Thursday 29 October 2009

Ever thought about a portfolio career?

I was reading today about a book that's out called And What Do You Do? written by Katie Ledger. Apparently more and more people are developing 'portfolio careers' which involve doing two or more different jobs for different employers. It's a way in which people can develop more flexible or rewarding careers for themselves. They can earn a living doing one job, but at the same time follow a passion in another. I realised this is what I'm doing with my blog!

Hearing about this book made me think I'm already developing a portfolio career for myself. By day I work in the world of medical regulation, but I've always had a passion for writing which explains why I'm studying for my NCTJ in journalism, and why I'm now writing this blog.

In the book, Ledger explains that a portfolio career is not about holding down two or three different jobs. It's more about how each person can find a way of achieving both personal or financial gain in other areas.

Although writing this blog doesn't pay anything, and I'm only part qualified as a journalist. I know I'm doing something that I can say I have a real passion for, and since starting this blog I've been able to develop and learn totally new skills that I wouldn't have had the chance to in my day to day job.

For example, in the last few months. Not only have I been developing my writing skills on a regular basis but I've ended up learning all about online digital marketing techniques and strategies as a way of getting more people to read this blog.

According to Ledger there are more than 1 million people with two or more jobs, with many of these people running new home businesses.

It's funny but in terms of freelance writing I've even begun to see myself as being a little mini enterprise. My blog is all about marketing and promoting myself as a writer and a brand!

I like this whole idea of developing a portfolio career. I've found that trying to develop a freelance writing career has been incredibly liberating!

It's all about you trying to develop a new career that's essentially for the benefit of nobody but yourself!

At times during my working life, I've found there are too many frustrations, too many restrictions in terms of what you want to do. Boring office politics to negotiate or company hierarchies and structures to fit into.

The appeal of the 'portfolio' approach is that it's all about you! I think being in charge of your own career and your own destiny is really important.

At some point I might have to pick this book up, as it definitely sounds interesting.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Is this X Factor Hell?

Can someone please tell me what X Factor's John and Edward are all about?

How have they made it this far? How did they even get through Boot Camp? And what possessed them to do a cover of Britney's Oops I did it Again! What a ridiculous song to choose!

Everything about them baffles me!

I don't always watch that much of X Factor as it clashes with Strictly Come Dancing , but now I have to make an effort to make sure that I watch it, just to see their performance each week.

I know they provide entertainment, but the longer they stay in the competition and those contestants with some talent are forced to leave (What was Danyl doing in the bottom two last week?) surely the show will lose even more credibility?

I reckon they've got two more weeks at best, and then they need to go!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Question Time - Some After Thoughts

Having had a few days to reflect on BNP leader Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time. I've come to the conclusion that although the BBC were right in inviting him on, overall it was also a missed opportunity. Instead of a proper political debate, too much of the show descended into a Jeremy Kyle style slanging match, which when you look back inadvertently made Griffin look like a bullied victim. Last Thursday's show could and maybe should have been so much better!

I mentioned in my previous post that it would have been better and more interesting if the show had stuck to its normal format, whereby a number of different topics are discussed. There was too much focus on Nick Griffin and the BNP.

I've got to the stage now where I don't necessary want to hear about how terrible and disgusting the BNP's views are. I know this already! To be told the BNP is a racist extremist party is like someone telling me the world is round, or that two and two makes four. The debate needs to be moved on.

I want to hear about the BNP's policies on the economy, on education, public services, crime, and of course immigration. In particular I want a debate, whereby the mainstream parties can argue and highlight why the BNP's policies are totally inadequate and unworkable for this country.

Another point about the mainstream parties is that by constantly telling us what we already know about BNP, it lets people forget about their own failures in tackling the issues that have made some people vote for the BNP.

On last Thursday's show it was quite telling that none of the representatives from the three main political parties seemed to have a coherent policy on immigration.

It'll be interesting to see whether Nick Griffin will be invited to appear on Question Time again, but if he does, here's the type of programme I'd like to see.

