Thursday, July 12, 2007

Job Title: Artist

I'm going to write a short series of posts on job titles, calling, and legitimacy, which will work up to addressing the Universal Life Church's ordination process of ministers on-line. I don't actually know if I can make the case that I think I can, but I'll give it a shot. In the meantime, let's talk about artists.

My Own Perception So I'm an artist, more specifically, a writer. I create things, mostly with words, but occasionally with found objects. Chances are I'm willing to call you an artist too if you create. I didn't go to school for any particular artistic training (though I've taken workshops). I feel called to create by a force greater than myself, and think I'm totally legitimately using the term "artist" (or writer) when I talk about my job. I perceive my job as being an artist.

The General Populace's Perception Now I've noticed something interesting. In the last three years, I've made a living writing in some fashion, and the general public (family, friends, people I meet at picnics, bars, and the pool) is much more accommodating of calling me an artist without smirking. So money in some way has established legitimacy for using the job title "artist."

Other Artists' Perception Some artists are formally trained and have bachelor's (BFA) or master's in fine arts (MFA). They use the job title "artist" too. They feel called to create, and have a legitimate claim to the job title "artist." Note that there's a wide gulf between my education and the education of say, my friend, Beth, with an MFA from Iowa. We're both artists. Neither of us feels that one is more or less legitimate in vocation because of education. We share a number of struggles, including how to make an actual living, how to know when our work is good (or bad), how to revise, and how to deal with criticism. Because we share struggles, and all artists share these struggles, I've found that artists are pretty generous in recognizing other artists.

Update: One more note based on some feedback in comments and in person---there is definitely some hierarchy in the art world in terms of who recognizes what as "fine art." For example, many traditional art forms that women do, which I certainly consider art, such as quilting and basketmaking, are often considered "crafts" and not "art" and certainly not "fine art." And that's just sexist. But note that it is the artists discriminating against other artists. This will become important in a later post.

Academia's Perception Now the existence of the MFA degree has not only to do with artists and professional training, but with establishing legitimacy. Beth can teach painting in academia, and I probably can't teach writing, except if I write a book that sells well or wins a big deal prize. Then I can teach anywhere. So education or sales and prizes bring a sense of legitimacy to art in academia.

Note the differences in perception:


  • my own perception of myself as an artist (or writer) is shaped by my daily practice of art;
  • the general populace's perception of myself as an artist (or writer) is shaped by my money-making from the daily practice;
  • other artists' perception of me as an artist (or writer) is shaped by our shared struggles; and
  • academia's perception of myself as an artist (or writer) is shaped by my education (or sales or prize-history).