‘Ethical’ Book-buying

I’ve been away for quite a while. I won’t bore you with the details but basically there’s been a whole lot going on, both personally and in the world, and not enough time or headspace for everything. But today I felt a little inspired and so decided to ignore the washing up and write instead.

This sunny Sunday morning I had the strongest urge to go be immersed in a lovely (fairly local) independent bookshop I know – The Chiswick Bookshop. I rarely get enough time to go out of my way and visit nowadays but when it opened last year I was so excited. Another indie publisher was taking the leap and opening a physical bookshop and this has been an obsession of mine…well forever.

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If you love books half as much as I do, you can imagine it was heart-breaking to arrive and see some of my most dreaded posters in the window; “We’re closing. Everything half price”. Needless to say, I went inside, pottered around, looked at every book and item on the shelves and felt genuine grief whilst listening to the staff explaining to the mass of customers that they had to close due to the high rent – the terrible epidemic across our high streets. I bought books and shared my apologies with the staff as the only gestures of solidarity I felt I could make. After all, book people are my tribe, and as book people we stick together anyway we can.

As I walked up the high road I got to thinking – about books, bookshops, publishers, about all the empty shops I passed and all the big chain restaurants, stores and bad coffee shops that surrounded me and I settled on something. I realised  my own personal sense of ‘ethical’ shopping, particularly shopping for books. This isn’t going to change anything really, it won’t force landlords to bring down rents so that we can continue to have the pleasure of independent shops, it won’t necessarily stop any businesses from going under, it won’t change the world that is for sure. But when I do shop, these small principles drive how I do it and I hadn’t realised before that they were even in my head.

  1. If I see a book I want (and can afford at the time) in a physical bookshop, I buy it.
    I’m in the bookshop browsing, using their resources and time, benefitting from their curation and expertise. The least I can do is buy the book I see and want in that environment from the people who allowed me to.

    rrp

  2. I try very hard not to take my phone out in a bookshop (but if I do, I will buy a book from the shop).
    Remember Bernerd Black’s rule – “No phones”? I got it then and I get it now. Perhaps it’s because I have worked in retail and have seen ‘show-housing’ from the business side but to me if you get your phone out in a shop it tends to look like your looking the product up online (perhaps an unfair generalisation but I have known people to do it…ALOT…with no reservation or embarrassment) or actually BUYING the book online where you stand! This is without a doubt the worst thing a customer can do in my mind other than spitting in your face (and I’ve had a few customers sneeze and cough in my face over the years) so just do me a favour and stop visiting shops if this is you!

    There is rarely a time you need to look at your phone in a shop, particularly a bookshop, books aren’t the sort of thing you can buy whilst staring at a screen. But fair enough you might get a call or text that you “absolutely must take” – you don’t have to take it in the shop though. So my rule is, don’t look at your phone, focus on what you’re buying and if you do ‘trip up’ then buy a book. You’ll soon spend less time looking at your phone in shops (it can get expensive)!

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  3. For every book bought on Amazon or as an ebook, buy a book in a physical bookshop too.
    I’m not going to lie – I buy on Amazon occasionally and I have a Kindle (funnily enough I had avoided this like the plague until being surrounded by publishers who owned them, who asked if I had one “as it will make some of the work easier”). Actually, it’s rare I buy a physical book from Amazon (I don’t live so very far from several indie bookshops) – if I fancy an instantaneous read (usually late at night) then I buy an ebook. It happens. I have learned to limit my guilt by making sure for every book I buy in this way, I buy a book in a physical bookshop for balance soon after. It makes me feel better, it means I don’t get too lazy, I get to enjoy pretty books in their natural habitat and later implant them into my natural habitat – I feel it’s a win win situation.

    bookshoppaint

  4. I never argue about the price of a book (even an ebook).
    I never argue, I may decide not to buy, but I don’t go searching it out cheaper elsewhere. Books have a value – it should never come down to who is selling it cheaper (at least not for me). If I won’t pay what is being charged for it then do I really want it? Do I really need it? Probably not. If I want a book enough then I have no qualms paying full price for it or taking advantage if it so happens to be discounted when I do see it. Personally there are some books which, once read, I will say are worth far more than their cover price because of the enjoyment I got out of them or vice versa. The one thing I can say for sure is that a book must surely be worth more than the price of that coffee in town!

There you go – four points – as I said they won’t change the world but I feel better for acknowledging that they live in my brain, guiding my book shopping habits and I feel quite ok with telling you about them.

If you happen to be in Chiswick over the next three days, pop into The Chiswick Bookshop – show them some solidarity, either through a sale or your words. As I said earlier, we  book people need to stick together.

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The Benefits of an Arts Education

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Art. It is everywhere. It is treasured, it provokes thought, it has the potential to allow each of us to express our innermost feelings, sometimes it disgusts, but overall it is considered to be one of the key factors within a functional society

This is something that I have been considering for quite some time and it has been exacerbated more in recent months.

Having studied art in the past, and more recently an MA in Publishing, I have on many occasions felt the negativity aimed towards those studying or having studied art from those who have studied practically any other subject.

