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October 05, 2002

Art in the Moonlight Redux

Friedrich --

Thanks for returning to the theme of art and economics, a much-underdone topic. The NEA study you discuss, about the job situations of “professional artists,” sounds fascinating. You’re no doubt better equipped than I am to pull it apart and make further sense of it. But one thing I’d like to know is how the study’s researchers define “professional artist.”

I mean, if an artist isn’t making real money at his art, then he’s not a “professional artist” -- that’s basic, no? We’d laugh at a guy who claimed to be a “professional baseball player” if he had to hold down a fulltime job to support his baseball habit. So why do we allow a guy who enjoys playing the trombone but who makes his living as a carpenter to call himself a “professional musician”? (Most likely answer: sentimentality about that poor, persecuted field, the arts.)

Another example: What’s the difference between a teacher who paints watercolors as a hobby, and a “professional watercolorist” who makes no money as a watercolorist and so supports himself as a teacher? No difference at all, as far as I can see. In both cases, it comes down to the same equation: Painting-for-pleasure plus teaching job. Does it really matter if the first person is relaxed about his commercial painting prospects, while the second person is still clinging to a dream of making it? They're both still doing the same thing.

I wonder how the NEA decides which artists who make little or no money at their art qualify to be called “professional artists.” Is it a matter of holding a degree of a certain sort? Of making a certain amount of money from art? If so, where is the line drawn? And why there?

I wonder this in full sympathy with all artists who wish they had fewer money challenges, and more time to do art. I know where you’re coming from, dudes and dudettes.



posted by Michael at October 5, 2002


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