How I’m Surviving the Insanity that is the Art World: Part 1

The Art World today is in poor shape. It depends on a group of people who are willing to sacrifice themselves, give away their labor, and be nearly constantly rejected. In the interest of the United States gaining power in STEM and conservative politics in cutting funding, it has become increasingly difficult to have the requisite funding to keep public institutions feeling secure.

This field is by no means for the faint of heart, or someone aiming to be recognized for their work. For many, it just doesn’t happen. It takes an intense form of passion that can both fuel and burn someone to the ground. In a way, the desire to be around something of creative or historical importance, and people who value it similarly  feels all consuming.

There is little else to me that is more spectacular than researching and helping to recover the history of an object. I was just hired at the Clements Library as a half time Library Assistant. It has me researching and writing finding aids for photographic collections. I cannot explain the joy of finally understanding the reason why something was made, or who made a scrapbook.

An item that played a role in a finding aid. Written in the early 1800s by hand.

At the same time, I’m running myself ragged to be able to start paying off huge loans from Wellesley College. Since it is in the Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum world, it’s not as if there is the budget to pay me enough to stop working as a barista. I love being a barista, but commuting up to an hour each way for 70 hour work week is brutal.

Behind these doors, I work.

It’s not an uncommon situation. Either a person is independently wealthy, has family who can support them, gets incredibly lucky or has to choose to take a chance on themselves. I learned this from story after story from former bosses, friends, and mentors.

What gets me through this is trying to understand how people got where they are today. The curator who took a chance on me, told once me a selection of all the jobs he had held and how it helped him get where he was. He wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone about anything because of the breadth of his experiences. His shows are diverse and inclusive  because he worked so hard to get where he was.

So when I’m driving to Ann Arbor, on 6 hours of sleep and heading into a day that is effectively 18 hours in length, I prioritize. I think about what matters to me and how I get there. This blog matters to me, because I believe in my fellow writers and what we are working to say. The Clements matters to me because I’m getting ready to go to University of Wisconsin Madison in 2017. Yet, in the end, what matters is me. When I’m getting too tired, I am going to bed. When I want something small and luxurious like a chai latte, I am drinking one. When someone crosses an explicit boundary, I put my foot down.

My way of surviving the art world is deciding to above all else to believe in myself and do whatever is my capacity to get myself. Life is incredibly short. By all accounts, I’m about 30% done with my life. And when I’m dead, I won’t be remembered as a President or famous artist. At the most, I will be remembered by looking in institutional archives and newspapers that mention small scale events.

I’m going to walk a very fine line for a very long time. Yet, I’ve found a career soulmate. And there is always my love, my best friend, Erik. And our little corgi Stella who is a loving monster. All of these is what makes it worth it.

In part 2, I’ll talk about specific strategies I’ve developed and learned from others. Stay tuned for next week!

I can’t thank them enough for being there when I need.

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