Saturday, June 20, 2009

You're a what?!

"What do you do?" is a common ice breaker question along with "where are you from", etc. While it can't completely define someone, context is important for getting to know a person. Its a quick little introduction and insight into what they've chosen and what values they have. For a few, it is an easy answer: their full time job is what they "do". For many though, it brings a rush of confusion: Do I tell them my full time job even though that's not me and I don't want to be pigeon-holed? Do I give them a list of my hobbies? Because money and circumstances play such a huge part in what a person "does", many times what they "do" and who they are don't necessarily match up.

Even though I am currently hold about 4 jobs to bring in income, I have one way to answer that question: "I am an artist." Every time I tell someone new that I am an artist, a potter, an apprentice and the like, I know people will wonder at what I "do". It is an unlikely job in this city of politics and engineers. Its like having a great party trick to pull out.
I rather expect people to question my legitimacy in claiming I am an artist but I've come to realize something even more simple. Most people want to say, "You are a WHAT?!", not questioning legitimacy but questioning what that word means. Naturally, when something is not clearly defined or is uncommon, there is a little confusion or hesitancy on the subject. Even after explaining a little of what "artist" means in my case, there are usually blank looks. An "artist" does not have the same head nod of understanding that a "government contractor" or an "engineer" or a "consultant" has, yet all of them have extremely vast and open ended possibilities of meaning. After saying I am an artist I have gotten responses on a wide spectrum. There is anything from the 1. Vague, faraway comment and avoidance of further inquiry, to the 2. Genuine excitement and questions, to 3. Blunt, a little hostile questioning of what the flip that is supposed to mean, to 4. A good-for-you, isn't-that-nice attitude where a head pat and assumption that I must not really need to work would be right in line.

Sadly, many people's experience of art comes from a mixture of make and take crafts in elementary school and a historical memorization or recognition of some famous artists or pieces of artwork. At times it is disappointing to constantly have to explain, no, more than that, defend your calling. But I can't help but be refreshed by the fact that each person I tell is a new person to introduce to the long forgotten but oh so vital and natural side of humans that craves, enjoys, needs beauty in their lives.

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