So I’m in the middle of a mini lecture tour, Calumet are very generously paying for my travel, accommodation and monstrous food bills. I’ll have been to 8 colleges by the time I’m done, and most of them aren’t coughing up any money to have me there for the day. A couple are – I don’t want to tar them all with the same brush – and I’m sure those that don’t would like to, but are simply strapped for cash like everyone else is at the moment.
So by the time you add up the days lecturing, the travelling time, and the rather large amount of prep I put in, it’s quite a lot of work to do for very little remuneration. Why bother? Well, first off I enjoy it. It’s a cliche, but there is something refreshing about working with people who are just starting out, particularly when you’ve become such a jaded old hack as I have. There’s a lot of energy around a good college, and some of it rubs off.
Second, there’s my long standing commitment to “telling it like it is” and trying to impress upon students some of the realities of the commercial world, so that they can be best prepared for it once they leave college. Besides making every effort to show things warts and all, one of the slides I’ve often shown illustrates my honest turnover figures for my first 10 years in business. Needless to say the total for the first year makes quite daunting reading to someone still studying – particularly when you factor in me leaving college with no debt (student grant, and summer factory job a big help there).
I recall quite a few visiting lecturers whilst I was at college who were fine artists. They would talk about their work, which was often very interesting, but would usually skate over, or completely ignore any practical/financial matters – even ignoring things like how they’d secured an Arts Council Grant, or how they negotiated with Art Galleries/Dealers. As the years have passed I have learnt that most of these fine artists were actually only taking pictures as a sideline, and that their main source of income was lecturing, or other work that didn’t involve a camera directly. I should stress there is nothing whatsoever wrong with this – nothing at all – as long as you have the balls to admit to the students in front of you that just going out and taking any pictures you fancy is unsustainable as a way of life. Admitting that you need to supplement your fine art income with lecturing/working in a cafe/doing plumbing is just fine, but surely it’s better that students understand this principle whilst they’re still at college, rather than leave with a fabulously mis-placed sense of optimism.
Which brings me on to the last reason I go around shouting my mouth off and lecturing. When I studied at Blackpool we were blessed with a very good program of visiting lecturers, from all sorts of backgrounds, and I even ended up being one of the students who helped organise it by the third year. Across the three years I recall them falling into broadly 3 categories:
A fairly hefty number who, for whatever reason, I thought were irrelevant – to me at least.
A small number (1 or 2 each year) who were simply inspiring on every level. Their work, their attitude, their outlook, all of it combined to make me think “I want to be doing what you’re doing in a few years time”.
A large number (including people from groups 1 and 2) who, for whatever reason, scared the crap out of me. Maybe they told us how much marketing we’d need to do, or how little money we could expect to earn in the first couple of years. Whatever it was, I usually left the lecture with my stomach in my boots, feeling very scared indeed. The thing was, by the next day I was determined, and inspired, to go on and do what it was they had detailed to get past that scary thing.
Now, I’m well aware that for lots of the people I’ll be lecturing I’ll fall into the first category, and I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume I’m in the second for anyone, but I sure as hell can do the third one well!