles these business people devote their lives to themselves seem, to me, ineffectual. Titles like “Central Functionality Orchestrator” phrased in encrypted corporate jargon that means nothing to almost anyone. This jargon and “art speak” nicely parallel each other with the way descriptive language is hollowed out to be vague enough that everyone in the room can pretend they follow. Words like: “liminal”, “entropy”, and “spaces” could mean something but often instead operate as intellectual filler and avoid getting into the messy territory of personal response to a work of art.
A friend of mine recently pointed out the contradiction in the online hate directed towards Grimes. Her point was that the new online brand of onlyfans feminism says you can and should marry a rich man, “get your bag sis”, yet the majority of hate for Grimes comes from her getting together with one of the richest available men. I have found a similar contradiction in a new niche of memes, the child of nepotism meme, that goes something like:
“Are you okay?”
“No I wish I was a child of nepotism”
The child of nepotism has, however, one major trade-off for their graces, it will always be in doubt if their position in life is fairly earned. This is regularly seen in the social media response whenever a member of a famous family attempts their own project. Not to mention the other unappealing factor of comparison to your more famous relative. I wonder, though, why the wish is not for great talent or wealth but for nepotism. Perhaps it isn’t strange to wish you had the contacts to build some sort of career not by consistently showing up to the right events and knowing the right people but by being born destined to know the right people. This desire for this ease can also explain the resentment directed at those blessed with it.
Art school, or any creative schooling, currently encourages ambition that facilitates career aspirations for a particular creative industry model. This industry model looks quite narrowly at art as a product. Not necessarily as a lucrative product that is sold in the strict commercial sense that art or music is sold, but a product of the brand of ones self built to be marketable. This type of encouraged ambition negates the exciting idea of art and creativity as a transcendent force; that may enrich the lives of artists and audiences beyond what is quantifiable. As I see it, contemporary art in the UK currently serves three main purposes: one to launder money for the uber-rich, two as a hobby providing cultural capital to the bourgeois, and three to inspire and compound the art of other artists and art students (feeding back into the aforementioned purposes). These limitations are tough to escape from within the swamp of art school ambition. Working in this system is also not shameful and completely acceptable; the label of art, though, must not grant any superiority to the endeavour than is awarded to any other closed system of corporate work.
Perhaps during the last year of dissolution of art school as a centralised space, many students will have left or been dragged out of the ambition swamp that can trap us so well. My favourite look at arts education and its place in the world is “The Hornsey Film”, a 1970 student film about the real occupation of an art college. The end of the film tells the story of where participating students ended up. Many gave up on art altogether, going into professions like social work. Instead, they found that working with people had more to offer in terms of personal and financial fulfilment. There is a sense that had these students not gone through the disillusionment and occupation that they may have still ended up working outside of art eventually, but this experience hastened the process. Leaving art education and not pursuing an art career is not a failure of the education or of the individual who underwent it. It can prove the use of creative minds applied to all industries.
As the awkward socialising at art openings creeps back onto the scene in London, I expect networking will look the same. There are too many old dogs leading the charge at these events to hope for different. However, with this return, I hope that the alternative events and shows don’t seek to place themselves in the same model as the ones with the money. They might not disrupt this model either but they can keep providing a space where young creatives can enjoy being young and creative on the periphery of the direct glare of networking and career ambition.