What makes a professional artist? (Let's just leave aside the bigger and plagued-with-over-opinion, "What makes an artist?"). If you follow the thinking presented today by Jane Dunnewold at our Saturday FASA meeting, the answer is not too far from what makes a professional physician, or engineer. Using studies and surveys from these fields Jane found parallel qualities, beliefs, values and practices that, whatever the field, can furnish guidance to us as we work and relate to our peers, our collectors, the galleries, schools and museums, and -- perhaps most telling of all -- to our own psyches.
Dunnewold's talk, which was first presented at the opening of the Visions exhibit in San Diego, looked at the quantifiable qualities that professionalism entailed in one of the studies (that for the medical field) and then, with her experience as a teacher, maker, juror, curator, extrapolated the three areas -- interpersonal professionalism (between artists), social professionalism (between the artist and our world of interaction), and intrapersonal professionalism (within ourself). There was much worth pondering, including the practice (or lack thereof) of whistle-blowing when needed (how many times have you let an unsafe studio behavior go by unmentioned?); the thin line between being influenced by our teachers and being copyists of their work, when we should have moved on into our own; the necessity of practice as well as philosophy to guide us; and the necessity to confront our weaknesses, whether they be technical (drawing, for instance) or procedural (keeping good records), and doing some study to advance our skills.
But most of all, I left the program with two questions in mind, those that Jane shared at her conclusion.
To paraphrase: As you do the work, you should be able to answer these two questions with a yes -- 1. Did I do the best work I could at this particular time? and, 2. Did I learn something from doing it? It is these affirmative answers that move us along as professionals, artists, doctors, retail merchants, human beings.