Of all the posts I have done for this blog, the last one about working part time as an artist has had the most reaction. Because it got such a strong response I want to look at what I have gleaned from those responses.
Part time art working is the norm
I now have a clear impression that the vast majority of artists are part timers. Zeitgeist Art Projects (@ZeitgeistAP) tweeted that
“We only know very few artists who work full time and we know thousands of them!”
I am heartened by this even if I wish it were not true, I now realise I am part of an overwhelming majority. But we already knew this from the a-n 2011 Big Artists survey and yet in my experience this is the last fact most of us want to divulge… Since I did start writing and talking about it however I am finding most artists reciprocate and that most are in a similar situation.
Rosalind Davis at Zeitgeist got in touch to add that “Part time artists include internationally represented artists, who sell work to major collectors, but due to the insecure element of the arts sector remain in part time work or even full time work in order to retain any type of security.” This is another perspective on this issue which indicates that part timing occurs at all levels of our profession.
Our (employment) status
Before I wrote the blog I was concerned about revealing my part-time status as if it was somehow ‘unprofessional’. I am no longer anxious about this, raising the subject has only raised the profile of the blog through shared concerns that are common across the sector. On reflection I think it’s a good idea to discuss this amongst artists and beneficial in the long run. By not being open about our employment status we might help maintain the myth that more than a handful of ‘star’ artists are making enough from their work to do it full time. This re-inforces unrealistic ideas about career prospects for new artists and art students.
This is not something I really want to encourage, although I think I have subscribed to it in the past by dreaming of being ‘discovered’ by the mainstream art world as so many of us do. Perhaps we do this because the myth of the shooting star artist is so powerful in our culture and so central to the stories our media pursues and purveys with monotonous regularity. These are stories with happy endings just like in the movies, but not like the ones the mass of artists are living.
I also got a lot of feedback about the level of commitment artists feel however much of their time they can spend practising in their chosen medium. Like this from @TerriHHarper:
“Part-time artist? ‘Creativity’ is full-time, even when the ‘process’ is only part-time: it’s challenging!”
Redressing the imbalance
The burgeoning movement of artists initiatives seeks to redress this imbalance by taking matters into their (our) own hands. These bold assertions of self belief from the grass roots, seem to contain a more grounded ideal, a more realistic model of an artist than the art world could ever produce as it is so dependent on building and maintaining very few present and future star artists – aka investment opportunities. As @gillian_nicol tweeted:
“its a construct of the artworld systems that thrives on hierarchy and needs artists to be exclusive and elite thus their products are high value”
So what might the new model artist look like? I suspect dear reader that it looks pretty much like you, as diverse and rich as you are. That’s vague so I’ll try and clarify it a little ( – could this be turning into a manifesto?)
The grass roots model artist is:
Determined to keep making art. Making things whenever they can.
Defining themselves as an artist above all, whatever else they chose to or have to do to earn a living.
Rich in ideas and skills to realise them.
Someone whose work enhances our culture (whether invited to or not).
Could you add to this? Please feel free to respond.