09 October 2012

What do you call yourself?

Snippets from a conversation John and I had yesterday. This a thing I've been thinking about lately – When is someone an artist? Writer? Musician? Actor? And why do only creative titles come to mind when typing these options out - because a trade is tangible, more easily tied to a product that you make a living making, and therefore less of a fuzzy concept?

John: When can someone legitimately say they "do art/music/acting" for a living? Because you know, like half of Brooklyn says that's what they do.

Johanna: I love that conversation. I was having it with Mr. T the other day…

John: What do you think?

Johanna: I am not sure, I want to talk about it more with people. Mr. T told me he'd call me a writer over a musician, even though I feel music ingrained in me, and am drawn to it more. He said it's because I write more frequently/regularly. When I asked Laura if she was a writer she said no, which shocked the hell out of me, because even though she's a transportation planner, writing is what.she.does. And has always done. And she's phenomenal at it - it's like speaking a foreign language fluently. And the other day, Aaron said he'd "definitely" call me an artist even though I don't consider my little projects "making art." It has totally depended on who I've spoken with.

John: Interesting. I think it's fine to consider yourself anything as a hobbyist. But when I ask someone what they do for a living and they give me an answer that doesn't involve paying their rent, I think less of them for a half-second.

Johanna: That's just interpreting your question wrong, to me. [To me], "for a living" means "how do you make money," and "what are you" is different. Sometimes it's the same.

John: I don't like it when people don't take pride in what they do. People should own their stuff.

Johanna: It's weird. I wouldn't call myself a photographer even though I take pictures all the time. Maybe because people don't seek me out for it (well, even when they did!). But people don't seek me out to make music either (nor has anybody even heard me play, really), and I would call myself a musician. So weird. I guess it's about self identity. Which you could say is a version of "owning their stuff."

This way.

John: Right, identity is so interesting and tricky. I'm all for creative self expression. But for real, people who front… it's like, first, it's bad that they think there is something about being a waitress that is inherently degrading, or shameful. That's F'd up. So right away I take issue with it.

Johanna: You mean, like, "there must be something else that you do" projection?

John: Well, aspiring to be something is wonderful. And having something that enables you to pursue that isn't shameful.

Johanna: I think people forget to think about it that way, or just don't/haven't gotten there yet.

John: Like, if I ask you "what do you do" and you say you're an artist, the next question i'm going to ask is what your medium is. And so on. Because I want to know about that.

Johanna: Do you think someone can call themselves an artist if they are describing how they see the world and how they interact with it? Like Sophie Calle or something? Sometimes she did installations but other times little social experiments and documented them.

John: Hmm, I haven't really thought about that. I think I would consider what they do sort of at the cross section of art and philosophy, if it's expressing a point of view.

Johanna: Interesting, I looked her up on Wikipedia to see how it would describe her: "Sophie Calle (born 1953) is a French writer, photographer, installation artist, and conceptual artist.[1] Calle's work is distinguished by its use of arbitrary sets of constraints, and evokes the French literary movement of the 1960s known as Oulipo."

The conversation went on and on, and slowly started unraveling because we got distracted by Hemingway cats. But, what do you guys think? Is it being paid for X thing that makes you X? Spending a lot of your time thinking about, immersing yourself, and making that thing even if it's privately/on the side? A way of looking at the world? The thing you do that makes you feel the most you, comfortable, and like you are home?

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