The clash of two professions

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Works of art, more centrally and nakedly than ever before, are becoming commodities, consumer goods… Now it’s every man for himself, every tub on its own bottom. Now it’s not an audience you think of addressing; it’s a customer base. Now you’re only as good as your last sales quarter. It’s hard to believe that the new arrangement will not favor work that’s safer: more familiar, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please—more like entertainment, less like art. Artists will inevitably spend a lot more time looking over their shoulder, trying to figure out what the customer wants rather than what they themselves are seeking to say.

I love this article from the Atlantic about the changing role of the artist in society and how it has morphed into the role of the creative entrepreneur. It expresses elegantly the tensions between the two and tries to come to some sort of reconciliation between the two. And it gets there in the end, but never quite shakes off that nagging sense that something isn’t right about this. These two things are fundamentally incompatible.

How does this belief linger so, that making a piece of art and making a buck are inherently different? It may be partly that we are not just talking about the clash of two professions, but the clash of two romanticised professions; the creative and the entrepreneur. And romanticised in ways which are the polar opposite of each other. You’re an artist and you’re poor? Well that makes sense. You’re an entrepreneur and you like profits? Of course! We can’t mix different types of genius.

There’s also something that makes it easier to be a creative entrepreneur the further you away you move from high art. Sculptors are poor, but no one expects the furniture maker to live off an arts grant. Poets are artists, Stephen King is a brand. Somewhere in between is the sweet spot, where explorer and exploiter coexist side by side.

I also like this article’s shrewd observation about the reclaiming of the word ‘artisan’. Sometimes it’s hard to find a photo to accompany these posts, but I knew the stock image search engine would have no trouble with ‘artisan’. (If it had, I could always have tried ‘bespoke’). Artisans make things, rather than create things. They’re allowed to make money from handmaking products which we’ve grown used to having mass produced. Whether it’s baskets or buckets, coffins or cronuts, the word artisan itself has become a stamp of quality. A brand of its own. They’ve found the sweet spot.

 

 

 

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1 thought on “The clash of two professions”

  1. This has been something that has been circulating in the art world for a while now. I recall watching a documentary about Jeff Koons, who defended his work as “art”, and called himself an “artist”, despite his involvement on a number of works more akin to the management/commissioning of craftspeople/artisans (assistants/staff) rather than the creation of anything with his own hand.

    He made substantial sums of money off this/his work, which I suspect is where the discomfort comes from. Maybe I’m too simplistic in my analysis.

    In any event, I used too many slashes. Sorry about that.

    Like

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