Split into two Artists

Narure Girl Nature Girl Watercolour and Ink on Paper 20″ x 16″   I feel I am split into two parts. I never used to split my artistic endeavours up like I do now and maybe it’s an unhelpful way of doing things. Maybe I need to unite both parts of myself and be at peace with what that means. I’ve always had the desire to just make stuff and be an artist but I’m not sure if I always put the two together until later, when I realised I could call it all art, or at least creating. I made paintings, songs, clothes, poems, rugs, buildings, gardens, children, food, furniture, rooms and furnishings, like many people do though some people would think it was stretching it a bit to call some of that art.  But all the time this question of what it means to be an artist is rattling around in my head. I do think it’s all art and its all life, but I am very attached to this idea of being an artist and I want to be a serious artist and somewhere along the line I must have decided that landscapes and the like, safe art, doesn’t constitute serious art which needs to challenge, shock or question. I am reading Grayson Perry’s “Playing the Gallery” at the moment, which talks about all this stuff better than me. I recommend it. In fact I have only recently decided, that paintings are not just a luxury item for privileged peoples walls and that all art is not just a middle class waste of time and that practical self sufficiency in the face of peak oil and climate chaos is the only sensible way to save us. I sometimes still do think the latter, but I was getting bitter and lonely feeling I was one of a few who felt like this and I do actually believe art has a place and a purpose in today’s society, maybe more so than ever…but this is all another story. I’ve always wanted to draw and paint the stuff I see around me and sometimes that’s fields and trees, plants and hills and sometimes it’s my body or my face in a mirror or other people around me. Sometimes I try to paint concepts, ideas or feelings. Well of course that’s all been done before, what hasn’t? But the latter, which tends to be figurative in content (or songs or poetry) seems to be the stuff, which has, to me, become the serious art. I’m probably stuck in some past art period and actually the earth and the beauty of nature is just as important to me, always has been, as the concept of me, the human body/condition and all the inner concerns I try to express and its all connected up. Why do I try to keep them all so separate? One of the obvious answers is that landscapes seem to sell and anything out with the beautiful and safe category doesn’t. Figures sometimes do but rarely mine (though that might be changing and of course there is always the issue of finding the right market, which I’ve never really tried to do). So now I’m Rachel Ashton the painter of bright contemporary landscapes and I’m Rachel Bride Ashton the producer of darker materials of various sorts. The light and the dark, the yin and the yang, the two sides to everything. Therefore I should be whole and accept my two sides, as part of the whole that is me, maybe, shouldn’t I? There are of course two art worlds too; the light, what I call the Commercial Art World (though they are both commercial I suppose) – beautiful things for beautifying our houses and bringing joy and pleasure into our lives (not to mention making investments for the future).  The world I have, mostly, been part of and the one which I can (for the most part) make a little money in. Then there is the other Serious or Contemporary Art World, which is maybe, not dark as such, but is more mysterious and elusive and difficult to describe. Grayson Perry calls it the “artworld mafia” and it certainly seems to be hard to enter (especially if you haven’t been to art college, as I haven’t).  I have made a couple of tentative, so far unsuccessful, forays into it – applications for an artist in residency programme and a bursary.  Funding seems to be what it’s all about. There may be a point at which both art worlds merge but I’m unclear on that. I’m much more interested in the ideas discussed in this Serious Art World than the “stick to what sells” Commercial Art World. Trying to come up with concepts that are original, is near impossible and maybe I don’t want to, every ones creative expression is unique in a small way.  Sometimes I think I don’t want to jump through any hoops to get funding and recognition and other times I feel desperate for recognition of my more serious artist side.  My Commercial Art endeavours; painting landscapes, producing prints and cards and marketing, provide the funds but it also takes up all my creative time and energy and I have so much more want to say and do now! There is also the confusion over whether portraits are, in my mind, serious art or not? I seem to have the kind of brain that’s always trying to categorise and label things, or is that just the effects of capitalism? Portraits can look very serious and sometimes it seems they are saying very interesting things, but are they any more serious than a painting of a bleak valley, or a derelict cottage being reabsorbed by nature or a song about the sub-conscious or a painting of a vagina or a woman bleeding into the soil, painted in menstrual blood? All things I have done and feel driven to do. Maybe I’d have got all of this out of my system by now if I hadn’t spent the last 18 years having my children and home-educating them in a rural backwater while trying to grow my own vegetables and living off grid and still trying to be an artist at the same time. If I had lived in an inner city hub, constantly exposed to the latest cutting edge art and mixing with the latest cutting edge artists then maybe I would be savvier. All my experiences, are now on my CV as artistic endeavours and I think I needed to get all those things out of my system first, really. I am glad though, that I have done what I have done and now that I’m ready to notice and be involved in the Serious Art World, from my rural backwater, which, I have only recently noticed is 9 miles from Deveron Arts headquarters and 15 miles from the Scottish Sculpture Workshop both hubs of cutting edge arts activity, so not that much of a backwater maybe really. So I think I have convinced myself to keep my two artist personnas separate for now.  Anyway it might be too late for me and as Grayson Perry says, maybe the art world as we know it will become absorbed by technology and the internet and the chance to be the kind of artist I want to be will have vanished. He also says it’s almost impossible to get into the “Art World Mafia” if you haven’t been to art school.  But I’ll cling to the word “almost” and keep trying anyway as one half of myself or maybe as my whole self.



  1. Beautiful words and ideas Rachel. My drive has always been to help return art to its true place. All who follow their muse as brilliantly as you will build the momentum to tip it there. I guess that’s the third path maybe? Or maybe the 3 has no split. Keep going!

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