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//Artcoaching – What Is It All About?// – Aga Kozak

Artcoaching – What Is It All About? – Aga Kozak


Why do artists need coaching? We could say that for the same reason as anyone else, but it would not be true. Contemporary artists, especially in Poland, need it much more than ‘anyone else’.

Of course, we could start our discussion with a definition of what coaching actually means. Is it consulting? Is it therapy? Is it yet another form of fraud, designed to wangle money out of the naive? Unlike consulting, coaching does not bring any ready-made advice or answers. Clients are experts here; and aided by the coach that asks the right questions, they should be able to set their own priorities and methods. The coach assists his or her clients in finding answers concerning the future, which makes coaching different from past-oriented therapy – the clients have no ‘pain’ to be alleviated, instead they are learning how to be more efficient, act in harmony with one’s own values and achieve one’s goals. Is this fraud? I am not one to judge. However, the Americans and big corporations have been familiar with this topic for quite a while now. Coaching is a mandatory element at training sessions for the unemployed in Berlin. There are religious coaches, sex coaches... Why can’t we have art coaches?

Especially that, let’s say this once again, in coaching clients are experts, they possess the expert knowledge of themselves. The coach does not need to be a master of the discipline with which they are working. Sometimes it would even be counterproductive, they might be tempted to interpret the client’s words or start giving advice, which is not allowed. Sometimes it is easier for the coach to listen actively and select the most important information when they know the topic well, sometimes it is just the opposite... There are probably as many views on the subjects as there are coaches. What we need to bear in mind, however, is that coaching always applies the same methods, regardless of whether it is geared towards businessmen or artists.

Let us then return to the question of why, or for what reason, artists need coaching. I would like to share my knowledge and observations from years of coaching artists, running workshops and teaching my own programme at the Academy of Photography. For a long time, I worked as a PR specialist in culture, for instance at the Foundation for Visual Arts, which used to run the ZPAFiS-ka Gallery and now organises the Krakow Photomonth. I graduated from a coaching programme at the Polish branch of Erickson College, Vancouver, at the Jagiellonian University. Similar courses are available for instance in Warsaw at Collegium Civitas and you do not need to by a psychologist to enrol. Any kind of graduate diploma and general predisposition are enough. Once I had my diploma, I first went to London and then to Prague, where I met with photography professors from one of the local schools. They had a really talented student that they wanted to present to international curators and local gallerists and thus advance his career. He did make wonderful art but whenever it came to saying something about his works, the only thing he could utter was that they were created at the seaside. In this way, he wasted a great networking opportunity. I remembered then that so often in London or New York I wished that artists or authors of usually mediocre works had finally stopped talking, boasting, rambling on about contexts and the depth of their so-called art. I realised that most artists or photographers I knew in Poland would be equally incapable of answering curators’ questions, for instance as to where they saw themselves in several years... This is when I had the idea to start working with artists, first to help them achieve their personal goals and then to improve their self-presentation skills, so that would be able to talk about their priorities, about themselves and their work. I also noticed that most Western colleges and universities, both art oriented and not, require their graduates to think long-term, to build a career, to accumulate experiences and professional contacts. Eastern European schools, and the vast majority of the so-called art circles, imagine an art graduate as an artist in the traditional, even romantic sense of the world – an inspired creator focused on ‘otherworldly’ ideas. This model does not create any space for thinking about one’s career, goals, motivation, for image building or even pure consistency.

Unfortunately, such an image has a huge impact on how much artists care for themselves and their own business. Yes, business. Artists also need to earn their living and run their own businesses, sometimes even empires. I have recently watched a film about Candida Höfer and a document on Ai Wewei – both of them have an entire army of people who work for them and instead of them, they run their own small businesses... Something that many a Polish artist probably dreams about. Meanwhile, in a country where, let’s say it, the system of financing culture is dreadful, where gallery networks, especially in terms of photography, are inexistent, where there are almost no collectors, and thus there is practically no one who, like in America, could protect the artists’ interests, we really need to think carefully about our own career and our own development. What would make me satisfied with my work? What should I do to achieve this? Who or what could help me to achieve my goal? Where should I do this?

It might sound silly, but I really met many artists who acted just as if they were taken out of the joke about a guy who prayed everyday for God to help him win a lottery until one day God came upon him and said, irritated, ‘So give me a chance to grant your wish! Buy the ticket!’ They dream about international splendour, about awards, distinctions, scholarships and sponsors – and yet they do nothing to get even an inch closer to achieving their goals. Is this because ‘nobody taught this at school’, or because of the persisting image of the artist waiting to be discovered and cherished, with no idea of what hard work really is? I don’t know. When I talked about this with a Centre Pompidou curator or my American colleagues, words such as ‘career’, ‘professional development’, ‘objective’ were repeated over and over again in the context of artists. It was treated as something obvious. In Poland, everything is reduced to the economic dimension of art and thus treated with reserve, as if prices could rob art of its value and artists of their dignity... I may be exaggerating, but only a little. Young generations understand these needs. They do think more about self-promotion than self-development, but nevertheless such an attitude is a step forward. Of course it would be perfect if schools, such as Academies of Fine Arts or private art schools, etc., noticed the merits of coaching. They could teach their students not only how to achieve their goals or work on self-presentation but also discuss the topic of assembling a good portfolio or CV.

Let us return to the topic of coaching itself: what can it help with? Thanks to the coach, we may find our own, individual way of coping with routine work. At what times are we the most productive? When do we find our ‘flow’, when do we have the most power? When should we definitely not be working? We can also go deeper, to the most vital issues, such as why we feel the need to create, which may help us find motivation to pursue our work. We have already mentioned goals. And what about plans? Do they sound too business-like? Well, let me remind you then that the most expensive work of art in the world was sold for USD 119.9 million...

Aga Kozak (b. 1980) – journalist, PR specialist and coach. One of the initiators of the Krakow Photomonth. Specialises in coaching for artists and mothers. Interviews women working in cultural institutions for the ‘Wysokie Obcasy’ weekly, writes about cooking for ‘Zwierciadło’, ‘Przekrój’ and ‘Exklusiv’. Several years ago, she launched her own, pioneer course in self-promotion with elements of coaching at the Academy of Photography and workshops at the Zwierciadło Academy. Author of a blog about food and travelling, ‘Ugryzienie Kozak’ (‘Kozak’s Bite’).