Tijs van Bakel:
Taking My Art Career Seriously
Photo of the artist in his studio. Courtesy of artist.
Jue YangYou said that you’ve always taken your art practice seriously, but it's only recently that you started taking your art career seriously. What is the distinction between art practice and art career for you?
Tijs van BakelIn the past, I would work really hard on a project and go all the way with it, but I wouldn't go out and promote myself. I would just tell friends that I did a project and it was nice and I had fun. Taking the career seriously for me means going somewhere with my art work and not just having fun. It means becoming an “important” artist.
JYYou use “Seriousism” as a shorthand for “being serious about your art career.” What does “Seriousism” entail?
I have been experimenting with taking on a different lifestyle every few years. I went through a Taoism phase and a Capitalism phase. I practice these lifestyles and I am curious to see how they affect my art. After my Capitalism phase, I considered a lifestyle based on sports, or Christianity. Eventually, I settled on “taking stuff seriously,” which I then refined to “taking my art career seriously.”
One aspect of Seriousism is that I constantly need to remind myself about it. Otherwise, it’s easy to slack and revert back to making nice drawings and having fun. I have an art coach, and she's really helping me to make big decisions. Another aspect is that I dedicate a lot of time to it. Before, my typical week would be three days of professional computer programming, one or two days to spend with my girlfriend, and two days in the studio. In the evenings, I would program or do mathematics for fun. But now I spend at least three days a week in the studio, and in the evenings I also think about art and plan ahead.
JYIs programming your job?
TvBI used to work five days a week as a computer programmer. Now I work only three. It gives a decent enough income so that I can pay for the studio and all the experiments that I do. The cash flow is typically going in one direction only. Even now that I take my art career seriously, I find it really hard to foresee how I will change this cash flow. It's comparatively easy to make money with programming, and I really like it.
JYDid you go to art school?
TvBI studied mathematics. I have been programming since I was young. I went to art school when I was 30 or so. I was working at a programming job and I burned out. In art school I learned about contemporary art for the first time. It took me ten years to feel comfortable with contemporary art. And now I can safely say that I'm a contemporary artist or a conceptual artist.
Motivational poster by Sijing Design. Courtesy of artist.
JYYou say you don’t like the process of exhibiting your work. Why?
I had a few exhibitions after art school. My drawings were picked up and I could sell some, but it was a lot of stress to exhibit my work. To me, my work is not really about the image, but about the idea behind it. Unfortunately, when I showed it to people, they would say, "well, it's really technically proficient," or, "wow, I couldn't draw like that." All those remarks felt totally irrelevant. It takes a lot of effort to get a conversation going about the ideas behind the image. I can talk about ideas with artist friends, but it doesn’t happen much during exhibitions.
JYWhat kind of decisions does your art coach help you make?
TvBShe asked me to make a decision about whether to go for the Mondriaan subsidies or to become commercial. It took me one evening to decide that I'm going for the commercial stuff.
JYWhy did you decide that funding is not for you?
TvBMondriaan is nice, but it does not bring me “riches” or an international art career straight away. It's also very risky. I assume that you'd have to be lucky to get a Mondriaan grant. The “Artist Basic” stipend is €40,000 for a period of two to four years. This may seem like a lot of money, but it is not enough to perform the artistic experiments that I have in mind, and to sustain my current form of living. I'd have to sell work or do something alongside. And, what happens after those two to four years? You cannot just count on getting the money again. You’d have to find something else. Maybe you could hop from residency to residency, but that is also very hard to manage.
JYWhat do you do when you are in the studio?
TvBI make a lot of drawings. I try to apply for grants, exhibitions, prizes. It takes me a lot of energy to write a grant proposal or apply for a residency. I get rejected, of course, because there are many people who are more talented than I am and who are also applying. This is really frustrating. But I keep telling myself I should apply for three things each month. I started out thinking that I would apply for ten things a month. But even three is too hard, and ten would probably kill me.
Conceptual drawing 2. Pencil on paper. 20x20 cm. Courtesy of artist.
You are paying for sessions with a therapist for your Seriousism project as well.
TvBYes, I found a therapist who is willing to help me with my project. I pay with my own money – I do not want to take up precious time for people who actually need mental help. Together with the therapist, we investigate why I can't put myself in the foreground like other people do. Also, it doesn't feel right to say that I'm talented. I just do what I do, and it would be sheer luck if somebody else would be happy with my work as well. But I'm trying to change this.
JYI see you have these different positions. On the one hand, art has been a hobby for you, and on the other hand, you're making an attempt to make it commercially successful.
TvBI'm really keen to see where it goes. I have a clear plan to work towards an exhibition, even though I don't like to organize the exhibition. I will show a lot of photorealistic drawings, which are time-consuming. To achieve the amount of drawings that I have in mind, I start to think about new ways to make work. Thoughts like: how can I be quicker? Should I lower my standards? Should I practice more and train more? These are behaviors or things that I would not do if I wasn’t taking my art career seriously or going the commercial route.
It sounds like making art has been something you do for yourself. You enjoy the process. In contrast, taking this career seriously requires you to be public and promote yourself, which is stressful for you. What do you think will happen in two years?