This article has provoked my thinking this week about what makes artists, well, artists. Sylvia White’s statement that art is not a profession shocked me a bit, especially since I work for an organization that is trying to help artists with the business and career aspects of their lives. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to elevate the professionalism of artists.
Her basic argument is that artists are different, called to their creativity rather than choosing to make art. I agree; the most successful artists are driven, deeply, by making their work. Also (obviously by my own career focus), I believe that artists’ work is very special.
However, I disagree on the fundamental point; I do think that being an artist is a career.
Perhaps the problem White is addresss really speaks to how we view careers in our culture—primarily based on revenue, status and other external barometers. What if our concept of professional success was framed by different measures like authenticity to your ethics and proficiencies, self actualization, connection to whatever community you value, etc?
If we rethink career from “making a living” to contributing to the broader society or pursuing an important vision, would that make an artistic career more palatable?
I am curious your thoughts and I'm still pondering.