'Unspoken Rules: Identity' Course Insights 2023

Parul Bouvart. Stills from the 'I want you not to want me!' Instagram Reel, produced during the Unspoken Rules: Identity course, March 2023. 



Article by Francesca Bellini-Joseph

The ‘Unspoken Rules of the Art World’ short online courses have attracted a diverse group of visual artists bound together by a shared desire to delve into the hidden structures of the art world, enhance self-awareness, and bring about positive change in their art practices.

The first course in the series, focusing on Identity, gave participating artists a unique chance to review their self-limiting beliefs, question their assumptions, and broaden their understanding of identity and the creative process. 

Participants found that this theme was crucial in facilitating a deeper understanding of themselves and their behaviours, as well as the roots of lasting fears. Through a series of self-reflection exercises, artists examined their multiple identities and how these have influenced their work, sparking thought-provoking conversations and forging meaningful connections with peers from various backgrounds. This exploration of identity fostered a heightened sense of empathy and comprehension among participants, enabling them to relate to and learn from each other's experiences.

In this article, we explore the primary motivations and expectations that brought this community of artists together. By focusing on identity in the first course of the Unspoken Rules of the Art World series, artists engaged in a journey of introspection and self-discovery. The course not only encouraged self-reflection but also emphasized the importance of taking small, meaningful actions to nurture personal growth. As a result, artists emerged with a renewed sense of purpose, empowered to make lasting, positive changes in their creative lives.




Core Motivations of the Unspoken Rules Course Applicants

The 'Unspoken Rules: Identity' course piqued the interest of artists seeking to challenge their identity constructions and bring a shift to their understanding of the creative process. Drawing from the applications submitted by participants, we took a closer look at the main motivations that brought these artists together:

  1. Personal Growth and Intellectual Nourishment: Artists sought an intellectually stimulating environment to delve into the personal aspects of their work.

  2. Seeking Direction and Mentorship: Connecting with peers and mentors for guidance in navigating the complex and often painful personal experiences that affect their self-belief and artistic practice. 

  3. Curiosity and Critical Discourse: The course title, Unposken Rules of the Art World, aroused artists' curiosity, providing an opportunity to engage in critical discourse on the art world's hidden structures and their impact on emotional well-being.

  4. Exploring Complex Identities: Artists with multifaceted backgrounds hoped to examine issues of identity through their art practices while developing the inner strength to better navigate the art world.

  5. Broadening Perspectives and Artistic Experiences: Participants were motivated by the prospect of expanding their horizons through the online experience and international community provided by ACT!, gaining fresh perspectives, and deepening their understanding of how the art world operates.


Additional motivations included: 

  1. Art as a Tool for Social Change: Harnessing the power of art as a catalyst for social change.

  2. Community Engagement and Knowledge Exchange: Participants aimed to acquire knowledge and skills that enriched their local artistic communities, especially those artists based in areas with a limited or underdeveloped art scene.

  3. Transitioning to a New Creative Phase: Gaining clarity and direction during a shift in artistic careers.

  4. Navigating Cultural and Ethical Challenges: Confronting challenges and gaining insights into the way that the concept of identity influences their practice.

  5. Overcoming Personal and Emotional Limitations: Confronting limitations to facilitate active participation in the artistic community, taking risks, and fostering personal and professional growth and meaningful connections.


The course attracted artists from various backgrounds, all united in their quest for personal and career growth, deeper comprehension of identity or identities, and a desire to recognise and challenge their preconceived ideas of the art world. 



Expectations of the Unspoken Rules Course Applicants

Before enrolling in the Identity, artists expressed a range of hopes and expectations. Here are key areas in which they anticipated personal and professional growth from participating in this training: 

  1. Building Confidence and Focus: Artists hoped the course would help them gain confidence in their work and sharpen their artistic vision, empowering them to push boundaries and create more honest, impactful work.

  2. Networking and Collaboration: Participants were eager to connect with like-minded peers from diverse backgrounds, anticipating an international environment ripe for collaboration, learning, and professional development.

  3. Addressing Anxieties and Personal Struggles: The course was seen as a safe space for artists to address anxieties and personal struggles related to their work, enabling them to confront and overcome the challenges of being a visual artist.

  4. Expanding Perspectives and Deepening Understanding: Participants anticipated gaining insights into diverse artistic practices and pressing social issues, hoping to deepen their understanding of their own practice and its place within the global art landscape.

  5. Gaining Mentorship and Guidance: Interaction with art experts and mentors during the course was expected to provide valuable guidance and support to help them overcome mental and emotional blocks and reach their full potential.

  6. Rediscovering Art as a Tool for Social Development: Artists hoped the course would allow them to reevaluate the role of art in society and harness its power as a tool for social development by engaging with diverse voices and perspectives.

