Let Me Count The Ways

I was recently following a thread in a printmaking group on Facebook discussing making the jump from printmaking as a pastime to a full time job. Everyone agreed it was tough and I was nodding smugly along with the postings. There’s nothing half so pleasing as hearing that you are that heroic worker chipping away on the coalface of art (really I feel I’d like one of those grand old-school Soviet sculptures celebrating the artist printmaker installed in my garden) and then the group and my thoughts went separate ways.

The general feel of the thread was that a full time job printmaking was defined as printmaking alone. Everything else, especially teaching, seemed to come under the heading of necessary jobs done to support printmaking and weren’t somehow included in the goal of being a full time artist.

I’ve no problem with the idea of making a living by the pure making of art alone. I just think it’s fairly rare to be able to do that and I know that it wouldn’t suit me. Most of us have to do diverse things around our artwork to make a living and I would argue that it all feeds into a richer creativity when we do get into the studio. I include writing, teaching, selling printing products and occasional consultancy work in my job description of ‘artist’ and I think they all have a place under that title. Why not celebrate the pragmatic end of being an artist as well as the visionary one? It all takes hard work and creative thinking and, while these pursuits may not be the unlimited studio time many of us crave, I think for me they define being a full time artist rather than exclude it.

I’d put in a special plea for teaching as part of an artist’s creative practice. I know I would be a weaker artist without it and will always teach in some respect whatever my financial circumstances. It is a great privilege to teach. Teaching demands that I think through and can articulate my ideas and my process clearly and that I can make those ideas and processes work for strangers. It also demands that I turn my skills into way of coaxing the very best from each student’s creativity, rather than from my own. I can’t think of any other way of imposing such rigorous demands on my thought processes, my practical skills, or of making me adapt my talents to so many different outcomes. Frankly I don’t have the discipline to do all this for myself: my students do it for me and for that I am grateful.

So if you are one of the people who dream of one day becoming a full time artist creating artworks alone, I’d say good on you! But in the meantime I’d ask you to pat yourself on the back for the other work you do and maybe start thinking of those tasks as all part of the artist you are already.