1. Have the show recorded outside of London - say somewhere like Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton, or maybe one of the big provincial cities like Birmingham or Manchester. Not everything about London life is truly representative of the rest of the country, this was the case with last week's audience. It was a little bit too London at times!

2. Have a normal Question Time format - Lets have the usual discussion on various topics and not just focusing on Griffin and the BNP.

3. Have more BNP supporters in the audience - What! I hear some people say. As controversial as this may sound it would be good for a proper balanced debate. BNP members can put questions to mainstream politicians and perhaps we can further understand the issues which are causing people to vote BNP.

4. More debate and less ganging up on Griffin - As I said previously, at times Griffin was made to look like a playground victim of bullying. Let him express his views and let people see for themselves how ridiculous and stupid they are. Lets not make him look like a martyr for the Far Right!

If anyone has any other views on this, then do leave a comment.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Nick Griffin on Question Time

Well I've just finished watching tonight's much anticipated edition of Question Time with the BNP's leader Nick Griffin. My first thoughts. Overall I'm glad that the show went ahead with Griffin on it. I was all in favour of his appearance to begin with, and after watching tonight's show I'm even more convinced that the BBC made the right decision despite the protests and criticisms that have been raised.

People argue about the publicity that the BNP have gained from tonight's show. That this publicity will only help to strengthen their support throughout the country. I find this argument annoying and to a certain extent patronising towards the public.

It's almost like people are scared to have the BNP's views aired in the open. For me that's where they need to be. I thought it was great to bring the BNP into the spotlight and let people question Griffin directly about his views and his party's policies.

Lets have a proper debate about these things. I don't understand this view that says that if we ignore the BNP and don't give them a platform that somehow they will just disappear, they wont!

If after tonight's show more people started to support the BNP, then that's something I'm prepared to deal with. If I blame anyone for this then I blame the mainstream political parties in this country, particularly the Labour government who have been in power for the last 12 years.

If the BNP are attracting more voters it's directly linked to the fact that Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are not tackling or addressing and in some cases ignoring many issues that are affecting certain sections of society.

In tonight's show, someone in the audience asked Jack Straw whether Labour's immigration policy had contributed to the rise in support of the BNP. It was questions like this that I felt made the programme worthwhile.

There are major issues regarding immigration in this country which need to be addressed and spoken about, and tonight's show tried to do that. We need to have a lot more debates like this. To not do so allows the BNP to spread more inaccurate information.

What I find personally worrying is not only this reluctance and failure by our mainstream politicians to adequately tackle the issues that result in people voting BNP in the first place.

There is also the fact that Griffin presents this veneer of respectability, some of the comments he made tonight about immigration and Islam are views which are held by a lot more people in this country then many of us would like to admit.

You only have to look at the front pages of newspapers like the Express and the Daily Mail on a weekly basis. They constantly have headlines about the threat of immigration or Islam in this country.

As far as I can see many of their headlines and reports actually help to fuel the type of prejudice and discontent, which logically leads some people to vote BNP.

I think the point I'm trying to get at is that politicians, the press, sections of the media, and the public need to be more open and honest about their own failures, their own lack of debate, and actions in creating a climate where the views of the BNPs are allowed to grow. Tonight's show was a good way of addressing some of these problems.

If I could have changed one thing about tonight, I would have liked to have seen a more 'normal' show, in terms of having the usual range of topics and issues to discuss.

At times there was too much focus on Griffin and I would have liked to have heard his views on other subjects like MP Expenses or Afghanistan.

I thought I'd only write a quick post tonight, but It looks like I had far more to say on the matter. I'll probably return back to this subject in the next couple of days when I've read more reaction and opinion on tonight's show.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Far too much stuff out there!

The other week I was reading an article by the writer Charlie Brooker who writes for the Guardian. He wrote an article entitled:

There's too much stuff. We live in a stuff-a-lanche. It's time for a cultural diet.

