South Africa’s art scene appears to be doing well as of late. The names popping up in gallery spaces and media headlines seem to be getting younger and the work coming out is bolder and more widespread.
As it goes though, there’s more to being a successful artist than landing a few residencies, interviews, and exhibitions. Artists need to be at grips with the business side of their work too, consolidating the art and the admin that comes with it.
Visual artist Laura Windvogel, better known as Lady Skollie, is an artist who’s done well to balance the two and clearly, it’s paid off. It’s no secret that we’re Skollie fans either. We first came across the artist when her sex zine Kaapstad Kinsey caught our collective eye and from there we’ve watched her career grow and grow. There were the residencies, the various interviews, her Kiss & Tell podcast, and her plethora of exhibitions. Throughout it all, Laura kept a balanced mind, equal parts creative and hard working, never falling into the ‘struggling artist’ narrative. We caught up with Laura for a quick chat on how to better manage yourself as an artist in a business-centered world.
So you studied a Business Acumen for Artists (BAA) at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. What inspired you to take up the course and how has it helped your career so far?
I happened to hear about the course through some acquaintances and other artists who’d completed the course before. I had always respected the business model implemented by Lorraine Loots and after finding out she had formulated it while attending the BAA course, I signed up.
You’ve said that the concept of the struggling artist is one that further allows artists to ignore the business side of their careers, and to become generally disorganised. Can you expand on this a bit?
The misunderstood, tortured artist falls back on this stereotype to explain why the emails are unanswered and the art is selling slow. I just want art to be a financially viable option, so we can contend within our industry. Not perceived as less, or artists for the sake of being artists. As Emtee says, “the struggle is no fun”. The struggle is definitely needed, and inevitable, but proper organisational skills and knowing your audience can excel you to other levels as an artist.
What’s the biggest mistake that artists make with their money?
My biggest mistake is splurging. We are what I like to call, erratically rich, and that can make you spin when you don’t have a proper budget or plan.
Is a creative mind separate to a business mind? How do you consolidate the two?
Of course it’s different. It took me three years to get to a point where I feel I can cope. But the struggle to maintain the balance between these two contributing factors can be tiring. I consolidate the two by asking my economics educated partner, Batandwa Alperstein, lots of questions.
Many artists who make it big through media coverage or brand partnerships are often accused of being sell-outs, but making money is of course, a necessity. Why do you think this rhetoric keeps cropping up and what can be done to dismantle it?
Exclusivity in fine arts is nothing new. The purists will want to keep you poor because that’s when your name matters most? The martyr artist is convenient and romanticised by the audience.
How do you avoid compromising as an artist when working with brands? How much room is there for give and take?
I avoid compromising by calling the shots. The brand should need you more than you need them. They shouldn’t try to water your contribution down, because then you’re just a puppet dancing for free shoes, or product.
What are a few of the things you wish you knew when you first started out as an artist looking to make a living off of your work?
To ask for help shouldn’t be a huge problem, the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
Creative space can be a waste of money if you’re not producing enough work to pay for the rent.
Be as consistent as possible.
Laura will be our MC for the X conference for creative womxn this Saturday. Find out more about the event and speakers here.
Photos of Laura by Simiato.