Friday, October 29, 2010

What Makes a Professional Artist PLUS What's New?

What Defines a Professional Artist?
Yesterday I was at the hospital getting a "procedure" done. (Nothing serious and it all turned out OK. And, no, it wasn't a facelift or boob job.) While waiting on the table for the doctor to come in, I  chatted with the nurse. She asked what I did and I said I was an artist. Why is that so problematic to understand? Most people just have no conception of what that entails. I gave a one-sentence description of what kind of work I was doing when she asked, but I know she had no idea what I was talking about. She said that she could probably call herself an artist too because someone had told her that you're an artist if you sell something you have made and she had sold a couple of things. This was on the order of "my aunt paints" or "my cousin used to do art," that kind of thing. I said nothing much in response.

This image has nothing to do with what I'm writing about but I thought it was fun to look at. It's from "Hair Wars", a touring show of African-American hair extravaganza. Here's the link.

The chat and her comment really started me thinking about what it meant for me to be an artist. How to explain what the life of a professional artist is like? Would I call myself a professional just because I have a studio? I'm not represented by a gallery right now. Does that fact exclude me? I know that what I do is different from a hobby artist or Sunday painter, but just how would I define "professional?" What makes me any different from her outside of the amount of time I put in - or is that fact in itself a defining parameter?

The nurse told me that the technician who was going to assist in my procedure was also an artist and liked to talk about it. The idea filled me with dread - not another hobbyist, pullease. I'm here on the operating table, a captive audience, and in no condition to be tormented! But it turned out that he was what I would call somewhere between a hobbyist and a professional. We had a nice discussion about ricepaper and water media. He was a plein air painter (he used that term) and did landscapes in watercolor on a very thin ricepaper. He was influenced by Chinese brush technique. He defined success for himself by how many pieces he sold through an art group in Rhode Island where he displayed his work. I liked his attitude toward his work because I could tell that he really enjoyed it. He said that he liked to be spontaneous and experimental, and his work was painted in one session and was either framed or trashed.

Later that night I finally brought downstairs to my desk a huge armload of slides in plastic sheets - maybe 200 sheets of 20 slides (that's 4000 slides!). I had to go through them because I need to get some made into digital images. Those slides represented most of the work I had made from about 1990 to 2001, ten or eleven years worth. I would say there were 600 or 700 works pictured in the slides. Looking through them, I could see all the phases that my work went through after I graduated from MassArt in the late 1980s. From my current perspective, I could recognize what makes my work my own and has been there from the beginning. Isn't it weird that I could keep returning to the same thing time after time? And of course this is not something that's peculiar only to me. Each artist has his/her interests and approaches that makes him/her distinctive.

If you have any thoughts on what defines "professional artist" for you, I'd like to hear them.

A Wrinkle in Time - A New Show of Work by Binnie Birstein Opens This Weekend
I'm going down to Fairfield, CT on Saturday to my pal Binnie's opening. Her new work is really spectacular. It's very dark and powerful.

Be there or be square.

The Fifth Annual Encaustic Conference - Joanne Mattera announces the new location for 2011
This is really exciting. The conference will be held in Provincetown next June 3-5 at the Provincetown Inn with post-conference workshops at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro. Here's the link for all the details. What a perfect spot for a weekend-plus of hanging out, hearing great talks and attending workshops. I will be participating in the Saturday morning panel on media talking about blogging (what else?). I am psyched that the Binster and I have already reserved a great room on the water with its own little deck. It looks out over the breakwater to Long Point and the moors. We're gonna be the pahtay room. Grape soda all around!

An aerial view of the Provincetown Inn that looks like it's from an old postcard.

A very pink sunrise looking out along the breakwater toward Long Point. The Ptown Inn is on the left and perpendicular to this view.


Binnie said...

Great post re moi, of course:)!!
but does one consider oneself a professional artist?? I mean I'd be dead on the street if I had to survive on my earnings from only sales of work. However, I'm always thinking visually with way too many ideas to ever resolve in my lifetime. Is it, I think I'm an artist, therefore I am?

Joanne Mattera said...

Ha. I love your description of the nurse's comment: "She said that she could probably call herself an artist too because someone had told her that you're an artist if you sell something you have made and she had sold a couple of things."

By that measure, since I have put on a few bandaids in my life, I guess I'm a nurse. I've dispensed personal advice, too, so call me a shrink. And I put out a small fire once, too.
Thanks for the shoutout on the conference!

Anonymous said...

Hey there, no it's not weird that certain elements keep surfacing in your work! Sometimes it's not that easy to see the patterns. Yours are developing beautifully and I love watching as you are pushing forward.
I hope you post pix of Binnie's show! I couldn't get there, getting ready for Open Studios next weekend.

carla fox said...

I was just thinking about this yesterday when I was looking at grants for a specific project I want to produce. "For professional artists only". Does that mean I have to make a living on my art? Even though I'm working full time, I'd be hard pressed to actually live off my earnings.

Nancy Natale said...

I know there is a lot more to be said on this topic of professionalism, but I'm too busy working in my studio and on my computer to think about it. All I know is that I know one when I talk to one. When you see that spark of enthusiasm people get when speaking about their work and talk about how it challenges them, that's professional to me. It's not like they get a card to carry, but they have made the mental commitment to take the challenge to themselves. Hey, artists - we rock!