It was all about how he buys so many books and DVD box sets which he feels he has to read or watch, but invariably never ends up doing so, because he never has the time. Essentially he says there's too much cultural stuff out there for us to consume. Too many books to read, films to watch, and music to listen to. We all need in his words a ‘Cultural diet’. I read this, thinking to myself: ‘This is so true!’

I constantly find myself under pressure to consume and keep up to date with so many cultural topics and activities it's actually quite stressful!

For example, during an average week, my cultural requirements include reading a newspaper everyday!

I can fit in the Evening Standard on the journey home from work, but trying to get through a Guardian or Times on the same day is really pushing it.

If I do, I barely read anything. You can argue I should get my news from the web, but that's just as time consuming.

I still have loads of blogs and websites to read. I’ve recently discovered the benefits of Google Reader which now allows me to read and keep up to date with all my favourite blogs and websites all in one go. If only I’d discovered this sooner, as it's made my life so much easier!

When it comes to reading, I always find that Sundays are the worst. I wake up and look at my clock and see it’s 10:00am I need to get up, I have papers to read!

My schedule is usually News of the World which I begin by at least 11:00am. I then move onto the Sunday Times Sport section, which is then followed by the Culture Section, but recently I’ve been messing with my schedule and reading the main newspaper section instead.

All this HAS to be done by at least 2:30pm as I normally play badminton on a Sunday afternoon at 3:30pm The clock is always ticking!

If I’m not half way through the Culture section by 2:30pm I’m behind schedule. By the time I get home after playing, I then need to get through all the other sections I normally read.

If I’ve not read enough, it potentially throws my entire reading schedule out of sync for the rest of the week!

My bedroom floor is always covered with newspapers and magazines stretching back months that I haven’t got round to reading. I look at them all in despair sometimes and think,

‘Right, I’m throwing all this out into the recycling bin'

Then I have a quick flick through and realise I wanted to read that article about the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, or read about Michelle Obama’s charity work in the ghettos of Washington DC! It means those papers and magazines remain on my bedroom floor for a least another month!

On the book front, I reckon I’ve only read about four or five books this year, but I need to read more. I haven’t read enough novels this year, but where am I going to find the time to keep up to date with latest critically acclaimed releases or the Man Booker Prize winner as well as reading recommendations from friends, and other so called 'classics' that you’re supposed to read!

As well as not reading enough books, there's all the DVD’s I’ve got at home which I never watch and should make more of an effort to. But if you’re watching all the DVDs you’ve already got, where do you find the time to buy and watch new DVDs? I’m already conscious of the fact I don’t watch enough films, but there’s so many comedies and US dramas I need to have!

Finally there's music. I’m always reminding myself that I don’t listen to the radio as much as I used to, or listen to enough podcasts. How am I going to keep up to date with new music or rediscover old classics?

We’ve got to a stage where music has become so accessible, through downloading and sites like Spotify and iTunes it's now so easy to access, you’re almost overwhelmed by the choices on offer to you.

It’s like there’s no excuses anymore not to know about a classic album or some up and coming new band, singer, or music style. It’s all out there at the click of a button.

A colleague from work likes to talk to me about all the latest Urban dance music styles. She asked me a few months ago if I knew the tune ‘Head, Shoulders, Kneez & Toez ? I said no, by the time I discovered it, and felt I was up to date, little did I know it had already been released 6 months earlier!

Due to this sense of shame, I had to do some revision on the latest urban music styles such as UK Funky . I can now thankfully say that I’m up to speed on dance crazes like the Migraine Skank!

I loved Brooker’s comment when he said:

“I want to be told what to read, watch and listen to. I want my hands tied. I want a cultural diet”

I understand where he’s coming from with this so much!

The phrase ‘Less is more’ springs to mind when I think of all of the cultural stuff out there. We need to be more selective but I know this is easier said then done.

I’m not sure how I’m going to overcome this problem, either I need to manage my free-time like clock work (which doesn’t sound like fun) to fit everything in, or just except that I can’t keep up to date with everything that’s out there!

