Q&A with Tracey Emin

Artist Tracey Emin gives advice to young artists and answers your questions on her career and inspirations

Tracey Emin, ‘Monument Valley (Grand Scale)’ 1995–7
Tracey Emin
Monument Valley (Grand Scale) 1995–7
© Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin was born in London in 1963 and grew up in Margate. She is one of the most prominent members of the generation of young artists that emerged in London in the 1990s – often referred to as the YBAs. Her work is largely based on her own personal experiences such as her family, the abuse she suffered as a teenager, and her sexual history. She has always used writing as a part of her process and has produced works in a variety of media from embroidery collage to live performance and neon signs.

In our Q&A, Tracey gives advice to young artists and answers questions from the public on subjects ranging from which artwork she would most like to own to the future of modern art...

What advice would you give to young people who want to become artists? Corina Ross, aged 15, UK

Take drawing very seriously and take photo’s of things that you like. Keep a visual diary. And if you have trouble getting the right qualifications to get in university or art school, go to as many evening classes as possible.

Tracey Emin, ‘Everybodies been there’ 1997
Tracey Emin
Everybodies been there 1997
© Tracey Emin

You often use words and letters in your work. How important is language in art? Rouven, aged 20, Germany

I think in words. I write a lot. For me the title of a drawing is as important as a drawing.

In 100 years, do you believe that your work will increase or decrease in popularity? Over time, do you think you’ll be ‘understood’ more? Adam James, aged 17, Wales

Yes, I hope so. But not everybody can be remembered in history. There’s not enough room.

Did you always want to be a successful artist? If you hadn’t made a living this way, what do you think you would be doing instead? Lucy, aged 23, UK

I always feel that art saved my life. When I go to exhibitions that I like, or when I go to foreign countries and I’m in art museums, I realise that art is my friend. I like property so maybe I could have been an estate agent but in reality I think I would have died.

Bruce Nauman, ‘La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits’ 1972
Bruce Nauman
La Brea/Art Tips/Rat Spit/Tar Pits 1972
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019
Tracey Emin, ‘Is Anal Sex Legal’ 1998
Tracey Emin
Is Anal Sex Legal 1998
© Tracey Emin

Which other artists inspire you? Marie Claire Bradley, aged 13, Ireland

There’s lots and lots of artists whose work I like. I think Frida Kahlo is a really fantastic artist. When I was younger my main inspiration were the Expressionists – artists such as Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch and contemporary artists such as Bruce Nauman.

Do you think the media aid or hinder an artist’s career and success? Lucy Grace, aged 22, UK

It can be a massive hindrance because when you get as much exposure and publicity as me a lot of the serious, established art world does not take me seriously. But I see a bigger picture, I believe art is about communication.

How does an A level student deal with an art tutor that they don’t really get along with? Christabel, aged 17, England

I’ve never sat my A levels, or my O levels for that matter, but I’ve heard from other people that mentally it’s the most stressful thing of your life. With your tutor it would be good if you can remember that they are there to help you and get you through the exams. They are not the enemy. You can always do A levels as an evening class.

Is painting still relevant in today’s art world? Steve Jones, aged 18, UK

Yes, I do think painting is relevant. And I think painting is very difficult. For me painting has to have meaning – it can’t just be a picture.

How do you start getting your work into galleries? How did you start a career as an artist? Steven, aged 14, UK

You have to try to go to art school. I spent 7 years altogether. Then you possibly have to go through a very long time of having absolutely no money. It’s extremely difficult to earn a living as an artist.

Do you think religion is still relevant to modern art? Hannah Collins, aged 16, UK

Yes. Not necessarily religion but faith. When I was younger I was very, very influenced by Byzantine fresco’s and Early Renaissance religious painting.

Tracey Emin, ‘The Last Thing I Said to You was Don’t Leave Me Here II’ 2000
Tracey Emin
The Last Thing I Said to You was Don’t Leave Me Here II 2000
© Tracey Emin

Why do you think audiences are interested in learning about your life experiences through your art? Eva, aged 23, Greece

I use myself as a subject. This has been a long tradition in art. Often to see the whole picture you have to start with what you know.

Has expressing yourself through art helped you come to terms with the abuse that you suffered through your teenage years and if so, how? Carrieanne Summers, aged 25, Wales

Yes, it has helped, because it’s made me look at things and try to understand things more.

Before you became so successful, did you think you would become a famous artist? Deng Dafei, aged 31, China

Art is the only thing I have ever done. It consumes most of my life. People often forget that it’s hard work that makes the success.

Is there an artwork you would most like to own? Josefina, aged 40, Chile

If I could own a painting by Vermeer I would be very happy.

Tracey Emin, ‘Monument Valley (Grand Scale)’ 1995–7
Tracey Emin
Monument Valley (Grand Scale) 1995–7
© Tracey Emin

What is your opinion on where contemporary art is headed in the future? Will there no longer be movements in art? Timothy Duval, aged 16, UK

There will always be trends in art – it’s like waves. But we can never quite predict when the tidal wave is going to come.

Some people say your works aren’t art. What do you say to them? Mark Morgan, aged 18, England

If I believe they are art then they are art. I’m the artist, I decide the parameters.

More from Tracey Emin

Tate Etc

Frida on my mind

Tracey Emin

Frida Kahlo: feature article by Tracey Emin in Tate Etc. magazine, issue 4

Through Artists' Eyes: Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin in conversation with Tim Marlow