Thursday, January 28, 2010

Artist: Compulsion or Career Choice?

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.


Erin Shaw said...

I couldn't disagree more with the article, on several levels. I don't so much think that art chose me. I make choices every day to create and to make a life as an artist. And I know dozens of artists that spend tons of energy resisting their creative urgings.

But to answer your question, this article is a classic example of either/or, black/white thinking. Obviously I think being an artist can be BOTH a career and a calling.

I think she's asking the wrong question.

Julia Kirt said...

Good comment. True and I don't want to be black & white either-- should probably change title of post.

And amen, it is a regular choice to make artwork (much less show it publicly!).

Anonymous said...

Agreed...there are artists who pursue art as a career choice (increasingly so, just look at the number of art degree programs) and there are those who feel or operate as if it was chosen for them.

Agreed...typically, the latter are those that produce the most "societally significant pieces," but it is the former that populate most galleries, homes, and businesses.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding that these two types of "artists" are the same. Although very few migrate back and forth or stand in both worlds, the majority of artists that the public comes into contact with, and therefore the majority of art, are those who are "career" artists producing a marketable, albeit passionate and personal, product. They are certainly still "artists" in the adopted social sense of the word...and the work can be quite provocative and engaging, however, an artist in the academic or classic sense is one who produces regardless of societal acceptance, sales, college degree, marketing seminars, social networking, etc. Granted, the "classic" artist may utilize these tools to some degree and at some times, however, they are more likely to simply ignore or avoid them as they lead towards a path of comemrcialism that they most likely despise.

Blueprint Baby said...

I read the article, but I think you nailed it when you said that it's really our definition of career and subsequently, career success, that inhibits creative people from pursuing their art.