The flight back from New York was a good opportunity to rethink my life…
My own tale told 26 years later might seem pretty straightforward, but enmeshed within it is creative intelligence, as indeed it is in everyone’s life story. In retrospect, as I analyse every stage, it becomes clear - CQ accounts for all my successes and lack of CQ accounts for all my failures.
…It was 1988 and I was 34 and still hadn’t found the ‘thing’ that I wanted to do in life. Although I had loved art, and had won a place at St Martin’s School of Art I knew in my heart that I did not have the temperament to be a practicing artist. Instead I went to London University where I read sociology with an economics module at the LSE. Friends were studying law. I signed up and three years later had qualified at the English Bar. The problem was I knew that The Bar and I were better off without each other. Back to the drawing board. Next came my stint at Mencap with Jane Tewson with whom I loved fundraising even though I was not as successful as she. I possessed analytical intelligence while she possessed creative intelligence.
Then came a West End PR consultancy to gain wider experience. I was good at getting column inches for my rag bag of clients – an industrial machine tools company, a vegetarian burger manufacturer, a loan shark, and a pet food company whose subtle PR campaign promoted responsible pet ownership – I was in charge of assessing to what extent poop scoop use had decreased dog fouling.
It was time to move on I thought about what I loved most - and it was art. I had valuable PR skills. I would set up my own business encouraging people to buy art. But my turnover in my first year was too tiny to see with the naked eye and I was again in despair. Which found me sitting in the aeroplane returning from New York. There galleries sold ‘brand names’. My eureka moment came: Affordable art by modern masters! I would sell inexpensive original prints by Picasso and Chagall. I knew a dealer who had them, I had just smooshed with him. I go to the Evening Standard Arts Editor and tell him that brand names at affordable prices are all the rage in NYC and I am going to do it in London. He ran the story as a full page. We had queues down the street. Just then my IVF worked and I had triplet baby boys. Art dealing from home , necessary and practical for me as a young mother became fashionable. We got more and more press coverage. My business did well. But suddenly, in 2008 it all stopped.
The worldwide financial meltdown meant that my clients, a wonderful mix from the professional classes, stopped buying. Not just that, the internet meant that they started to go straight to the artist or auction house to buy. The auction houses had a mission to eradicate ‘the mom and pop art businesses’, the actual wording in one of their statements. And peoples’ taste changes. Now people buy all sorts of works of art, not just the exquisite modern British paintings that I became known for.
What to do next? I wrote a play about power in the modern and postmodern art world. But launching this was the second most difficult thing I have ever done after having triplets. I managed somehow to have it performed at the Edinburgh Festival. Even though I am reliably told it is pertinent and frequently hilarious - you can buy The Leonardo Question now for 1p from Amazon or £2 if you buy it from me in Aldeburgh. (Another book I wrote about the artist Elisabeth Frink is £475 on Amazon so it’s not all bad). I did not successfully pivot this new idea. But I have not given up on this play – one day it will find its pivot.
But what to do next? Just as I was about to swim in the sea in Aldeburgh one morning in 2010 I noticed a TO LET sign on a tiny lookout tower on the beach. While I swam I imagined everything the tower could be – a place of creativity – where artists and poets and performers and thinkers and writers could create in this - a tiny art temple. So I rented it. Then my partner, Francis Carnwath, and I bought it together with the house behind and that is where each week a creative person or a collaborative of creative people fuse different art forms. I became fascinated with the phenomenon of creativity and started to study it. This discussion paper, The CQ Secret, is the result.