Years ago I read an article (that for the life of me I cannot now find) that clearly pointed out the benefits of an employee with an arts education for employers in all industries. As I haven’t been able to find the aforementioned article I thought I would take it upon myself to lay out all the reasons and skills that I personally believe those with an art education make great employees and why their choosing to study art can be a huge benefit within any industry. Believe me or not but based on my experience this is what I have found.

Artists have to use core employment skills right from the very start (not just in their final year).

In making art you most often spend a lot of time working independently and there are still deadlines and expectations as in the more academic fields. Artists ‘bumming off’ happens probably about as much as it does in any subject, perhaps less. These are usually people so passionate about their subject and art that they spend all the time they possibly can working on it. They have to learn early on to manage their own time, work to a tight budget (those student loans only go so far and art supplies are incredibly expensive), present their work to a large group of peers, take constructive criticism, project manage and keep records of practically every move they make (at least artistically) to then be dissected by tutors. They work independently and collaboratively and probably started being self employed long before they graduated. They design, communicate and market themselves at every turn. They work for clients, have been clients and have probably more experience in contracts because of this than many within academic subjects. The arts draws in a range of different people with a range of different interests and a range of different skills but an arts education definitely gives you the following:

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1. Effective communication and presentation skills (It’s not all visual you know)

Essays and dissertations are par of the course when you study anything at university level it seems. Just because we paint, draw, photograph or whatever, doesn’t mean we haven’t had to write thousands of words, compile a seemingly endless bibliography and create at least one academic piece of writing to wow our tutors. We can also use our words. Communication and presenting your work, pitching it even, on a regular basis is a large part of an arts education.

2. Facing and accepting constructive criticism.

I’ve mentioned it already but in the arts you are regularly expected to share your work with peers and tutors and face the criticisms that come your way. You are then expected to go away, reflect and react accordingly. Maybe this is similar in more academic subjects, it has been key in my MA, but what I have faced in that time will never compare with showing your art (some may say your soul) to others and hearing that it is “rubbish”, “brilliant”, “needs more work”, etc. This prepared me beyond belief for what I faced in the working world after education.

3. IT skills

Yes we live in the digital age and now it feels like everybody knows how to use computers and a range of programs extremely well. I will probably never have the computer skills that my eleven year old goddaughter will have but throughout my BA we were expected to learn so many computer skills that I find it hard to believe those in more academic subjects had to learn. Adobe Photoshop – check, InDesign – check, Illustrator – check, Dreamweaver – check, Microsoft Word – check, Excel – check, HTML – check … and that was whilst studying photography. My illustrator and video friends were skilled in using so many other programs I cannot tell you.

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4. Project management and teamwork

Have you funded, organised and run an exhibition of over 30 individuals who are all producing artworks of completely different size, media and let’s face it, with artists varying in levels of ego? Well this is all par of the course within the arts in the form of the ever-important final degree show and probably even before. More importantly these shows could be your big break so they have to be done to a professional standard befitting the audience you wish to be visiting. Though artists may be seen as insular creatures this is the time, if not before, when great teamwork comes into play. The whole show is dependent on the team working together effectively and regardless of any qualms.

5. Brand management and business management

You are defined by your brand and in the arts this could mean the difference between no work and no money to work and enough money to live on so nowadays you are trained in self-branding when studying the arts … whether you want to or not. Artists are all over social media, have often built their own website from scratch and are networking with the best of them. The same goes for business management. As an artist it is entirely possible you will be self employed down the line so yes, learning about taxes, contracts, copyright law and still managing to market yourself AND produce the works they’re being paid for. Can you say multi-tasking?!

6. Passion

Though not a skill, I think it’s worth pointing out that artists tend to be extremely passionate. If they are passionate about your company, your ethos or just the work that they are doing for you I think you have one very important factor covered. With passion comes loyalty, hard work and quite often a quality of work most befitting to the job in hand.

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7. Research

Art students don’t just have to produce a piece of work and that’s it. They have to back up their final works with research too. Research into techniques, artists with similar style or the general feel they wish to achieve through their own work, evidence of trial and error, the list can go on. In my case I once researched everything I could about electromagnetic cameras, including schematics, every failure I made in building one, all the various options for parts required, the history of such a concept, how they had been used in the past and the various ways in which they might be used by myself for my art. Research is a large part of any art, whether you consider it traditional research or not.

8. Professional development 

It seems to me that most artists are not comfortable with staying still; they are always experimenting, learning new skills and attempting to push further. This is a trait I would consider integral in any employee, no matter the industry, no matter the skill to be honest. Maybe i’m wrong overall but in the case of myself and those who I studied with I know this to be true. It was never enough to learn a skill and stick to that only, the real fun was in learning new skills, new systems, new ways to do things, whether it be coding, new software, new technologies, old technologies or even crafting artisan perfumes (I sometimes think I saw it all). This is something that has benefited me greatly in my working life and my personal life. I am endlessly curious about everything and learning whatever I can and I watch my university friends, now scattered across a range of industries and each of them has learned skills I doubt even they imagined they would go on to learn.