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The Column icon The Column: Issue 57

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

Money and the Vocational Artist
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

The act of being creative is part of human nature. It is not confined to those who exhibit talent or virtuosity in a given artistic medium. Creativity is a profound force in all our lives, although many fail to acknowledge its personal manifestations.

Recognizing our common creativity, there are also those more rare whose intense desire to explore and express their creativity and ideas, whose need to articulate, whose life's focus is the achievement of their creative vision, despite the personal economic disadvantage that may occur in following that goal.

Distinguishing the vocational artist from the ego centric self-absorbed art practitioner is at times difficult. The vocational artist need not be poor though they are often unwealthy for they place the importance of their vocation above commercial gain. In this column I set out why supporting the vocational artist is crucial to society, and how one might judge the genuine vocational artist from the pretender.

More Than A Job

A job is a specific piece of work required to be done as a duty or for a specific fee. Commercial artists, commissioned composers, and sponsored authors create within the context of the marketplace. In contrast, the vocational artist carries out their occupation more for its altruistic and aesthetic benefits than for income.

Altruism holds that the interests of others, rather than of the self, can motivate an individual. Aesthetics pertains to understanding that incorporates intellectual, sensory, and emotional involvement and responses to the arts. Aesthetics is the experience and study of beauty, of what is pleasing or "artistic".

Vocational artists can be seen as fulfilling a psychological or spiritual need, and usually implies that the creative has a form of "calling" for the task.

Financial Assistance for Creatives

Creatives are paid for their services or fund their creative work by one of the following means:

Self Funding
The vast majority of vocational artists enjoy no financial support for their work. They must be either economically comfortable, or have a day or part-time job which supports their passion. While their job pays for their daily essentials they are often tired and de-motivated by the demands of what they consider as their "ordinary life". Maintaining their vision of their "extraordinary existence" is a constant struggle as their focus is continually distracted by practical concerns.

There are few vocational artists who achieve their creative potential as most succumb to the day to day demands and distractions of the world. Only those with a generous helping of luck or an iron determination and overwhelming need for completion continue on their creative journey.

The Patron
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege and often financial aid given by a person or an organization. Art patronage arose historically wherever a royal or imperial system and an aristocracy dominated a society and controlled a significant share of resources. Rulers, nobles, and very wealthy people used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige.

The modern patron is often on a more modest scale and may be a partner, family member, or person who shares the creative's vision and wishes to support them in their quest to achieve their potential. The patron can make the crucial difference in bringing works of art to fruition through their generous support of the artist.

The Benefactor
A benefactor is a person or other entity who provides money or other benefits to the creative. The person receiving them is called a beneficiary. In contrast with the patron, the benefactor will likely not have a long term commitment to the creative person, but rather provides an injection of money and/or resources.

The Grant
Arts grants are provided by organizations and give monitory aid to support certain creative activities. The grant body usually has strict criteria about the kind of activity which is to be supported, and there is considerable competition when applying for grants. Grant bodies may require continuous reporting on the way grant money is being spent, and also analyze the effectiveness of the use of their grant according to the grant body's agenda.

The process of applying for a grant is not well suited to the instinctive and unconventional temperament of the vocational artist as the mind-set required is one of the marketplace. The successful grant applicant requires good administrative and communication skills in presenting their case for support.

Grants are generally awarded to established creatives who move within the world of the artistic elite rather than the independent vocational artist. The majority of arts grants are provided by governmental arts organizations who are staffed by arts administrators. Arts administrators have considerable influence over those who are successful with their grant applications as they guide their preferred choices behind the scenes and before the public application process begins. When the grant application is submitted the decisions about successful applicants and the allocation of budgets have largely already been made.

The Sponsor
A sponsor is the individual or group that provides support in exchange for the right to associate their name, products, or services with the sponsored individual's work in return for negotiated benefits. The sponsor may for example wish their products to be endorsed by the sponsored individual.

Arts sponsorship often places considerable qualifications on the work that is being produced, and is therefore appropriate to the creative professional rather than the vocational artist where freedom of expression is paramount.

The Commission
A commission is when payment is given to a creative professional as remuneration for an original creative work (for example, a piece of music, a painting, a photograph). As the client, the commissioner may make specific requests about the content of the work, and the creative professional's responsibility should primarily be in the service of the commissioner.

The Workplace
The vast majority of creatives work as freelance creative professionals, for a company that has a creative department, or a small to mid-sized creative studio specializing in a particular area (for example, a design studio). In all three contexts creatives must deliver work according to the requirements of their clients.

The Calling

I stated earlier in this column the "vocational artist" has a "calling". I believe that is what sets the vocational artist apart from those who practice art purely for their personal satisfaction or as a commercial activity. The difference between the vocational artist and other practitioners is not in the medium they use (paint, words, music etc.), but rather in their motivation and vision. They do not merely wish to create, they have no choice but to create.

As the vocational artist works independently of the confines of the marketplace (including the contemporary art market), they have the opportunity to focus their creative efforts. They make aesthetic decisions without having to justify them to a client, they challenge artistic convention without concern for the criticisms of the arts elite, they seek and explore without the requirement to qualify their creative actions to a third party. Simply put, they are free, and freedom for them is essential.

The individual creative can assess whether they are a vocational artist by asking themselves whether they are happy to share the products of their creative labors freely. Money for art makes it no more important nor affective. Art stands or falls on its own merits once it has the opportunity to be experienced. Only if the creative is truly happy to gift their work can the potential patron or supporter confirm they are at heart a vocational artist.

There is of course no guarantee a vocational artist will create a work which is powerful, enriching, or connects with its audience, however the need of them is crucial to society's well being. The works they produce are a reflection of the human condition, they are testament to the importance we place on qualities found outside of the marketplace, and they can bring great pleasure and insight as they expand our understanding and experience of the world.


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also the Creative Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company.

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