Having thought about it, I think I need to be more ruthless, and say ‘this is want I’m into and interested in, and I don’t have time to focus on other stuff.’

We’ll have to see if I can maintain this stance.

Saturday 17 October 2009

I’m now on Twitter!

A few weeks ago I decided to join Twitter. Nothing particularly unusual about that you might think, but considering that when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about how I thought Twitter was a pointless waste of time, it’s a bit of a turnaround for me.

Over the last few months I’ve slowly begun to change my opinions, and I’ve started to see that Twitter does have many potential good points.

I think the original reason that I wasn’t keen on Twitter was that I couldn’t understand the use or value of it. You can only post messages of no more than 140 characters. What can you say in such a small amount of space?

Secondly, it appeared to be the equivalent of the Facebook updates you receive from people, where they post their own comments, thoughts and updates on what they’re currently doing.

Of course I like keeping up to date with what my friends are doing, that’s one of the good things about Facebook - but I’m not interested in being constantly bombarded with boring, banal comments from people who have nothing of real interest to say. I assumed that Twitter would be exactly like this with millions of people posting irrelevant comments.

My opinions slowly began to change during this year’s Iranian elections. There were huge protests directed against incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his controversial election victory.

During the protests against the election results, many people used Twitter as a way of communicating to the outside world what was happening on the streets of Tehran. It also allowed demonstrators to communicate and organise themselves.

This seemed a really important development as the Iranian authorities had censored many traditional media outlets. Foreign journalists were unable to find out everything that was happening on street level, but by following the tweet commentary and updates from protesters the rest of the world was able to have a better idea of what was going on.

Despite this I was still reluctant to join up, as I thought I already have my blog, in which I can communicate my thoughts and opinions to the world. Surely blogging is better than Tweeting as you can go into far more detail about stuff.

The reason I started my blog, was that as a journalism student it was important to start writing on a regular basis and have an ‘online presence’. I was told it was all about promoting yourself and your work.

I'm always hearing about how Twitter and blogging are is becoming important tools for journalists and freelance writers to promote their work and themselves as ‘brands’.

I’m beginning to understand this. You have a huge amount of celebrities promoting themselves as brands. The actor Stephen Fry has the most number of followers in the UK, and The Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah Brown is also a big twitterer.

But it’s not just individuals who recognise the value of promoting themselves in short soundbites. Many businesses are seeing that Twitter offers new ways of marketing and communicating with consumers.

In terms of advertising, there was at time when we had to sit through and watch adverts between tv programmes or listen to them on radio. Nowadays we can fast forward the add breaks if we’re not interested. Email adverts that come into our email accounts can be deleted as spam.

The thing with Twitter is that as a consumer we can make a choice as to whether we want to receive messages from a particular company or business. We can also communicate directly back to that company in the form of our own tweets. It’s now more of a two way process.

What I’ve realised is that by being on Twitter I don’t need to post loads of messages everyday if I don’t want to, but what I can do is pick particular individuals, organisations, and publishers to keep up to date on news, gossip, promotions and general networking with different communities.

Already this week, I had my first Twitter follower, a certain Krishnan Guru-Murthy from Channel 4 news! I thought this was a major coup after I decided to follow him, but I soon realised that he’s already following another 1500 people!

So far he tweets about what he’s doing on a daily basis, but also on news stories of the day, political gossip, what’s happening on the show that evening. Seeing as I’m interested in politics, it’s a way of being nosey and finding out little bits of info you might not always hear in a news bulletin or 30 minute programme.

I finally decided about a month ago that Twitter was something that I should at least make the effort to use more, but if I’m being honest, after creating a profile I couldn’t quite think of how or why I was going to use it.

After stumbling across a few other blogs, in which people had attached their own Twitter updates, it occurred to me that I could add Twitter to my blog as well.

During those days when I haven’t written a post, it would be good to have a couple of updated tweets giving my various thoughts and opinions. I can now see that it’s a good way of enhancing my current blog with more regular and shorter updates! Hopefully it will help to push and promote my blog further.

