The Artist’s Workweek

Last week, on WHYY’s Radio Times, Marty Moss-Coane spoke with Jerry Jacobs and Laurie Granieri about the workweek in America. Granieri, a journalist at Central Jersey’s Home News Tribune newspaper, has recently garnered attention for her decision to stop working at 5:00pm each day so that she “can see the sunset.” Jacobs, a professor of sociology at Penn talked about the pressure for professionals to work long hours, often well beyond a forty-hour workweek. The discussion focused on the work expectations for white-collar, salaried workers such as lawyers, investment bankers, and business people, but it got me thinking about the typical artist’s work week, and the time commitment that an artist feels obliged to give to his or work.

Most artists are unable to support themselves solely with their artwork. Unfortunately, there are few landlords who are willing to barter paintings for rent, and even fewer electricity, gas, and cell phone service providers willing to do so. What’s more, the present weak economy does not inspire many people to purchase art. And, even if an artist does regularly sell his or her work, the income from such sales is still usually not enough to sustain oneself.

Thus, part of the artist’s workweek is often spent working some other job or jobs. Artists clamor for low paying employment that is in some way related to a creative field, if only peripherally. Lifting art, or cataloguing it into a database still allows us to maintain some closeness to the art world. “I moved a Louise Bourgoise today,” someone will brag. Or, “I catalogued a new Takashi Murakami.” I still talk with pride about the day I got to gather twigs in Riverside Park for William Kentridge to use as drawing tools.

Indeed, artists are art movers and handlers; we are adjunct professors; we are framers; we are museum ticket takers; we are gallery admins; we are assistants for other, more prominent artists. Most of these jobs are not fulltime and do not offer benefits, so we often work two, or sometimes three of them. Or we’ll search for odd jobs and the occasional opportunity to be the subject of a medical research experiment for some extra cash.

And then, in the evenings or mornings or weekends or Wednesdays or whatever time we have to ourselves, we must cook and clean and do our laundry, just like most Americans, but we must make our art too, for that is what makes us artists. We feel guilty about any free moment that is not used to make work. Still, we also have to make time to remain knowledgeable about our field– to visit museums and galleries, to read art publications, to go to conferences, to watch Art:21 on PBS.

Even then, our jobs as artists are not done. We also spend hours each week on NYFA, Transartists, CAA and even craigslist searching for grants, residencies and exhibition opportunities. Still more time is spent putting together packets and applications, most of which will ultimately be rejected.

Indeed, artists work well beyond the traditional forty-hour workweek, even beyond the sixty, seventy or eighty hour workweek that many professionals bemoan. We do so not for any great financial compensation, but simply in the spirit of creativity, of making, of some belief that the world needs art.


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