I have been successfully making art & lit in various mediums since the 90s, without the support of the Dublin cultural elite, & for a mostly working-class & left wing audience. Here are a few things I have learned that have kept me from quitting:
1. The most important quality of an independent/wild/working-class/outsider artist is stubborness. Be true to yourself & stick to doing what you are passionate about, no matter what. It is very difficult to keep going on the road of freedom & uncompromising independence in the arts, too difficult for 90 per cent who start out. The further your background is from middle/upper-class Dublin society, the more difficult it will be. Stubborness is your secret wespon. Stubborness will get you past any obstacle – your parents, your teachers, your mental illness, your stutter, your poverty, everything.
2. ‘don’t compare, don’t compete, create’ . Prize culture has come to dominate some sections of the arts, notably page literature, to somewhat damaging effect. While it’s a boost to feature on a prizelist, & can be an important validation for us all, it’s well to remember that no-one else really gives a shit & it means very little in the long term. Many of the best artists in any discipline are too innovative or simply not respectable enough for the judges of the day & many prizes, especially the big ones, are nepotistically manipulated by vested interests. It’s a waste of time & energy (& also money) to be continously entering competitions etc – two or three a year you are really interested in is plenty.
3. Think about audience a lot. Who are you writing for? If your answer to this is ‘everyone’, then think again. In fact, it’s nearly always quite a specific group of people who will be more than passingly interested in your work, & who they are should influence your choice of medium.
4. The question of medium – how can I best connect with my audience? This can be quite a traumatic question for some in our chaotic & highly challenging multimedia era. And many writers just dont want to know about the new ways to connect. Grand. I’m proud that my audience is mostly working class people, many in or from the west of Ireland. Generally speaking, they don’t read poetry journals or the culture section of the Irish Times – & why would they? So it’s years since i submitted to a poetry journal – why should I? Instead, I put time into learning video & audio production & into live performances & online writing & that has worked out really really well for me in terms of me connecting with & increasing & sustaining MY audience.
5. Be careful of Irish Arts NGOs. Beginning in the Haughey Era, & bearing all the signs of that era ever since, the Irish state has (surprise, surprise!) evolved a murky system of unsupervised & unregulated outsourcing of state funds to charity-status Arts NGOs. My experience of all of these over the decades is that they are all primarily out for themselves & advancing their own sectional career interests, often in cahoots with a clique of pet artists/writers they funnel funding & opportunities to. They are also very often led by philistines who know little about art or literature – just look at some of the unfortunate pet projects they put centre stage for proof of this! Be very careful in all your dealings with these, & also in your dealings with their current pets among practising writers/artists. If you are making a project pitch to any of them, for example, it’s urgent that you copywright your ideas to protect from intellectual theft – something which is rife in the sector.
6. Contribute, don’t parasite. We all know artists whose ambition for conventional fame & institutional validation/moolah turns them into snakes & users. Don’t be one of those. Contribute positively by helping your fellow indie/wild/outsider artists in whatever way you reasonably can. People are great to you when you are great to them – in fact there is a whole informal non-cash economy of mutual support in the wild arts & this depends on all of us doing our bit!