Tag Archives: paula varjack


My dad told me this story once, about him and his brother going to art galleries. They’d start off at the same painting, and after a few moments my dad would move on. He would go around the whole gallery and come back to the beginning to find his artist brother still examining that same first painting.

I really empathise with my dad in that story. Like… I’ve never really got Art. I never know what to do in art galleries and could never understand how people could find so much meaning in a painting. So I recently, I started doing what I always do when I don’t understand things; I put it into words. At art galleries now, I wander around until I find a piece of art that I like, then sit down in front of it with a notebook and pen and write down everything I can see, everything it makes me feel, every question I want to ask about it… As well as helping me to appreciate visual art more, it’s a really useful writing prompt. (Here is a poem I wrote inspired by the work of Barbara Hepworth.)

Taking inspiration from other forms of art and thinking about the idea of ekphrasis has made me think a bit more about the blurred boundaries between different art forms and how subjective the definitions are. Like, when me and my girlfriend were sharing our love of Kate Tempest, it struck me that I thought of her as a poet whereas Kara thought of her as a rapper. And some of the poetry shows I’ve enjoyed the most have been ones where there is fluidity with the art genres. Jess Green’s Burning Books is performed with a live musical accompaniment; Jemima Foxtrot’s Melody involves seamless transition between spoken word and a cappella singing; and Paula Varjak’s Show Me The Money uses poetry and music as well as film and documentary-making techniques.

This blog is kinda about my development as an artist, so I suppose what I feel this means for me is that I want to try and experiment with different art forms, and take a more flexible attitude to art and The Arts. I’ve come up with three writing prompts inspired by these ideas that I am going to try, please feel free to use them too.

  • Take a line from your favourite song (not the chorus or the hook, something from the middle probs) and incorporate it into a poem. Performance: you can sing or say the line.
  • Visualise a scene, a place/event you remember really vividly. Describe it in a poem, as if you were constructing a storyboard.
  • Take a poem you’ve written/are working on and read it over a beat or a piece of classical music. Notice how it changes the way you perform.

‘Proper Poet’

This year, I have decided to be a ‘Proper Poet’. Whatever that means. Like, in my head a ‘Proper Poet’ is an artist, and an artist is someone who makes a living from their art. But since I made that decision I’ve been realising more and more that art and survival are not necessarily compatible.

I have been listening to poets and performers, overhearing their frustrations about touring 9 months of the year just to keep themselves afloat, their incredulity at being constantly expected to work simply for ‘exposure’; and trying to work out how on earth I could make a life out of art for myself.

Last night at Find The Right Words in Leicester I got to hear an extract from Paula Varjack’s new show, Show Me The Money, which asks the question “can you become and artist and still survive?”. She has interviewed artists at various stages in their careers and put together a ‘performance documentary’ exploring the relationship between art and money. It encapsulated a lot of the feelings I have about money (“sexy but toxic”) and brought home the realities of art as a career path. That, even when you are actually paid, the rate will not reflect the hours the writing, producing and editing takes. That to be a full-time artist is impossible for most people. But also that to have another job alongside your art doesn’t make you any less of an artist, no matter what people might think. That art is valuable and rewarding in its own right, and that it feels kinda soulless to sell it. But that the fact remains that people want art, but still aren’t prepared to pay.

All this money talk could make a person feel hopeless. But actually this morning I feel more energised to pursue the arts than ever before. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s the honesty. So many people continue as artists without the financial incentive and there is something… pure about that, something that suggests art is immeasurably more worthwhile than some other career paths. It means that I will need to think seriously about how to balance doing what I love with making enough to survive (and that is scary), but I have come away with a sense of comfort in knowing there is joy and solidarity in making art and that is enough to keep me going.
I made another post a few months ago summarising my feelings about working for free: you can read it here.