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Culture Program of the European Comission

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How do you feel about being labeled a young or emerging artist?
07.12.2011

I don’t like the term emerging because it assumes a trajectory of increase in one’s career. It feels Modern, outmoded, inaccurate to the actual economy we work inside of. What if I want to make a piece with nine people now and a very small solo when I’m 43? What if I would be better at taking on a massive stage-project when I am 18 than when I am 81? What if I want to write a novel now and choreograph a dance next year and record an album the year after?  The suggestion in the word “emergence“ of a trajectory of steady increase is also not really accurate to the turbulent market in which any given artist’s career is expected to emerge, and/or the different constellations he or she may work in these days, from large companies to small projects... I feel we are all surfing and swimming more than emerging, riding waves, building temporary boats, grabbing on to life rafts, hopping from giant cruiser to kayak without batting an eyelash at the shift in scale.

 

To be called young and emerging is in some ways appropriate to my age and years of experience. But I also feel it denotes a certain hype which makes me wonder what happens when I become considered a less-young, not-really emerging artist. I already am treated as one sometimes by institutions who do not want to help support my work because I am “too established“. I find this demarcation even more surprising, and I’m assuming, based on how our accepted market discourse frames and packages artistic careers, with its categories such as “emerging,“ that the biggest challenges arrive in the middle of a career, rather than the beginning or later years.  If I regard the timeline of an artist who commits to their work for a lifetime (which means they persist through the ups and downs because they are an artist through and through and not just a trial-and-error entrepreneur), being 28 and having made 4 pieces since graduating would not be considered established in my mind.

 

I think sometimes in project-based and freelance working models (which are more and more prevalent these days than permanent or long term institutions and working groups) there is not enough thought about, emphasis on, or care for the long term trajectory of an artist. With so much uncertainty and speculation surrounding every production, and the work required to overcome it simply in order to have the means to work at all, each project can feel like a whole new start back at the beginning, repeatedly launching oneself into a seemingly chronic artistic “emergence“. As if unprecedented by other efforts, the work of announcing, representing, justifying, positioning, researching, explaining, and selling each unique idea as if an isolated event is not necessarily accurate to the way that the idea actually develops, the “research“ actually takes place, the team actually assembles, or the artistic work actually flows. This overemphasis on self-representation produces a tacit premium placed either on constant reinvention of oneself or on developing a signature mark of consistent artistic identity - either of which are to me concerns absolutely extraneous to the work itself, and should be, if at all important, only a result or side-effect of the work itself rather than the goal of the work. All in all, the fact that no support can be taken for granted means that the artist spends the same if not more time on the the packaging and positioning of the product and its production than on the creation of the artistic product itself. Which is perhaps why I can have so much to say about the word “emerging“ at all...

Eleanor Bauer



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