This Thing Called Artist Development - Notes by Matt Trueman

1.     Of course, the title is wrong. It is intended to express a failure of language, a certain mealy-mouthed imprecision.

“This thing called artist development. What even is it?”

“It’s, er, it’s a thing. You know. Artist development. That thing.”


It’s not a thing. It’s many things and, over the course of one day on and around the subject, people talk about a whole heap of them without changing the umbrella term.


Sometimes, they mean art development; processes involved in the creation of a new piece of work.

Sometimes, they mean some kind of training or learning process, a chance to pick up some concrete skill or other.

Sometimes, it’s just a chance to work. Sometimes, the chance not to.

Artist development can mean something formal – an opportunity or a residency or some such – or it can be looser than that – a relationship, an association, regular contact.

We might be talking about emerging artists or about mid-career artists; maybe all artists ever.

Sometimes it’s practice that’s developing, sometimes it’s profile.

Sometimes, it an artist, sometimes it artists; sometimes more, a culture, even culture.


So when does artist development just become art?


2.     There aren’t enough resources to go around.

There aren’t enough opportunities for every artist to develop as they might wish for themselves.


Someone has to choose which artists to develop – and how.

Artists invent. Selectors apply. Innovation goes overlooked.


Who has the power?

The developer or the developed?


Artists discover.

Development has an end in mind.

Artists need discovering.


Development is systematic. Artists are unique.

Which comes first: the opportunity or the artist?


Art is non-linear. Development implies constant progress.

Creativity doesn’t happen by the clock. It doesn’t fit a career path.


You can’t develop an artist.

Only the circumstances in which an artist can develop herself.


Art develops. Artists develop. The idea of an artist develops.

Artists develop relationships with venues. They develop an audience.

Success involves all of these – and the development of art might be the least important element. It might be the thing from which the rest flow.


Development implies a process of progress. It involves change.

“Sometimes survival is enough.”

Development can be harmful. It can go wrong.


Development is subject to wider cultural currents.

Art-forms develop. Regions develop.

Artists get swept along. They find themselves in the right rip-tide.


Institutions develop.

Assumptions develop.

Development schemes develop.

Art can stagnate.


3.     Development connotes enhancement and added value. Land development aims to maximise profit; turning one plot into many or changing its use to increase its utility. Product development seeks to bring an item to market, to increase its desirability and its value. Software development looks to upgrade – often needlessly. We speak of the developed world and we mean something advanced, technological and, yes, economical. We speak of career development and we think of promotions and pay rises.




Think about photographs, developing in the dark; a process of crystallising and sharpening; one that makes latent images actual. It’s a fragile process, easily interrupted; one that needs the right conditions and handling with care. It’s a period of incubation. It’s about realising potential.




Think about chess and the initial development stage: the first few moves that shift a piece from their original square to another one in order to make it more active. The move opens up options, it makes more things possible. If a knight starts with two possible moves, development leaves it with five. It’s about increasing potential.




Think about characters, who develop with detail. As a story continues, so we learn more about them as people – perhaps they learn more about themselves. They don’t know where they’re going, they’ve no end in mind. Instead, characters develop over time, through experiences and encounters. It’s a learning process, but one without a set syllabus. Development, here, is the next step – not onwards and upwards, but one foot in front of the other to see where we get. Development as discovery.

Additional information

Ovalhouse invited Matt Trueman to attend This Thing Called Artist Development on Friday 22 May 2015, in order to write a response to the event. It was a day of provocations, papers and questions examining the state of the artist development ecology today. There were practical agenda setting sessions to help form a collective code of practice for the future, and a chance to turn the tables and ask how artists can develop venues and company in return.​