On art and culture and artistic jobs

July 16, 2018 | Luxembourg’s business sectors | Alix Bellac

Is it inevitable for artists and cultural workers to lead an insecure, bohemian life?

With his friendly smile and sun-coloured sweater, it seems that Jo Kox, president of the national culture fund (Focuna), is attempting to add a little light to combat the otherwise grey atmosphere – at least that’s our impression.

Artistic and cultural spheres are changing

We had already delved into the topic. Cultural professions demonstrate great disparity, because art and artistic crafts are intertwined. Jo Kox says the following in this context, “Although those who work in this area are recognised as members of a profession, the actual core of the cultural sector has not merged. It lacks structure, and, unlike our neighbouring countries of France and Belgium, it doesn’t have an artists’ trade union, which undoubtedly makes life more complicated.” However, the overall context is transforming. Recently, Trixie Weis spearheaded the creation of a union of Luxembourgish sculptors. Additionally, ASPRO, a union of stage artists and theatre technicians, is active in the grand duchy.

Regarding the statistics recently published by the IDEA union (asbl), which have given us access to data from the cultural area with the aim of clearly outlining its high complexity, Jo Kox comments regretfully, “The artistic professions are not recognised as such by the ‘vox populi’. Nonetheless, the field of opportunities is great! Today, we can strongly differentiate between the scientific studies, considerations can continue to increase in complexity, and, if you’re so inclined, you can even write your PhD on theatre.”

Today, we can strongly differentiate between the scientific studies, considerations can continue to increase in complexity, and, if you’re so inclined, you can even write your PhD on theatre.

“I wouldn’t necessarily push teenagers who are interested in an artistic career in that direction. But if they have firmly made that decision, then I support them with all my heart and with full conviction. As long as the artistic professions fail to receive the acknowledgement their significance deserves, it will remain difficult to establish yourself as a personality in this area. However, statistics show that numerous people still work in this field. They need to invest a lot of effort to receive any recognition from society. No matter whether they are young or old, everyone must be socially protected during their entire lives. If you asked Robert Brandy or Patricia Lippert to depict their career graphically in a curve progression – it would result in the shape of a saw blade”, Mr Kox emphasises, strongly supporting his previous explanations.

And he addresses another characteristic, this time starting with a Kafkaesque sentence, “You work in a bank, because a bank hires someone based on their qualification. You are an artist, because you decide to be one. And if this person claiming to be an artist does not possess any market value? And maybe they do, but this market value isn’t necessarily enough to earn a living! This represents an endless issue that will cool off those who don’t feel the ‘holy fire’ within them to some extent.”

Paths into the profession

What do you do when you’ve finished your degree and are just starting your career – how do you achieve your breakthrough on the market? According to Jo Kox, you should show modesty and steel yourself with patience, participate in artist meetings, intensively make contributions, and organise private events. But that alone won’t suffice.

“Even if you receive the Pierre Werner award in Luxembourg, that itself isn’t a trampoline – you can easily fall back into anonymity”

Jo Kox, president of the national culture fund (Focuna)

Jo Kox thinks that artists must achieve four goals to earn a living with their own artistic productions. They must be recognised by the official institutions. This also applies to art galleries such as the institution “Cercle artistique de Luxembourg” (CAL). Additionally, they must have a stable private network, be sufficiently integrated in networks, and also successfully use word-of-mouth propaganda to achieve a certain prominence as an artist. The main problem lies in spreading the word about your work and remaining “in the spotlight”. Another issue must be pointed out: Since Luxembourg does not have an art academy, we often see the following: Artists do not create their work in their country of origin, but instead in the country in which they studied. Jo Kox says, “You need to face the challenge of exhibiting your work at your place of residence as well as make an effort to increase your name recognition in your country of origin.”

This is easier said than done for artists working in Luxembourg. They must be constantly alert, always on the go, and show an interest in everything in the country (keyword: culture.lu). They cannot hesitate to send out their portfolio and participate in competitions. In addition, they need a healthy dose of modesty. According to Jo Kox, “A great career doesn’t start with your first published article in a newspaper or your first painting sold. Nobody can avoid occasionally producing mediocre work. Even Picasso created countless ‘duds’.” Jo Kox continues, “You need to acknowledge the fact that you will not constantly produce masterpieces. Take the example of an actor working at a theatre: Simply by standing on the stage, they will improve (assuming they have some talent). In contrast, painters or dancers often experience more of a rollercoaster.”

Constantly gathering your strength

Once you have decided to work in the art industry, further education presents an important economic aspect. With an undertone of warning, Jo Kox explains, “It’s not enough to validate your studies.” To provide assistance – concerning studies and further education – CEDIS flyers offer detailed information on the areas of art, theatre, culture, cinema, television, and architecture. Before leaving home to pursue your studies, you should remember that ten educational facilities exist in Luxembourg that offer an Abitur with an artistic focus, which is recognised as a traditional Abitur. It should also be pointed out that there is a whole series of renowned schools all around our little state. Jo Kox, who – together with his loyal, dynamic team – tirelessly deals with the area’s complexity, underlines with a mischievous look, “You may have attended a renowned school, completed a good education, but still possess limited talent. And vice versa, an autodidact can occasionally glow with a ‘holy fire’.”

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