2019 Q&A with National Chairperson

You have been involved with Sasol New Signatures for a few years now. Can you identify any changes in the entries in terms of genre, quality and so forth?

Visual art’s greatest treasure is its ability to visually communicate the ‘Zeitgeist’ or spirit of our times. Therefore genre, topic and themes will constantly shift with the ebb and flow of our society at large. It is never static and ever changing. 

Have you seen a level of maturity developing in the entries over your tenure?

I don’t think maturity is the correct word to use here. This implies that winning works in the past were less mature or immature new signatures, which is not the case. What is evident however is the seriousness in which the artists pursue the process of getting their message across to the audience (materially and conceptually).

To win an art competition you must think like a judge. What’s your position on this statement?

No, never! You need to think like an artist, a serious, passionate artist to say the least.

Art competitions can be viewed as unfair, prejudicial or random. But they can also be seen as a huge motivator for artists. What would you say to entrants in terms of looking for the positives in the experience and not just focusing on the top prizes?

To win is great, but that is not the sole objective here. Artists who enter this competition should do so to benchmark their skills and abilities against their peers and contemporaries at a national level. To be a finalist or a ‘top 100’ new signature is winning in its own right.

The Winner and the Merit Award Winners receive lots of publicity. Would you encourage entrants to prepare for this so that they can maximise these opportunities? What tips do you have for entrants in terms of dealing with the media?

Share freely, be open to engaging with the public and the media. Always remember that it is through media exposure and the public’s engagement with your work that affords you the opportunity to be a successful artist. Always give back to your community.

The stereotype of the “starving artist” is a dominant narrative. But art today is about developing a career and taking a professional approach. Do you think emerging artists fully understand how to build a career? What advice do you have for entrants on how to approach art as a business?

Be out there, be seen, and belong to various bodies that nurture the arts for example VANSA. Be informed, read, and aim for the long-term goal. Nothing in the visual arts is a quick fix. Be professional, punctual, honest but most importantly, remain true to your cause and what you believe in. You simply cannot demand recognition or compensation. The arts industry simply does not work that way.  Remember: “Hard work never killed anybody”.

How do you think emerging artists can gauge their success in the industry to keep themselves motivated?

Keep your feet on the ground, engage, go out there and get it. The world will not come to you, you need to go out there and be seen. Enter competitions, take part in community-based projects, give of yourself in order to gain from others. Art collectives and collaborations can go a long way. Plan ahead, set stringent long and short-term goals.

Believe it or not, most successful artists do “keep strict office hours”.

What does innovation mean to you and how important is this to the visual arts?

Technology has afforded our society the ability to engage in higher levels of multi-sensory responses, with regard to visual communication. This ‘new media landscape’ has opened new and exciting possibilities for the visual arts. It is quite evident that the approach to visual arts has also shifted in order to cater to this global phenomenon. In some cases, artists are aware that the default sense of sight alone may not be ‘strong’ enough in order to ‘punch the message through’. Multisensory approaches, coupled with the new exciting innovations in the materiality status this brings to the fore, is most engaging and enticing. 

Art is…?  (Complete this sentence).

Art is life!