Neil Roberts

Roberts, Neil,

"Opening address"

Narrabundah College Art Exhibition, Opening address, 30 November 2001.

Neil Roberts

I came across this exhibition last year by chance as I was doing a round of the galleries one Saturday. My wife and I actually bought a couple of small works from that show, works that we still get pleasure from. I’ve been thinking a bit about why we bought those works, given that both of us are artists and a lot of our friends are artists and we’re not short of things to put on our walls. I think the answer lies in what I want to say to you tonight as you present your work to the public for the first time.

The works we bought, and the works I see around me tonight, are an expression of potential, an open-ended question that has just been asked. None of you know what the answer is to that question – some of you may not make art again, some of you may be involved in other ways or make art for a number of years and then do something else. Some of you may be dedicated artists your whole lives. For you, there is good news and bad news. I’ll tell you the news in a minute.

But for all of you, however dedicated you remain to art, this exhibition is only the visible surface of a much more important part of your journey so far. I’m talking about the journals you keep as part of your course, the chart of your ideas and processed from which these works on the walls grow. I hope you have loved and hated those workbooks, because they might have taught you that art is mostly about process. It’s about a way of engaging with your subject that is uncertain, difficult, challenging, and, remarkably, unlike other things in the world. Even if you don’t keep making art, you’ll have learnt something about yourselves maybe, or about your ideas or your ways of thinking that you can take with you whatever you choose to do.

Now, the bad news for those of you who keep making art: the statistics that I can recall would indicate that if all 40 of you continued to call yourselves artists and to have some kind of art practice, only about one and a half of you will ever earn more than the average wage just from your art practice. The other 38 and a half will wait tables, write computer programs, teach, find a wealthy partner, or do whatever you can to allow you to keep making art. This is not a good career choice. I’m sorry if your parents are here and I’ve just blown your argument for going to art school.

The good news is that choosing art is a choice that brings with it great privilege. By trading-in wealth, you get the right to look at the world in a different way. You get to make connections between things that are not literal; you don’t have to make sense of things that are senseless; you can be uncertain, critical, radical, unusual, inventive, open-minded, serious, light-hearted, imaginative and, above all, creative.

Many people are creative and never get to express their creativity or to have their creativity validated by their community. By choosing to be an artist, you buy the right to be acknowledged as a creative person. Like all true rights, it comes with a lot of responsibility, but I believe it’s a right worth paying for. Tonight, we celebrate your first payment on the right to call yourselves artists. You are artists on lay-by.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope art has made you more thoughtful already. If you keep making art, embrace uncertainty and remain true to yourselves. I’m afraid that this is starting to sound too much like that sunscreen song, so I’ll just say: everyone here is proud of what you’ve done, congratulations and this first public exhibition of your art is now open. Good luck.