What makes an artist? Examining the social and pedagogical influence in being and becoming artists
Location Brunei Gallery - B201
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Hakon Caspersen (University of St Andrews) email
  • Molly Rosenbaum (University of St. Andrews) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

Focusing on the process of learning to become an artist, both in informal and institutionalised settings, this panel will critically discuss the oft taken for granted assumptions involved in what it means to be and become an artist.

Long abstract

Recent examinations of art and anthropology have been interested in understanding the relational association between artists and the public, specifically through the media and materiality of the art produced. Focusing instead on the process of learning to become an artist, both in informal and institutionalised settings, we aim to critically discuss the oft taken for granted assumptions involved in what it means to be and become an artist. This panel, then, is interested in understanding how recent studies on the social role of art, creativity, and labour, as well as commodification of art in late socialism and late capitalism, problematize the social and pedagogical process of becoming an artist. We encourage contributions from a wide range of ethnographic settings, including, but not limited to, the world of fine artists, designers, woodcarvers, fiction writers, craftspeople, musicians, poets, and performers. Questions we encourage contributors to explore include:

What processes are involved in becoming an artist?

What is the pedagogical approach when learning to become artists?

What are the complications of different forms of learning on the meaning of the role of the artist?

What role do expectations of consumption and external recognition play in shaping the role and performance involved in becoming and being considered an artist?

How is creativity present, conceptualized and understood in different pedagogical settings?

What differences and similarities can be identified across ethnographic contexts?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Auditing creativity? The UK Art School in the age of neoliberalism

Author: Alex Franklin (University of the West of England) email

Short abstract

This paper will examine the role that the HEI Art School plays in both normalising and resisting the standardisation of the artist/designer in the UK and reflect on the growing influence of systems of 'coercive accountability' (Shore and Wright 2000) such as REF, TEF and the NSS.

Long abstract

In his Critique of Judgement (1790), Kant asserted that 'fine art is the art of genius' and further that, genius 'is the talent (natural endowment) which gives the rule to art. Since talent, as an innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to nature, we may put it this way: Genius is the innate mental aptitude (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art.' This Romantic and deterministic vision of the creative practitioner has a long shadow, one which is still being felt in contemporary British Art Schools wherein the pressure to identify and draw out the unique talents of an individual sits uncomfortably alongside the institutional drive for universal, homogenising assessment practices and funding metrics.

This paper employs an analytic autoethnographic approach in the study of the evolving role of the Art School in the production of both the 'artists' and 'art' of the future. The author is a 'full member' (Anderson 2010) of the group being studied, inasmuch as her first degree was in Fine Art and she has worked in HEI arts education for 20+ years. The paper will outline the lived experience of balancing institutional, policy-driven and logistical demands with the day-to-day challenges of teaching students from a range of backgrounds, with a range of abilities, with a wide range of expectations, and all with a view to preparing them for a world which has yet to be imagined into being.

Becoming and Being Dalang

Author: Marianna Lis email

Short abstract

The paper will focus on the process of informal and formal learning process of becoming a puppeteer (dalang) in Indonesian shadow theatre, showing how and when he/she has transformed into an artist in the Western sense of the term.

Long abstract

In traditional Indonesian shadow theatre - wayang kulit the most important person is dalang - one person who narrates, animates and lends voices to all characters appearing during the performance and also acts as playwright, conductor, director or kind of curator taking care of the shape of the whole performance, being a philosopher, spiritual guide and guru as well.

100 years ago still the only option for becoming a dalang was to go on a long-term, informal "training" under the guidance of a master, usually a father or grandfather. Disciples started their studies in childhood, learning by observing and imitating. The change took place at the beginning of the 20th century, in colonial era - the first school for dalangs was opened in 1923 and the program focused not only on practical skills, spiritual and philosophical aspects of being a puppeteer, but students also learned about history and theory of shadow theatre. Therefore, the creation of schools is considered the culmination of the colonial process of constructing a traditional, "normative" shadow theater and the beginning of changes in the perception of the role of dalang. Schools, opened first at the Sultan palaces, and after Indonesia regained independence also by the state, played a decisive role in transforming the dalang into an artist in the Western sense of the term.