I don’t know what the future holds for Twitter, I read that it’s currently now valued at $1 Billions dollars, but it’s yet to start making a profit!

We'll have to see if it’s just another Internet fad, or whether it's now an essential marketing tool for businesses and individuals. I’ll stick with it as a way of pushing my blog, and putting more of my thoughts and opinions out there into the world.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Pop Life at the Tate Modern

After last week’s visit to the Royal Academy of Arts, I continued my cultural excursions by going to see the exhibition Pop Life at the Tate Modern.

The exhibition looks at the increasing commercialisation of art, in particular the ways in which artists have embraced the world of business and commerce in order to promote themselves and their work as ‘brands’

I thought this was a really interesting idea in which to base an exhibition on, and overall I really liked it; but since it opened last week, it’s attracted a certain level of controversy. There’s a lot of sex, some of it quite explicit and one piece has already been removed. Some of it made me question whether I was looking at art or pornography!

The exhibition is dominated by the work of Andy Warhol, and the exhibition appears to take its inspiration from the quote made by Warhol when he said:

I suppose for purists the idea of art taking on the practices of big business, marketing and advertising goes against everything that art is meant to be about. But having thought about it, why should art be any different to other art forms like music, literature and film?

Before I went to the Tate I wasn’t that familiar with many of the artists whose pieces were on show. Obviously I knew who Warhol was, and he seems to be the founding father of this commercial approach, but since then other artists have come along and taken these ideas and pushed them further.

Of the other artists included in the exhibition, I really liked the recreation of the American artist Keith Haring's Pop Shop. The original shop was opened in Manhattan’s Soho district in 1986 and sold various merchandise like T-shirts, posters, badges and toys all bearing the images of Haring’s work.

Keith Haring

I think this idea of opening up your own shop to sell merchandise, promoting your own work and ‘brand’ style of art, perfectly illustrates this commercial production of art. What I also liked was that besides the cool art work on display, they also played some wicked old skool house and hip hop which made you feel like you were back in 1986!

Another artist featured who has gone on to develop this commercial approach is the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. He's set up his own factory in New York to mass produce cheap art in various forms, such as sculptures, paintings, books, and videos.

There was a separate room with his work in, dominated by a large tv screen showing a video which featured the actress Kirsten Dunst, playing a Japanese anime character 'majokko' a magical princess.

She wears a blue wig and pink tutu and dances in the streets of Tokyo singing the song ‘Turning Japanese’ by the band the Vapoors.

The more controversial pieces were mainly by the artist Jeff Koons, whose ‘Heaven Project’ was being exhibited in a separate room. A room you can only enter if you're over the age of eighteen.

Inside it displays pieces depicting Koon having sex with his former wife the Italian/Hungarian porn star La Cicciolina. I wouldn’t have called any of it erotica as I thought it was too graphic for that. It just seemed like pornography masquerading as art.

I found it difficult to relate this work to the ideas of self-promotion and branding by an artist, unless Koon is simply trying to promote the idea that he managed to ‘pull’ a porn star.

Another piece I wasn’t convinced by was from the American performance artist Andrea Fraser. There was a room showing a film that she'd made, in which she has sex with a private collector. The collector paid $20,000 for the privilege, in order that he could have the opportunity of producing a form of ‘artwork’ with Fraser.

Now whenever I look at art I like to read the commentary and guide to give me some idea of what the piece is all about. I may or may not like the piece, but I still like to have some idea of what the artist is trying to say.

What's inspired the artist? What are they trying to depict or portray in their work?

For Fraser's film I read that:

‘by offering herself up for sale, she pushes….the viewer’s desire for intimacy with the artist to the logical extreme.’

I'm not sure about that! You can look at it as being, either a form of prostitution on her part; or the collector just acting like some kind of star struck groupie, by sleeping with an artist they admire?

