If musician and visual artist Kat Burns ruled the world, artists would earn a decent living wage, school teachers would receive the respect they deserve, and an artist’s wellspring of inspiration would never run dry.
Sadly, Kat Burns doesn’t rule the world, teachers aren’t respected nearly enough, and after a month of creating an original art piece every hour on the hour like a regular working stiff, Kat Burns’ inspiration is parched.
An Hour of My Time is part social commentary, part performance art. Working seven hour shifts each weekday, since the first of the month, Burns has been holed up in her Artscape Gibraltar Point studio creating one original piece of artwork an hour.
Burns wants to highlight the relationship between art and commerce. She hopes her effort will cast a light on the staggering dollar value society places on some occupations—think Jose Bautista’s gazillion-dollar contract—while undervaluing other occupations such as musicians, writers, and school teachers.
In Burns’ view, society is too quick to dismiss the huge financial boost the arts community gives the overall economy.
The impetus for the project came from data on this Statistics Canada website, which says that someone in Burns’ demographic earns an average of $24.75 an hour. She found this figure laughable, especially for the artists in her cohort. And though Burns was unaware of any artist earning an hourly wage anywhere near this amount, it didn’t stop her from trying to hit that target herself.
And so for the month of February, Burns has been creating art as though it were a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five job, working predominantly in watercolour on woven pieces of paper approximately fifteen centimetres square. She is selling each piece for $24.75.
Ideally, Burns will sell all 140 pieces, which are posted on her Flickr page and available for purchase here.
To date, about a dozen have sold.
An Hour Of My Time has been a tough slog. Besides burning through a copious amount of art supplies, Burns admits the longer she was at it, the harder it was to conjure up new images to paint.
Having a Tumblr blog helped. The site kept the public up-to-date on Burns’ progress, and visitors to it provided Burns with both encouragement and subject matter suggestions. One individual requested Burns paint a stegosaurus. Another wanted to see something bicycle-inspired.
Burns took on all comers. Among other things, she’s painted numerous rabbits, several penguins, Miss Piggy, a series of deranged squirrels devouring hearts, a lemon, and a bearded man on a green magic carpet holding a pig in his arms.
Especially in February, when Toronto Island is all but deserted aside from island residents, Artscape Gibraltar Point can be a lonely place. When we arrived at her studio, Burns appeared happy to have a distraction.
She admitted An Hour of My Time wasn’t as easy as she had anticipated—something that also comes across in her Tumblr updates. By no means a record of a woman’s descent into madness, there are, however, moments when Burns communicates some angst.
Day One, her entry began with a perky “Really excited about the next four weeks.” And on Day Three, she wrote, “Woke up feeling really great.” Seven days in, however, her tone changed: “This is actually pretty hard…” On Day Sixteen, around the halfway point, she began an entry with “Long day. Long few days…”
On February 22, with only three days remaining and the end in sight, Burns wrote with anticipation, “Spring will come again.”
Still, after all the creative highs and lows she has experienced over the course of An Hour of My Time, Burns confesses, “I never chose art [as a career] to make money, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Photos by D. A. Cooper/Torontoist.
This Sunday, along with other artists in residence at Artscape Gibraltar Point, Burns invites the public to visit and check out the work she’s produced during her month-long experiment.
We originally stated that the Statistics Canada figure of $24.75 applied to artists in Burns’ age group; in fact, it is an average for the entire demographic, regardless of profession.