Art Job

You damned artists, you argue for the sake of arguing.

Don’t be silly, we do not – and I don’t use the “A” word.

What do you mean the “A” word?

The “A” word. Artist. I don’t use it.

You are an artist. You make art. You have art shows. I’ve been to your art openings, ate the cheese and crackers, drank the wine-in-a-box. You’re a god-damned artist.

The word artist has been co-opted by corporate America, so I no longer use it.

Corporate America. Right.

It’s true. When I was a kid, John Lennon was a musician, a singer, a guitar player, a Beatle – but nobody called him an artist. But I watched one of those awards shows the other night. and they were calling all those pop stars with their glittery outfits and pre-recorded auto-tuned singing, artists. They were even calling the god-damned boy bands artists. Everybody is an artist. It has no meaning anymore.

Recording Artists. It comes from the term recording artists.

Recording artist is a gateway phrase, to get people used to it. Now they’ve dropped the recording part and everyone is an artist.



Another beer guys?

Oh yeah please, and if I’m going to listen to this guy I’m going to need some wings too.
And some of those potato skins

Wings and potato skins and two Keefs, coming right up.



So you’re saying that music corporations deliberately co-opted the term artist to increase the status of pop stars.


But pop stars are important – they’re cultural icons.

Sorry, I’ve banned the use of the word icon.

So there are no artists and there are no icons?

I don’t use either of those words.

OK so how do you describe yourself?

I make paintings. I’m a painter.

If you call yourself a painter, people are going to think you paint houses for a living.

I can live with that.



Two Keefs, here you go. Your food will be right up.

Thank you.



I think artist works as a general term for creative people.

Maybe once upon a time it did. Not anymore. What I do has nothing whatever to do with what pop stars do.

That’s because you don’t like these particular pop stars. What if it was a pop star you really like? Would you call, say, Bob Dylan an artist?


But people call him a poet.

He called himself a song and dance man. That’s about right.

But they gave him the Nobel Prize for literature?

That’s about… I don’t know what that’s about. He a performer, a songwriter, a singer.

Well he’s not popular because of his singing. He’s a terrible singer.

Look, I don’t care if you’re talking about Bob Dylan or The Nathaniel Dett Chorale. That’s music. If people insist on calling musicians artists, then I’m not going to use the term at all.



Wings and skins. Here you go gentlemen.

Perfect. Just what the doctor ordered.

Anything else I can get you?

Got an antidote for my friend’s stubbornness?

Oh he’s OK. He’s a good customer.


I’ve got other names for him.

Just let me know if you need anything else, guys.



How about I call you a cultural worker?

Jesus no. Anything but that.

Why? It gets around your problem with the word artist.

Cultural worker suggests that being a painter is a job, that a painter is a worker in the cultural sector. It’s not the same thing at all.

Well, it’s correct though isn’t it?

No. When I’m in the studio, I may be working on a painting but I don’t feel like a worker. I don’t work for The Man. I’m not in an art union. I don’t get a wage and I certainly don’t get a pay cheque. I don’t punch a clock. I don’t feel that making paintings makes me part of the proletariat. It’s just not the same thing at all.

You’re just being an art snob. It could be the same. I’ve heard you complain about your paintings not selling. Wouldn’t it be better if the government gave you a stipend each year because you’re enriching the culture of the country?

I’d hate that.


Well I wouldn’t hate the money. I could use a little more coin. It’s just that I don’t think of making paintings as a job. And anyway that would lead to everybody claiming to be an artist to get a piece of that pie. We’d end up wallowing in mediocrity.

If it’s not a job then what is it?

It’s more of a… vocation.

A vocation. Right.

Yes. A vocation.

Can it be a vocation if you don’t sell enough to make a go of it?

A vocation has nothing to do with sales. It’s something you’re driven to do.

Like a hobby?

It’s not a hobby.

How do you pay the rent?

What do you mean?

Do you sell enough paintings to pay for your studio?

You know damned well I have a day job. We work together.

And most of your income comes from your day job, right?


So then your painting is a hobby.

I’m going to visit the little boys’ room before I give you the big 5 between the eyes.



Where were we?

You were telling me you’re a hobby painter.

I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, so I don’t have to use language I’ll regret later.

Ok let me see, you’re not an artist, you are a painter but you don’t paint houses. You have a vocation, like you’ve been touched on the shoulder by the hand of God or something, but you still have a day job. Have I got that right?

Something like that. If I used the term artist – and I don’t – I’d say the role of the artist today is more complicated than it used to be. Part of the reason is that the term art is being used to market shit.

Maybe more complicated. More convoluted for sure.

Things were more straight-forward once. There was a time painters either worked for the Church or for rich patrons. It was all about the Kingdom of Heaven, except that when you did a Rest on the Flight into Egypt for a rich patron, you’d put the family that paid for it into the painting.

There are still rich patrons.

A few. How many major art collections do you think there are in Canada?

No idea.

I don’t know either but I’d bet there aren’t more than 20 or 30. Maybe there’s a few more, who knows. So today if a painter sells a work or two to every major collection in the country, what’s that worth, because most people would consider that a huge success, but do that and you’d still need a day job?

Well there are grants.

Sure but if you get a grant and quit your day job, a few months later you’re back to square one except you don’t have a job anymore.

OK, It’s not just the big collections buying art though. There are plenty of people buying art for their homes and they don’t necessarily have a big collection.

There are some, I’ll give you that, but not as many as you might think.

If that were true there would be no art dealers. They’re selling art to somebody or they wouldn’t be in business. Maybe you need to make more accessible work?



A couple more Keefs, boys?

Oh yeah. This guy is making me crazy.

I’m making you crazy? Oh puh-lease. You are making me crazy, sir.

You guys are too funny. You’re always making each other crazy but you always get over it.

So you know he’s an artist, right?

Of course. I have one of his paintings. I love it.

You bought one of his paintings?

Yes I did. You think because I work as a waitress I can’t be interested in the arts?

No no no no, that’s not what I was saying at all.

That’s what it sounds like. You just have no idea. My novel is getting published. Hopefully at this time next year I’ll be doing the rounds of the talk shows instead of serving beer to palookas like you guys.

Wow, that’s fantastic. So did you hear what we’re talking about? He says he’s not an artist because people call pop stars artists.

Well that and the nature of the artist. Is it a job or a vocation or something else.

I heard. You guys are adorable. Next you’ll be invoking Nietzsche and suggesting the role of the artist hasn’t been the same since he wrote “God is dead…..and we have killed him.”

See, she understands.

I have to get back to work. There is beer to be served. If you’re still at it when I get off, you can buy me a beer and I’ll set you both straight.

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