To the Surfers Heading to the Art Island

Written by Suk Hyun Cho

Translated by Yujin Song

Two years ago, I published a book. It was my first. I got into the art business as a reporter and writer over the last 10 years. The book was the story of my two months’ experience in thirteen art residencies in Europe: Ireland, Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. I met a lot of artists and experienced the extraordinary art world – main and minor - through past investigative reporting. The book was already designed to be published as a single project from the beginning. It covered research and supporting processes, and door-to-door interviews with directors and resident artists of the residency. Information and the characteristics of the residency are marked at the end of each chapter for future resident artists. It was not written after simply skimming the homepage or by simple interview. What I wrote about were the only real life experiences. For this project, I even flew to Europe and stayed in the residency. In retrospect, it was a kind of laboratory performance than a writing project.

It was published as <Once in my life, living as an artist (내 인생에 한 번, 예술가로 살아보기)> in Korea. As a writer, I refused that title, but it was rejected. The nuance of the title was totally out of my convictions to art and the definition of the word “artist” that I had as an art journalist. First of all, is it possible to live as an artist? Can art be abandoned after few tries? What does it mean, ‘living as an artist once’? Art is not a disposable product! (Fortunately, the book didn’t sell much.) Including the ambitious artist who wishes to succeed and who is serious about the matter, any subtle artist who agrees would be upset if they heard this. While I was writing, I was expecting to meet people who take art not as a simple hobby but as their life. The book was based on experiences and enlightenments that came from my writing performance. It was written as a small yet handy guide book for the young artists who are planning to experience residency program.

Why do artists choose to move into a residency from home? They were the surfers heading down to the sea. Relying on the perilous board, they dip their one foot in the ocean imagination, and the other in reality. Most of the people who enjoy tanning at the sandy beaches will never understand the thrill of it. In the art market, successful 1% superstar artists encroach upon 99% of the market. Most artists have a second job to help make a living. Until they create an artwork, they have to endure criticism from people that they are dreamers with no sense of reality. However, after they create a work, what waits for them is a time for humiliation. Appreciated by only a few people, it takes time for the public to understand it. Without luck, this troll is usually played with a gloomy melody. As they go through this tough life, many artists give up their dreams and turn back to reality. So residency becomes a solution for artists to get through this tough time. Residency provides a creative studio to the artists and not only helps them to get through this troublesome matter but also exposes them to new environment and impetus. Both are very critical for the artist to create an artwork.

Naturally, most residency applicants are people who need financial support to maintain their job but are confident enough in their work to bet their future on it. So, the next question will be, “How do I find a residency that suits me?” To find the answer, you should check ‘’ on your cell phone, or any computer device. Over 500 residencies from 70 countries are well illustrated on this site. It has information about residencies, including fellowship programs. This website is not just a simple information platform but an on-off art network of worldwide residency directors. I found this website during my research, and I sent more than 100 emails to residencies around Europe. That night, I received about 20 replies. It was the beginning point of my journey on residencies in Europe (This story is also stated in the book). On the website, you can search by various categories - country, city, rural area, art field, a moving date, operating agency (artist, art museum or gallery, university and government affiliation), studio size, the possibility of having accompaniment, deadline, and son on. Next, it is time for the artist to consider the purpose of the residency, and the final goal of their experience. Depending on the scale of their work, two months can be enough to complete it, and two years could be too short. For working conditions, do you prefer the city or a rural area? The city would be a good choice if you prefer to stay near galleries and art museums. But if you prefer to work in a silent and peaceful atmosphere, a rural area would be a better choice. In that case, you can choose to stay in the residency that is one hour away from the city by public transportation. It is not easy to find a huge studio in the city residency because of the high rent. It also means that an artist who needs to work on a large scale has less of a chance to work in the city residency. Preference for a specific city should be reconsidered. Can you speak their languages fluently? Do you have acquaintances? Can you seek help from them when you are really in need? Do trends and tradition of art that you are looking for exist in that area? If you decided to choose the city according to your romantic fantasy, you will likely be disappointed that they were just tactful slogans and the marketing strategies of the city. You should carefully review all of the options with research. It is advisable that you do create a chart and do a thorough comparison to check necessary conditions.

