Art as a Job

Hengameh Abedin | 2-Sep-2016
Hengameh Abedin is an Iranian Painting Artist, Art Critics, Researcher and Writer in art magazines and Poet. In this article "Art as a Job" she discusses the labyrinth of art in Iran and asks with so many collectors, curators, expos, sales and art economy stories and relations, how much can an artist feel that "Art" is actually his/her "Job" for earning a living.
Hengameh Abedin in her Atelier
To decide whether a "work of art" can be regarded a job or not is wholly dependent on the historical look on and the geography and time of art and artist. In earlier times when artists were under patronage and, therefore, domination of the court, the aristocracy, the Church, and the like, art as a job realized within relations of the artist with those in power, such that the artist would be paid a special amount for doing an 'ordered' work of art, mostly through teamwork/workshops and in the form of a "guild".

The same thing was seen in old Iran. Art workshops, as "craftsmen", would carry out the ordered works for the court, the King, or the aristocracy. Usually (and unlike today), the master received the wage from those in power and then gave some to the apprentices, for it was the master who proposed the initial plan. Having learned the ABCs of art (through their lessons on painting, sculpture, etc.), apprentices would then work on the project, and at times, having finished the work, put their own signature at the bottom of the work. Those who were more skilled and creative would, furthermore, apply their own ideas to the work and were paid some more money by "the master". As such, art played its role as a "job" for these artists and made them capable of leading their lives through an artistic career. These artists were mainly working in form of collective or guild teams within chambers and the like. So, the master and his/her apprentices would "earn a living" through the wages they received for their artistic work.

In post-renaissance Europe, the same workshops acted as places for production of works of art, sculptures, high relieves, and stained glasses for church windows. This continued up to 18th century. However, as time moved on, a gradual "inversion" was observed in these relations. Now, it was the apprentices who chose their masters and, accordingly, paid them tuition fees. So this "training" trend in different periods formed career dimensions of art differently. Faculties of art were established and art teachings were transformed to students through larger numbers of masters. Private tuition also became more common, which made masters look on their skills at art as a job. Later in 18th century, after different revolutions, especially the Great French Revolution, and in line with decline of the Church and the court, and the advent of 'bourgeoisie', work of art, losing its heavenly meaning, came to be regarded as a "good". The former sacred halo and all myths around art were all removed. Now, as artist was all alone wondering whether his/her works of art was of interest to the laymen sank in the everyday life, began to think of his art as a career, a carrier, of course, whose income was all dependent on the new likes and new funds of the new wealthy. In Iran, after the advent of modernity and formation of a class based on oil incomes, a new era of art began at which relations of capital, market, and related rules put art somehow closer to definition of job. In 20th century, due to the advent of "artistic critic", revivification of "the audience", highlighted artist individuality, formation of buy and sell markets, sales, expos, booms in curator-ship and interest in arts which enjoyed modern looks devoid of the older tools and techniques, "art as a job" seemed to (most optimistically thinking, of course) experience a completely new era in which artist freedom was ensured in its extremely consumerist dimensions of technique and concept.

The question which, however, still entangles my mind is that considering all these labyrinthine, secret relations of "art economy" and all stories behind the formation of so many collectors, curators, expos, sales, and the like as true symbols of art as a job, how much can our artists feel sure that their "art" is actually acting as their job, making them capable of earning a living? How far artists are profited by this winding economic cycle after all?

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