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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Ask Emin: Your questions answered
Tracey Emin
Emin is only the second female solo artist to represent Britain
Artist Tracey Emin is representing Britain at the prestigious Venice Biennale art show, which opens on Sunday.

The controversial artist, perhaps best known for My Bed - a stained, unmade bed - and naked self-portraits, has produced a show of new work for the British Pavilion.

And, for the first time, she's showing a series of drawings she made about being sexually abused when she was nine - as well as 27 watercolours about her abortion in 1990.

As Emin prepared to set off for Venice, she answered some of your questions about her career, ideas on art and what she had planned for the Venice audience.


Did you always know that you were going to be an artist? Was is something you dreamt of becoming as a child? Sandra Fraser, Leeds UK

No, it was in 1997 at the opening of my South London Gallery show, I Need Art Like I Need God, that it really hit home that I was going to be an artist.

What is your favourite topic of conversation and how is this reflected in the work you are bringing to Venice? Paul, London

Love and relationships are my favourite topic of conversation at the moment. I think a lot of this will be seen in Venice.

Traditional artists used paint on canvas so my question is this, why do you feel that writing conquests inside a tent or not making your bed are improvements on this and how does that make art more accessible to the public? Jimmy, GB

I think that's a really silly question. They are both seminal pieces of art and have earned their little place in the map of art history. It's my understanding of painting and drawing and traditional forms of art that gives me the confidence to express myself in other mediums.

Why is the art world so obsessed with the artist and not the art they make? Knowing that a particular work is by a "noted" artist rather than a "lesser" one can hike up its value massively, but the actual work hasn't changed in the slightest. Ollie Glidewell

That's not true. Picasso is Picasso. Damien Hirst is Damien Hirst. Frida Kahlo is Frida Kahlo. They created their own language in the world of art and that is what gives their work more value.

It may be impossible to define "art" but how would you define "good art"? Jenny Southan, Hastings, England

For me, good art is something that has integrity. So it's not necessarily the thing that is the most polished and well executed. That's what I adhere to.

If you had not become an artist, what do you think you would have done as a job instead? Katy Womersley, Southampton, Hampshire

I seriously think I might have died. I think art has given me lots of strength and given me a purpose. On a more humble note, I think I would have gone into retail shop work, as the only education I've had is art and I have always liked clothes and fashion. My hobby would have been writing - which it still is.

What do you think was the defining moment in your life that made you want to pursue a career in art? (PS - Your Oystercard wallet is ace). Sharon Irvine, London, UK

Those feelings come and go. The day I heard I got into the Royal College of Art was a great moment of ambition. But two years later, through a personal turn of events, I felt I never wanted to make art again. It's like a love affair - it blows hot and cold.

As only the second female solo artist at the Venice Biennale, do you think there is a lack of international recognition for British female artists today? Abigail Shapiro, Durham, County Durham

No, on the contrary, it is fantastic being a female artist today. A damn site better than it was 50 years ago.

Do you aim to be controversial with your work? Jo Armstrong, Warrington, Cheshire

No, I've never aimed to be controversial and if anything the controversiality gets in the way.

Do you think it's necessary for someone wishing to exhibit and "make" art to have an academic qualification and to have experienced life at an accredited art college or do you think art is "open to all"? Rosie, Glasgow

I think that you should go to art college if you can because it's a fantastic experience. And if you can't get into art school for whatever reason, you should try and go to evening classes - life drawing, photography - there are all sorts of classes and it's really good to get some experience from others. Art school was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Although you state that neither you nor your work is feminist, can you see why people might label it as such? Satdeep Grewal, London, England

I haven't said that my work isn't feminist. I believe my work to be extremely feminine and I am a strong woman who makes the work. I think people often think that's feminist.

Does it bother you when people don't "get" your art? Do you think you are broadening what is considered art? Speaking for myself, I love your work. You've invested so much of your self, conscious and unconsciously. That's why it is so good. ES Holmans

It bothers me when they are nasty to me. Often people attack me personally because my work is very personal. And sometimes that really hurts, like for example when people take the piss out of my accent. I would like to be tougher about it but I'm not.

Do you believe that modern conceptual art has a worth in society compared to say architecture or the work of the old masters of fine art? Do you think your work is worth saving for posterity? Martyn Brown, Warrington, Cheshire

No one can say they think something is worth saving. It's just if it is saved. I think conceptual art has a really good place in art history. It runs parallel in terms of invention with, say, Renaissance art. It shows us a totally different way of seeing things.

As you were going through education pre university, did your teachers support and predict your success? Alice Jones, Durban, South Africa

I did a CSE in art and I got a Grade 3. A CSE is a Certificate of Secondary Education. At school my drama teacher and my art teacher were extremely encouraging. But at that time in the 70s you could only do O-Levels if you went to grammar school and I lost all interest in going to school when I was 13. But I'm very happy to say the school I went to, King Ethelbert's in Kent, is now a special school for the arts.

Your book Stangeland was published in Turkey this week. What is the importance of this book for you? How does it correlate with your artistic career? Cem Erciyes, Istanbul, Turkey

That book was compiled from writings of mine, some of which are 25 years old. I really love my book. For me, instead of having a really big exhibition, I wrote that book. My Turkish is really terrible so I will never be able to read the Turkish translation myself, but I hope it's good.

What is the secret of success in the art world today? Do you need to do a lot of schmoozing in the right circles, or to be lucky enough to have a patron? Most artists seem to have come from a well-to-do background, which ensures them success but you seem to be different. Dave Willis, Sandy, UK

That's quite an interesting question because 20 years ago I would have agreed with you. But now successful people from the art world come from very mixed and varied backgrounds. It's no longer a debutante's day out. And the old-fashioned answer is: a lot of hard work, a bit of luck and a lot of perseverance. It was 10 years before I made any money. You have to have a phenomenal amount of faith to keep going.

What do you think of Gilbert & George's art work? Collette , Croydon

I recently watched The World According to Gilbert & George. I was totally taken aback at how poetic and romantic it was. Often when we think about Gilbert & George's work we just think about hard lines, strong graphics and bright colours. But behind that there is a nostalgia and touching sentimentality that I like very much.

What plans do you have to down-grade your association with the YBA (Young British Artist) label? I assume you want to be remembered for who you are as an artist instead of who you are associated with. Brian Sherwin, USA

The YBAs was a term that was invented by the media because in the 90s there was a phenomenon - there were a lot of young British artists who seemed to be riding the crest of a wave. A lot of us still are, except we are not young anymore. Personally I never want to disassociate myself from my friends.

My influences have always been expressionism and 19th-Century art. At the time when the Frieze show was on I was in Turkey painting watercolours. It was years later before I became friends with that group of people, the YBAs.

Are you going to produce any more Christmas cards? I really loved your Christmas Robin from a couple of years ago. Good luck in the future. Sarah Heron, Glasgow, UK

No, I'm not going to, but if it still proves popular the Tate will keep printing it. I will be doing a Christmas card next year of my local church, Christchurch Spitalfields, to raise money for further renovations.


SEE ALSO
Tracey Emin gets personal in Venice
07 Jun 07 |  Entertainment
Artist Emin unveils cryptic flag
13 Apr 07 |  Entertainment
Emin art show planned for Venice
25 Aug 06 |  Entertainment
Emin film given special licence
17 Feb 05 |  Entertainment

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