Narrative Study on the Sustainability of Contemporary Artists' Career and Practice (Nov 2019 - ongoing)

| Research Abstract

According to the 2016 Data Report prepared by TBR’s Creative & Cultural team and commissioned by Arts Council England, 68% of 1,976 visual artists replied “No, definitely not” to the survey question asking whether art practice incomes are enough to live on. 12% of the same pool answered “No, it provides none of my income” (TBR, 2018: 28). Art is undoubtedly an integral part of contemporary society regarding both culture and economy. There are approximately 32,000 exhibitions taking place globally each year that attract over 303 million visitors (UFI, 2019). Thousands of students enter art programs at college and graduate levels with hopes of living as an artist every year. However, we as a society witness “the reality” where the possibility of fundamental survival has to be heavily questioned by the ones who wish to commit their career to the arts. What could this irony be telling us?

            This research posed questions that would help understand how contemporary artists are navigating their careers towards their respective conception of sustainability and success. Major research questions were: 1) Is it actually difficult to have a sustainable career as a contemporary artist? 2) If so, what are the major factors that hinder career sustenance? 3) If so, how do artists react to their contexts and manage their situations to sustain their career? 4) What are the core competencies required for achieving sustainable career as contemporary artist? To answer these questions qualitatively, this research employed the method of narrative inquiry and interviewed 16 artists who fell under at least one of the three categories of definition of artist suggested by Jeffri and Greenblatt (1989). All of the interviewees were in early or early-mid stage of career. The interviews focused on examining artists’ sets of value in making career-related decisions that reflect internal motivations and perception of the external context. More specifically, the interviews inquired artists’ opinion on career sustainability of contemporary artists, problems contemporary artists have faced and are facing in continuing their artist career, artists’ experience of investing in and utilizing human capital and social capital, artists’ motivations and reasons in continuing their artistic practices, and goals in career as artists. As a result, this research constructed a conceptual model of contemporary artists’ sustainable career by deducing dimensions relevant to sustainable artist career, indicators of sustainable artist career, and core competencies needed for sustainable artist career from the interviews.  

            The purpose of this research is not to extract some absolute formula that would be misunderstood to lead artists to success. The purpose is to allow self-representation of artists and to introduce the audience to personal narratives of contemporary artists to help them understand the arts as a result of human process. Furthermore, by trying to provide a prospective insight into the tendencies of contemporary artists in navigating their careers for sustainability, this research has attempted to forecast the direction contemporary art is headed as a field of occupation and to contribute to the discussion on the concept of sustainable career.

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A "poem" generated by randomizing excerpts from artist interviews

Copyright © 2020 Cho, Hyunjoo