Naima Morelli

We are doing it for the glory

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When it comes to creative jobs in general – and jobs in contemporary art in particular – the word “work” often assumes nuanced meanings.
After all work is not supposed to be fun. It has to be a daily ordeal, something that drains off your love for life, fades the colours around you and makes food tasteless.
Well, I think that today, more than ever, that is simply not true.
If you are into Brain Pickings, TED Talks, School of Life & similaria just like I am – and you probably are since you stumbled on this blog – you listen to people spurring you to make a business out of your passion every day. Nothing seems to be impossible in the era of internet. The sheer fact of owning a computer opens up a myriad of resources and possibilities.

Yet once again I hear people in contemporary art industry saying “Obviously with this project we are not interested in making any profit. We are doing that for the glory.” What followed is usually a resigned nodding: “That’s the way it is.”
The glory? What the hell, I thought, we are talking of contemporary art! If you are in for the glory, you better choose something a little more mainstream. Contemporary art gave fame and glory to very few people. The majority of these people are just a handful of artists, the rest are Hans Ulrich Obrist and Achille Bonito Oliva. Full stop. You may worship Palma Bucarelli (the late charming director of Rome’s National Gallery from 1942 al 1975) just like I do. But you also have to acknowledge that she’s pretty niche. Niche to the point she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page in English. The best part is that I don’t think she would care about having a Wikipedia page either. She was not in for the glory; working in a museum was her job and it was a real respectable job, the kind that pays the bills – and in her case all those glamorous dresses as well.

Since we are talking about Italy, and I’m based in Rome at the moment, I’ve to point out that in this country the situation is a little bit worse than in many other places. At the same time, with different gradients depending on nation and specific expertise, creative jobs are unpaid or poorly paid everywhere. Most of the times unpaid work is done half-heartedly. Obviously there are many exceptions to that, from selfless volunteers for humanitarian causes everywhere, to bored Sorrento’s post office employees who are paid and still hate to be there. Contemporary art doesn’t corresponds to neither of the two situations. It doesn’t save lives (at least not so directly) and people involved in it usually don’t loathe it. This goes to say that if creative jobs are rewarded as they should be, probably the all industry would benefit and there will be more possibility for everyone. Culture is not just glory; culture is good for the economy as well.

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We all know that in the arts, like in every other industry, there are people who can afford not to work and people who have another job and make art just out of passion. There are people who work in a day job hoping that someday they will have the chance to work in the arts full time. There are people who are passionate about art and they are making a living for themselves out of it, but they can’t figure out a way to pay their collaborators. There are, of course, some people who don’t give a damn, as long as there is someone working for them for free. And yet there is a way creatives can stop being cannon fodder. By making their own opportunity.

If this statement in the art world can sound pretty odd, that’s because too many people think that art is not something you make a living from. Just like the glory, you better think to find another job, if you are looking for paying the rent. To get rid of that assumption is the first step to build a career in the direction you want. The point here is to stop being defeatist from the start, and aim instead to something more than this so-called glory. I’m not talking of a penthouse with swimming pool, I’m talking in having a job that you love and you are able to call job in its own right.

That doesn’t mean compromise what you are doing, but adapt yourself to the circumstances and chances, always maintaining your core values. I would have gladly liked to start writing for Vogue Paris like Martha Gellhorn or to have a great staff job like Oriana Fallaci. At the same time I know I don’t have the conditions to do so; these are different times and I’m a different person. What I did at eighteen was starting to write for online magazines instead. Once I found out that it wasn’t viable to make a living just from art magazines in Italy, I learned to write in English and started freelancing for international magazines.

I’m still doing my researches and figuring things out little by little, but I have noticed that this way of doing things is creating more and more opportunities. Unpaid experiences are unavoidable when you are just starting out, and often they are good to build a portfolio and accumulate experience. At the same time you know when you are ready to step up. It’s entirely up to you to decide when it’s high time for taking another direction. Just because other people around us are doing it just “for the glory”, that doesn’t mean we have to give up on our dreams – better call them plans.

I believe that, if you are really interested in contemporary art, there is a way you can make things work for you. There is no pre-packed recipe out there, no cursus honorum, you have to create your way through a trial and error process. In the process it’s good to surround you with like-minded people – my Art Academy teacher used to call them “Extraordinary Gentlemen”. Not just passionate people who love contemporary art, but also people who consider themselves professionals and not just hobbyist.

However you make your living is where your talent lies, Hemingway used to say. Knowing him from his books, he would have added: “To hell with the glory!”

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Photo 2  e 3 : Zachary Lynd and Kelly Framel for The Glamourai

Photo 2 : Jeremy Hall