Work

Is ‘Artist’ a Proper Job Title?

I had a meeting with a bank manager yesterday.  You know what banks are, they need to extract every detail of your life from you.  I know why, and it makes sense (fraud, money laundering, credit rating etc etc), but I hate it.

I particularly hate the inevitable question about what I do for a living.  Because as soon as you tell a bank manager (or doctor or insurance broker or taxi driver), that you are an artist, it’s like it trips a switch.  They don’t know where to look, they don’t know what to say.  Evenually, grasping at straws they ask “what kind of artist?”  Erm, a skint one?

Yeah I know what they’re asking.  What do I produce?  I mumble something about design and illustration.  That is what I do isn’t it?  Anyway, aside from  massive self doubt and latent imposter syndrome, the reason I hate it is because the next thing that happens is the bank manager (doctor/insurance broker/taxi driver) then starts telling me about their latest encounter with “art”.

Yesterday, the bank manager told me about a sculptor he’d seen on TV who produced a piece of work worth £40,000.  What was I supposed to do with that?  Apologise for not ever selling anything for more than £40?  Identify with said sculptor because obviously being another artist he must be someone after my own heart?  Or maybe just admire the bank manager for his extensive knowledge of the art world?  Yeah, I know, he was just making conversation, trying to lighten the mood.  But it was, as always, excruciating.

Do plumbers suffer this?  Maybe they do.  (“I saw a plumber on TV once.  He was fitting a boiler in Windsor Castle and got £40,000 for it”).  But at least bank managers know roughly what plumbers do.  Perhaps I should be more specific about what I do.  “I design and illustrate products and gifts and then sell them”.  But that’s not something a bank manager can write in the “job” box is it.  So I say “artist”.  So anyway, as we got to the end of this drawn out discussion about what I do to earn a living, he said “nothing wrong with being an artist”.  Thanks for that!

Why do people tie themselves in such knots when they meet an artist?  Is it because they revere art and artists, and are a bit intimidated?  Is it because they think it’s not a proper job and they’re trying to be polite anyway?  I know that people have too few opportunities to be creative and too little understanding of what artists contribute to everyone’s everyday life and I’m not expecting everyone to understand what I do or how I do it.   I just want to be able to say “artist” without a bank manager going off on some weird tangent about an sculpture he once saw on telly.

It would have been a lot easier if I’d been an electrician, or a dinner lady.  Or  a secretary. (Actually I sucked at being a secretary because a. I hated filing and refused to do it and b. I’m not very good at being subservient. ) Almost all the jobs I’ve ever had have had incomprehensible job titles though.  Even when I was a secretary my title was ‘admin’.  When I was a public relations manager my job title was “communications worker” which I think made me sound like a telephone engineer. I like to think was a reminder that had I taken up the telephone engineer apprentice opportunity aged 17 I could by now be semi retired with a nice little electrical engineering company to pass on to my son.  Ahh.  What’s your profession?  Retired.

My least favourite job title is “project worker”.  What does that mean?  I’ve had it printed on business cards in a number of jobs.  It tells you nothing. Except that your job is nebulous and inexplicable, and that you are unimportant.  One time it was supposed to indicate an equal work place where no-one was boss, and we were all empowered because we were all just “workers”.  Ummmm.

So now that I can choose what the hell job description I like for myself, I choose another utterly vague title “artist”.  I like to tell myself it’s because I’m proud of what I do.  But maybe it’s also because, if I’m being completely honest, quite a lot of the time, even I’m  not too sure what my job is.

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