The artist is a worker. They work in art-factories, also known as theatres, studios, galleries, &c. They produce art for the bosses of the art-factories, which the bosses then sell for a profit. Artists deserve to be paid a wage for their labour as soon as they begin working as artists, or perhaps once they’ve completed their training or apprenticeship. The bosses and the workers are inevitably in conflict: the former wants to drive productivity up and wages down, while the latter wants to drive wages up. (Unusually for workers, artists are also often invested in increasing their own productivity.) This condition will persist until the capitalist system is overthrown by the workers’ revolution, and artists along with all other workers will be paid a living wage for their contribution to society.
The artist is a self-organised business. They produce artworks, but they also develop their brand, negotiate their contracts, and promote their work and their wares to other businesses. The successful artist is one who is able to negotiate the best price for their work: this can occur through skilful self-management, through cleverly playing the art production market (e.g. being an early adopter of lucrative trends or the creator of those trends), and through producing better quality artworks. Artists are in constant competition with each other, competing for the same contracts and status. Because it is a competition, some artists will inevitably lose.
The artist is the soul and memory of a society. In hierarchical societies, they will be engaged by a patron to produce artworks which commemorate great moments in the society’s or patron’s history. They may also be supported in producing unrelated artworks in order to generally enhance the reputation of the society or patron. In more egalitarian societies (or in peasant groups within a hierarchical society), an artist may be supported by the whole community: workers might feed a bard in return for entertainment, for example. The better the artworks the artist produces, the more likely they are to be supported by a patron or community. The artist may also have a mystical, spiritual or shamanistic role, with the creation of artworks enacting a connection to deeper community values.
The artist is an amateur. They produce artworks in their spare time. Most people are artists of some form. Some artists are lucky enough to be able to sell or trade their artworks, sometimes for quite high prices or high-value goods. This may be because the artworks they produce are particularly good, or, given that artistic quality is entirely subjective, it may be due to more complex interactions with the market of production and desire. In any case, art is a kind of ancillary economy, and producing it does not consist of work proper. Sometimes, groups of artists within a community of geography or ideology will get together to produce more large-scale artworks, like community theatre or radical zines. Sometimes artists who enjoy their work get a proper job as entertainers.
The artist is a good to be traded on the open market. Their value consists in their reputation, their portfolio, their rarity, and their ability to produce future goods. Producers, artistic directors, talent scouts and other business-people compete with each other to identify and purchase the best artists. Some business-people invest in their artists through training and professional development opportunities in order to increase their value as a commodity, on the assumption that they will get preferential treatment when purchasing the artist in future. The artist is technically in charge of to whom they are sold, but in reality this is usually dictated by the whims of the market.
(f) Self-facilitating media node
The artist is a conduit for ideas. Their role in society is not just to find out what’s happening and to tell other people about it: it’s to be what’s happening. The artist does this through making artworks, but also through expertly using social media, old media, networking events, parties, housemates, partners and so on. Maybe all of those things are artworks too. Maybe everything they do is art. The artist is both a producer and a consumer of art. They artistic practice is being really good at producing and consuming. They get paid any way they can.
The artist is lazy. They do not want to do a fair day’s work. The artist is cunning and cons people into giving them food or money for their artworks. They spend more time thinking about ways to trick people into liking their art than they do producing art. The artist is always looking for ways to produce artworks that will trick people as quickly as they can. Their dream is to be able to do this without having to make any artworks at all. The artist does not believe in what they do. They get fed any way they can.
One thought on “Seven Models of the Artist”
I’d add Social Worker (especially common in group activities, like music and theatre) and Prostitute – not an insult, just in the sense of giving someone else a good time, and getting paid for it.