Artists who applied for this online training expressed high expectations for enriching their creative practice and empowering themselves to navigate the complex landscape of the art world with confidence and purpose.



From Vulnerability to Strength: An Experiential Learning Approach

In March 2023, artists from across the globe embarked on a transformative journey through the Unspoken Rules: Identity course. Led by artist and psychotherapist Dana Brass, this unique programme offered participants an opportunity to delve into their emotions, reflect on their artistic practices, and forge connections with fellow artists.

A standout aspect of the course was its emphasis on self-reflection as a starting point to bring positive change to their art practices. Guided through thought-provoking exercises, artists explored their emotions and identities, gaining a deeper comprehension of how these elements shaped their work. Many participants discovered previously unexplored emotions, resulting in a cathartic and enlightening experience.

Another strength was the sense of community the course nurtured. As artists shared their stories, they found comfort in discovering that, despite their diverse origins, others experienced similar emotions and challenges. This validation of their feelings provided motivation and encouragement for their artistic practices.

Drawing from the final survey, participants appreciated the course structure, allowing time for ideas to percolate and connect socially with fellow artists outside the sessions. Dana's adept guidance in unearthing emotions and facilitating discussions were highly commended.

Furthermore, the course empowered artists to embrace vulnerability as a strength, showing they were not alone in dealing with fears and limiting beliefs. This revelation encouraged greater empathy and patience, both on a personal and artistic level.

The course offered participants a wealth of complementary resources to enrich their learning experience. Among these was "The Prism of Self" by Rick Rubin, which presented a multifaceted exploration of personal identity, empowering artists to embrace and celebrate the full spectrum of their identities, weaving these insights into their creative endeavours.

Another key resource was the insightful podcast featuring artist Yinka Shonibare, who delved into race, class, and art at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The "Great Women Artists" podcast featuring Catherine Opie provided further reflections as the influential photographer discussed her exploration of sexual and cultural identity within her work, while also discussing her resistance to adopting identities that merely serve the interests of others. These thought-provoking resources allowed participants to engage with diverse perspectives, deepening their understanding of identity in the art world and providing invaluable insights to inform their own creative practices.

The course's impact on artists' lives and careers was overwhelmingly positive, with participants rating its quality and influence at an impressive 9/10. This underscores the course's transformative power and role in advancing personal and professional development. The 96% completion rate also speaks to the profound impact the sessions and course structure had on participants.

The Identity course offered a potent combination of introspection, connection, and validation for artists seeking to understand their place in the art world and society as a whole. Engaging in this profound exploration of self, participants emerged with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation for their creative pursuits. 



Reimagining Identity - Outcomes

When we consider the reasons why artists initially applied for this online training, it becomes clear that they were seeking ways to address personal concerns related to their work, contexts and relationships, particularly concerning identity and mental health. They also hoped to connect with like-minded individuals, collaborate, learn from each other, and broaden their understanding of the art world and their own artistic endeavours. 

Upon completing the course, the artists shared in their final feedback that their expectations were not only met but often exceeded. The course created an atmosphere conducive to self-reflection, allowing artists to delve deeply into their emotions and identities, which profoundly influenced their perception of their art practices. The course not only promoted introspection but also highlighted the significance of engaging in incremental and purposeful actions. The sense of community and connection that developed during the course made the artists feel understood and supported, providing them with comfort and motivation.

Moreover, the course encouraged artists to embrace their vulnerabilities and confront their fears and self-imposed limitations, and make space for new possibilities. This approach facilitated growth on both personal and professional levels, resulting in a greater sense of empathy, patience, and understanding in their artistic practice and personal lives.

In summary, the artists' reasons for applying to the Unspoken Rules of the Art World: Identity course closely aligned with the outcomes and experiences they reported in their final feedback. The course proved to be a transformative experience, fostering personal and professional growth while equipping participants with valuable insights into their artistic practices and the art world at large.

Unspoken Rules: Identity took place in March 2023






Unspoken Rules of the Art World is a series of four short online courses designed to help artists challenge their limiting beliefs and expand their understanding of themselves and their creative process. Conceived by Francesca Bellini-Joseph, founder and director of ACT! and generously supported by the SÛ Collection, the series covers Identity, Authority, Success, and Creating.

These two-week courses, led by artist and psychotherapist Dana Brass, are open to artists, curators, and creative practitioners from all backgrounds worldwide, providing a diverse and inclusive learning environment. Participants can apply to enrol in all four courses or select the ones that resonate most with their personal artistic journey.

Successful applicants will have their tuition fees sponsored by the SÛ Collection.

Francesca Bellini-Joseph remarks, "Unspoken Rules of the Art World aims to empower artists by breaking down self-imposed barriers, nurturing self-awareness, and fostering growth in their artistic practices."

The next course, Authority, will enable participants to assert their inner voice, establish their own rules for their practice, and navigate the hierarchies and power relations within the art world.