“Is artist a profession?”

Panel discussion with Yuriy Biley, Maja Demska, Gerard Lebik, Liliana Zeic and Paulina Maloy.

Date: 23.11.2023

Place: BWA Wrocław Główny

Moderator: Paulina Maloy


Yuriy Biley – born 1988 in Uzhhorod (Transcarpathia, Ukraine). Visual artist and curator. Since 2015 he has been living and working in Wroclaw, Poland. The artist’s practice focuses on themes related to the experience of emigration. He is interested in text and the influence of language as a cultural factor. He creates installations, collages and works of a post-artistic nature. Co-founder and member of Open Group (since 2012), the collective is the winner of the PinchukArtPrize special and main prize (2013, 2015, Kyiv). Their works were presented in the Ukrainian National Pavilion at the 56th Venice Art Biennale (2015). And in 2019. Open Group curated the Ukrainian National Pavilion at the 58th Venice Art Biennale. Biley is also curator and co-founder of two galleries, Detenpyla – Lviv (since 2011) and NEW GOLD – Wroclaw (since 2019). In 2022-2023 he was nominated for Ukraine’s most important award for young female artists PinchukArtPrize. In 2022 he was awarded the Wroclaw Gazeta Wyborcza WARTO prize, and the Allegro Prize audience award. The artist’s works have been shown in Stadtmuseum in Berlin, MSN in Warsaw, Emigration Museum in Gdynia, KVOST – Kunstverein Ost in Berlin, PinchukArtCentre in Kiev, Raster Gallery in Warsaw, Museum of Contemporary Art in Olomouc, Miguel Abreu gallery in New York, National Art Museum in Kiev, BWA Zielona Gora, Labyrinth Gallery in Lublin, Contemporary Museum Wroclaw and others.

Maja Demska – Maja Demska is a graphic designer by training, an artist, curator and writer by occupation. She deals with the issue of data and communication, analyzes affective relationships with information systems. She conducts workshops, creates diagrammatic documentation of processes and archives. Founder of artist-run-space “Penny Matters,” whose program revolved around issues of labor, alternative economies and temporality as a survival strategy. Since 2018, she has been professionally involved with the Artist-run project of the ING Polish Art Foundation.

Gerard Lebik – sound artist, improviser, composer. Artistic director and curator of the Sanatorium of Sound festival in Sokolowsk. He works with experimental, improvised and intermedia music. As a performer he uses saxophones, electronics and sound objects. His installations and sound interventions are based on white noise, sine waves, feedback, multi-channel sound and focus on issues such as perception and propagation of sound waves, time disturbances, psychoacoustics, exploring the relationship of sound with architecture. Graduate of the Academy of Music in Wroclaw. Performed at: TPAM (Yokohama, JP), Rewire (Hague, NL), CTM (Berlin, DE), Fiber Festival (Amsterdam, NL), TodaysArt Festival (Hague, NL), MONOM (Berlin, DE), Biennale (Zagreb, HU), Tokyo Jazz (Tokyo, JP), Umbrella (Chicago, US), Experimental Intermedia (New York, US), Bienalle Wro (Wroclaw, PL), Kunsthalle (Basel, CH), SuperDeluxe (Tokyo, JP), Fylkingen (Stockholm, SE), cave12 (Genève, CH), Konfrontationen (Nickelsdorf, AT), hcmf (Huddersfield, UK). Collaborators: Keith Rowe, Phil Minton, Ryoko Akama, Burkhard Beins, Paul Lovens, David Maranha, Peter Rehberg, Jérôme Noetinger, Zbigniew Karkowski, Kasper T. Toeplitz, Noid, Lucio Capece, Kazuhisa Uchihashi, Aleksandra Słyż, Judith Hamann.

Liliana Zeic – Liliana Zeic is a visual artist, queer feminist, PhD in art. She works with video, photography, object and text to create intermedia and performative projects based on artistic research. Finalist of the Forecast Forum at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 2017. Winner of the Audience Award: Views 2019. Her works have been shown in more than 130 group and solo exhibitions in Poland and abroad, and are in public collections (Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Wrocław Contemporary Museum, Arsenal City Gallery). Momentarily working at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, she lives in Warsaw. Represented by the Lokal 30 gallery.

Discussion topic: Is an artist a profession?

Commencement (15 minutes)

During the meeting, topics related to the profession of an artist were discussed, as well as contemporary realities that young artists have to face with. The presenter welcomed the participants, briefly introduced them and introduced the audience to the issues to be discussed during the meeting.

Interview (60 minutes) – transcription of the most interesting parts of the panel

Paulina: Would you call yourself an artist?

Gerard: It’s not easy to answer this question unequivocally, because creating art is a big challenge. I can say that I’m more into curating, I don’t think I’m an artist anymore.