The video was boring anyway, and it goes on for a good few hours. When I did have a look, it was just the pair of them fondling each other on a bed. It wasn’t sexy, erotic, or particularly interesting.

By the time I’d seen everything I did think to myself that Pop Life was a good exhibition. I didn’t like everything, some things seemed provocative for the sake of being provocative, but I’d never really given much thought to the idea of artists representing themselves and their work as brands, commodities, but when you think about it, it seems quite obvious really.

They only thing I’m slightly confused about is whether this commercial approach is about producing great art, or rather about promoting the artist as an individual and a brand. I may have to think about that one another time.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy of Arts

I'm having this week off from work as I have so many days to use up. It's raised the question, what am I going to do with myself? Sit around all day watching crap day-time telly? No!

I decided to get cultural so I took myself off to the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, to see the new exhibition by the sculptor Anish Kapoor. It was declared exhibition of the week by London’s Time Out magazine which gave it five stars out of five!

It’s only recently that I’ve become acquainted with Kapoor’s work. Earlier in the year I spent a few days in Chicago, where Kapoor has one of his most famous pieces of work in the heart of the city. The giant silver bean sculpture called ‘Cloud Gate’.

Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago

I loved this sculptor so much. It acts as a real focal point of the city in which locals and tourists gather. Following this I read an interview with him in the Sunday Times magazine last month, in which it publicized his exhibition at London’s Royal Academy. The exhibition runs until 11 December 2009 so I decided to check it out.

Tall Tree and the Eye - Outside the Royal Academy of Arts

Reading the introduction to his exhibition it was explained how as one of the most influential artists of his generation his work is an:

exploration of form and space and his use of colour and material have profoundly influenced the course of contemporary culture.’

Impressive stuff!

The first room which you enter contains his ‘Pigment works’ which are a collection of strange shapes and objects on the floor and the walls which are all covered in red, yellow, and black dye colouring. You look at them desperately wanting to touch them, as if you’re some little kid, but you have to resist the urge.

My favourite piece was the room of 'Mirrored objects'. A collection of objects in which your reflection is continually being distorted and transformed as you walk forwards, backwards, and to the sides of these objects.

At some points it can be quite disorientating as you look at yourself in a mirror, take one step forwards to suddenly find your reflection completely upside down.

In the Sunday Times interview it was said that Kapoor seems to understand our childish delight, this is in reference to the pleasure that people get and the weird feelings of disorientation they feel when they see their own reflections distorted in many of his mirrored sculptures.

Close up of the Tall Tree and the Eye

I have to agree with this opinion. The whole exhibition is a mixture of art and sculpture mixed in with the feeling of experiencing some sort of fairground amusement attraction. This feeling was increased further when I made my way to the next room.

One of the more unusual things I’ve come across in any art exhibition was the room with a canon firing hot red wax onto a wall. Not something you see everyday. The piece is called ‘Shooting into the Corner', the cannon is fired every 20 minutes, which I didn’t realise when I made my way inside.

I found a huge crowd of people gathered, waiting for the cannon to go off. As the countdown began it certainly produced an increasing amount of tension in the room before the cannon exploded into action.

After I got home I read some more reviews of the exhibition, it was commented that in many ways the exhibits are quite populist, such as the mirrored objects and the shooting cannon.

One word used was sensationalist another was gimmicky! I suppose the idea that these comments are trying to make, is that the pieces all press the right buttons for the public, but is there any real substance behind such works? Are they making the viewer think further on the pieces?

I certainly enjoyed it, and as art is so subjective it all depends on how much you want to take away from what your viewing. Kapoor’s work is quite interactive which is what I like, and which I can imagine makes his work quite appealing. With the mirrored sculptures you’re not just viewing an object but you can become part of the object when you view your own reflection.

It’s only now after getting home and reading more about his work and the ideas behind them that I’ve started to think a bit harder about the themes that his work explores.

Anyway, I’m not an art expert or critic, so I would recommend checking it out for yourself sometime, to see what you think.