An Introduction to Artistic Positioning: Interview with Ina Ross
Within the framework of the “How to survive as an emerging artist?” program, ICA Yerevan welcomed a very special guest: Ina Ross, cultural manager from Berlin and author of a book called… “How to Survive as an Artist”! During her two-day interactive workshop, she introduced the program participants to the basics of cultural marketing and gave them guidance and feedback on writing a proper artist statement. In the interview below, Ina shares with us some insights about her experience in Armenia.
You have presented the “How to Survive as an Artist” workshop in many different art institutions in New Dehli, Bagdad and throughout Europe. What new thing did you discover during your workshop at ICA Yerevan
Ina Ross - I understood that in Armenia – as much as in Germany actually – there is still a very romantic approach towards the profession of an artist. Marketing and management are still seen by artists as something that will spoil or limit their art. They fear they might lose their artistic freedom if they dig too deep into this sphere. That’s something we have discussed with the participants because in reality, good art management can really protect your art and your artistic process. What I also discovered is that the kind of art management that my colleagues and I teach in Europe is not very known in Armenia. Here, art management seems more “aggressive” and tends to expect from the artists specific types of paintings or performances that meet the needs of a limited market. Artists should really be able to trust management and understand that it’s an essential part of their profession.
What was special about the participants’ artworks?
I. R. - What I found interesting is that most of the participants expressed themselves through a great variety of styles and techniques. However it was sometimes hard to identify a personal artistic language. As an observer, I can immediately recognise an artist’s style by pointing out certain features and recurring topics. This variety is a bit challenging for the art market, since it values recognizability, trademarks and consistency. You can only write an artist statement if you have an artist positioning. That means that when I notice such a disparity in your work, it also informs me that you haven’t found your artistic language yet. This is nothing a marketing person can help you with. But you can work on it at your academy, with your professor, your mentor, or your peers. This is a very long process than can take several years. And once you have found your way, you will be able to come back to marketing and start your artistic positioning.
Could you give our readers three tips for a good artist positioning?
I. R. - My first tip would be to try to “visit” your art as if you have never seen it before. Artists might say that it’s easy to say, but very hard to do, since they are so plunged into it. You have to take a step back and look at your art from an outside perspective. My second tip would be to understand that there is not just one art market, but many different ones: the local market, the international market, the regional market, the digital market, and even the personal market. This is actually very helpful, because if you encounter crisis in one market or another, you can still rely on other options. As our grandmothers used to say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”! And thirdly, I would advice to communicate as much as you can about your work. You can’t expect that somebody will hopefully bump into your work and start to support you. That might happen if you’re lucky, but often times, it’s a lot of grind, communication and putting yourself out there.
You have visited several museums during your stay in Armenia. What is your take on Armenian museums?
I. R. - What I have discovered in my limited time here is that right now, Armenian museums are not a driving force for the art market. I find art centers like ICA or HayArt to be more relevant in terms of dynamics. They are much more state-of-the-art and ready to initiate something new. I think Armenian museums are more heritage/conservation oriented. Unfortunately I have to say they miss out on a lot. They should start to collaborate more actively with this kind of art centres. The art scene is generally made up of huge cultural institutions which benefit from government backing and funding, and enjoy a greater reputation. And then you have smaller and more flexible structures which can be quicker to pick up on trends. This together is what makes a vital art scene in a country. I think museums in Armenia are in some kind of “sleepy mode”. They have beautiful buildings, nice collections and I really enjoyed visiting them, but they don’t understand their role as active agents for the art, for the city, for the society, and I would also say for democracy.
What’s next for you after this workshop in Armenia?
I. R. - Switzerland is my next destination. I’m going to present the “How to Survive as an Artist” workshop in an art academy in Lausanne. Before that, I will give a couple of talks in Germany about what museums can do for the society. We will be discussing museums as “third places” in the city. The first place is where you sleep and live, the second one is where you work, and the third places are the hang-out places when you can spend time talking politics, culture and so on. A lot of cities nowadays are losing this kind of spaces because of broaden commercialisation. We will discuss how we can set up attractive hangouts spaces within museums, which already provide a structure and a certain framework, so that people can use them for the needs of their community.
Interview by Achod Papasian
Ina Ross is a cultural manager with a focus on international cultural management, museum and theatre. She has worked for cultural and arts institutions in Germany and Europe and has been Executive Manager of the Bauhaus foundation. In 2011 she was appointed Associate Professor of Culture Management at the Academy of Performing Arts “Ernst Busch” in Berlin. In 2014 she was a guest lecturer for Arts Management at the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. 2015-2018 she was lecturer for Arts Management at the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi. Since 2019 she is lecturer for Applied Culture Sciences at Saarland University. Her Phd on the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum Bhopal, India is an empirical analysis of local museums visitors. The Phd was rewarded with “magna cum laude” by the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.