Liliana: Yes, I feel I am an artist. I think this has been my profession since 2013, since then I am still active in the field of art. I can confidently say that I make a living in art, but also in design or culture in general. My mother is still surprised that I can make a living this way, because the employment situation at the academy is rather temporary. I work part-time at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw.

Maja: I think that in the art world very often the roles get mixed up and you can be at the same time an artist, a curator, an educator, a designer and so on. In team situations it’s useful to name your role, it makes collaboration much easier. However, it is impossible to avoid identity questions. The professional title I have – visual artist – does not always translate into what I do.

Yuriy: I have never heard that I am not an artist. I always wanted to be one, and not because I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts or took painting classes as a child. Rather, being an artist comes from a calling, a mission. You wonder how to combine professions, from my perspective individual practice and collective and curatorial practice are three different issues. Paulina asked if I have anything against showing myself in the exhibitions I curate. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it if it takes place once in a while in the gallery I have been running for 11 years. However, I would not like to act this way when I am invited as a curator of an exhibition, but there is no one good way to practice in the art world. I don’t judge, there are no rules.

Paulina: Is professional work a paid job?

Liliana: Yes, definitely yes. I am able to support myself at the moment but it’s more of a precarious situation, I have no continuity of employment. I have done non-artistic work many times, because this industry, as we all know, is not ideal. There are also a lot of very other professions that are very interesting to me. At this point I am deeply fascinated by the regular paycheck and the fact that it is the employer who pays health insurance premiums for me.

Maja: I am currently employed on freelance or contract work contracts. I have also calculated that about 1/3 of my earnings come from my artistic activities. Working in culture, I receive much smaller salaries compared to market prices. For example, as a graphic designer, I had a higher salary than an artist during the realization of an exhibition, although still these were not the amounts that can be earned by being, for example, a commercial graphic designer. Unfortunately, this is often done in such a way that a project that gives satisfaction brings less money, which drives us into self-exploitation. I feel that artistic activity is resource-intensive, and it should be our environmental responsibility to act on our own behalf to counteract this.

Yuriy: Yes, it is possible to make a living. Is it a profession? The answer is very simple – yes. If you can make a living from artistic activity then it is a profession. Of course, it is worth noting that there are different periods, better and worse. But we need to speak out about the fact that the profession of an artist is not, as some still think, a romantic way of life.

Gerard: We live in a country that is not geared for an artist to fully function. The European rate for participating in an exhibition is ten times higher than in Poland. Playing music has never translated that into earning a living. And while I partially manage to make a living from it, many of my friends have long since given up being artists and artists, they remain creators and creatives on a micro scale and have other professions on a daily basis. Acting conceptually and musically I don’t fit into a sales framework, I think it’s a little easier in the visual arts. In my line of work, it’s more about selling, providing a service, and this is often the opposite of realizing one’s artistic visions. It’s hard to keep meeting market demands when artists are often very sensitive people, quickly falling into the trappings of existence.

Paulina: What solutions do you see? What are you fighting for?

Maja: I wonder if we are still fighting. Or are we just complaining? It seems to me that a non-production-oriented artistic residency is a good solution, it gives you a livelihood security and allows you to realize your own ideas in peace. Time for reflection is very necessary and it is much easier to create when there is no strong pressure to present the final result.

Yuriy: One should always fight. As for the Civic Forum for Contemporary Art, it would be good if it would function again at least as it did a few years ago. My biggest challenge is to find time to enjoy creating. Unfortunately, most of my time is taken up by very mundane, logistical or organizational matters. The solution is also to act as a counter to capitalism, to defy the demands of profitability.

Gerard: Naturally, we can work within the framework of capitalism or deny this machine. There is no single solution, to be an artist is to take that risk. It is quite brutal what I will say, but there are some people who succeed, others do not. It is worthwhile to reflect on the individualization of risk, to constantly analyze the gains and losses.

Conclusions and Perspectives:

Artists are increasingly combining their profession with curatorial activities or running their own exhibition space.

It seems that the experimental part of artistic activity is still undervalued. This gap is partially filled by so-called artistic respite residencies that allow people to realize their own artistic activities, which do not necessarily have to be each residency the production of a new artwork.

There are many ways to fulfill yourself professionally as an artist or artist, and there is no single recipe for how to do it well. It’s worth having an openness to both freelance activities and full-time work at, for example, the Academy of Fine Arts. 

It is worth noting that all panelists participating in the discussion make their living as artists and artists.

The note was prepared by: Paulina Brelinska-Garsztka

“Whose voices are heard? An exchange program for foreign artists from Poland and Norway” is a project co-financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway from the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014-2021 under the Culture program.

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