It is natural for an artist to prefer a residency that provides financial aid. There are also a few residencies that provide expenses such as traveling fee, resident fee, etc. Cove Park and Glenfiddich in Scotland, as well as Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten in the Netherland, are notable examples. However, those are very competitive as they have nurtured many talented artists. Applying for a residency with State support is another way. ACME in London, and CAMAC in France help artist to get State support. Arts Council Korea and Regional Community Center recommend artists to join residency programs by making partnerships with residencies abroad. It is better to check the residency by contacting with fellow artists who have experiences in that residency. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all state-supported residencies are ideal. Unless it is an exceptional case, most residencies receive a certain amount of fee. You have to understand that they are run by the people who need income for living. You have to find reasonable costs that fit your budget. Don’t complain about what you have to pay.  When you think of the high inflation in Europe, it is just a nominal cost. It is some of the privileges that you can receive by living as an artist. Of course, not all residencies are operated with a good intent. Some residencies are similar to a hostel except they have ‘art’ in the title.

After analyzing your preferences, you have to start preparing for the real application process. Before you prepare documents and portfolio, it is better to send an email to director. Ask additional questions that you cannot find on the website. (For example: Is there any extra funding opportunity? Can I rent a car?) You can appeal to them as a future resident artist. But, try to stay modest in the way you show your creativeness or too personal. You can simply express your interest in the residency politely and sincerely, introduce your artistic interests, then ask extra questions if needed. If the residency is functioning normally, it has its mission, and will select applicants by it. Artists’ portfolios are in no way objects of compromises, yet you can compromise as part of the application. Most applications consist of a portfolio, resume and artist introduction. Artists can illustrate and appeal their artwork with the artist note. Typical problems of an artist note are that they try to imitate the puzzling critics’ writing style. It is not a problem to use rough but frank words to introduce your artwork to the audiences who would see your artwork for the first time. However, a sentence overflowing with inaccurate vocabularies can be a problem. It only takes one or two words to accurately express an object or circumstance. If you are using more than three words, you are not correctly understanding the object.

For example, do the words, fun, playful, humorous, and witty all mean the same thing? Can they be used in the same situation or for the same object? Are the tone and rhythm of the adjectives equal to each other? This issue is not confined to residency applications. All artists need to find the right word that can fully expresses their artwork. This whole process can be called art. Isn’t it true? Pursuing to express the precise and authentic personalities of objects by focusing on the subtle differences that others might lump with similarity: that is what artists are for. This might not be a universal rule of art, but it is a good direction of the art to pursue. I truly believe so.

One of the most frequent questions from fellow artists about residency is the language issue. As for me, it was not problem, and the second half of my book contained interviews with the residency directors and artists. Fluency of the language is helpful, but it is more important for the artist to communicate in a visual language. Usually, the director of artist-run-residency understands the artist’s situation better than the residency organizations. One’s attitude and manners are more important than the language. Asian artists are highly regarded for being diligent and calm, yet they would also receive criticism for their shy, timid manner and indifference to group activities. I think that is because young Asian artists may not be used to living in the multicultural environment. But those who are talented yet arrogant are not easily welcomed. Adding to that, many directors confess that they get tired of wandering artists. In the general sense, North American and European artists are more familiar with a  culture of collaboration and discussion, and Asian artists tend to have weaker sense of solidarity or fellowship in the artist community, and are narrower minded. At this point, I read the conclusion of my book, which I would read whenever I feel down. It says, “From this journey, I learned that art exists in the form of an invisible island, maintained by a global artist network, and it is even slowly changing.”

 So now, good luck, surfers!


Sook Hyun Cho

She recieved M.A. in Visual Communication at Yonsei University, and she has been writing for various publications in the movie and art fields. She published two books, <Living a life of an Artist for Once> and <Seoul Indi Art Spaces>. This year, she is celebrating 10 years of surfing in the ocean of art, dancing with and fighting the waves at the same time.

Illustrator。 Young Ah Hwang

She is an artist living in Los Angeles.


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