The paper will focus on showing the changes that have taken place in the dalang's learning process since the founding of the first schools until the beginning of the 21st century.

From 'Ghost Painter' to 'the People's Artist': Qi Baishi's (1864-1957) Craft, Art and Social Network

Author: Shu-Chi Shen (Southeast University) email

Short abstract

This paper studies that how famous Chinese artist Qi Baishi (1864-1957) marketed himself. How did this marketing play the crucial role in establishing his art career, drive him from an artisan to 'the People's Artist' through the patronage of the provincial fellows, politicians and the nation?

Long abstract

Qi Baishi (1864-1957), one of the most famous modern Chinese artists, relied on his traditional artisan training and excelled in poetry, seal-carving, calligraphy and painting. This paper examines the complicated relationship between Qi Baishi's humble background, art performance and his art circle within the Beijing art world. Qi Baishi was a man both of the studio and of the marketplace; therefore, throughout his life he had to depend on his own means for survival, which drives him to assume a positive stance towards art as a commodity. It aims to explore two core research questions: 'Why and how was Qi elevated from the status of a local artist to that of an artistic figure of nationwide?' and 'how did he adopt the vernacular style for his painting?'

Firstly, I examine the ways in which Qi Baishi's individual patrons promoted him through social networks based on his hometown connections, including his provincial ghost painter service for his clients, officials and scholars. Next, by exploring Qi Baishi's sophisticated ways of selling by price lists (in 1903, 1919, 1929 and 1940s) and his social network, I scrutinize how Qi Baishi promotes, circulates and executes his painting, calligraphy and seal-carving within the competitive art market in China.

Life after art school

Author: Hakon Caspersen (University of St Andrews) email

Short abstract

This paper explores how a group of recent fine art graduates conceptualise themselves as artists and understand their creative practice, as well as the labour involved in maintaining the trajectory of becoming an artist.

Long abstract

A prospectus for a degree in fine art at one of Scotland's largest art schools tells us that a degree will make you able to: produce work of art to a professional standard; manage your own projects; develop good time management and self-reflective critique. Yet, a degree is rarely enough to make an artist, in the sense of ensuring continued artistic practice after art school.

To what extend does the art school prepare students for life after art school in an environment where the designation 'fine artist' is more often found in calls for unpaid internships than job advertisements? How do recent graduates deal with the seemingly default-mode of artistic-labor, juggling earning a living and creative practice?

This paper looks at how recent graduates seek to maintain their practice and identity when leaving the relatively sheltered environment of an art school. It takes as a starting point a group of recent fine art graduates that have chosen to stay in the city where they studied. The paper explores how they conceptualise themselves as artists and understand their creative practice, as well as the labour involved in maintaining the trajectory of becoming an artist.

The paper will further discuss the continued presence and influence of the art school on its graduates who choose to stay. It will highlight the importance of other graduates' DIY initiatives, and the professional and personal friendship networks created during art school, all crucial for recent graduates to maintain connected to the city's creative community.

Who deserves the title 'artist'? The needs of 'the artistic other' and the rewards of artists in Scotland

Author: Yang Yang (University of St Andrews) email

Short abstract

This paper examines who deserves the title 'artist' through non-art practitioners in 'art worlds'. The title 'artist' is perhaps not an entitlement for any self-proclaimed artists but a privileged status for those who have satisfied the 'needs' of the artistic 'other'—as regarded by artists.

Long abstract

Bain (2005) finds that who deserves the title of 'artist' is probably not a settled question among art practitioners in Canada. Based on this insight, this paper examines the same question — who deserves the title 'artist' — through non-art practitioners in 'art worlds' (Becker 2008), namely the Scottish government, consumers and businessmen.

I argue the title 'artist' is perhaps not an entitlement for any self-proclaimed artists but a privilege for those who have somehow satisfied the needs of 'the artistic other'—as regarded by artists. Non-art practitioners' expectations could affect the financial and symbolic rewards of artists in Scotland. By distributing funding and other advantages, governmental agencies sponsor artists whose work is seen to match those agencies' policies and political legitimisations. Commercial interests also seek profit in every aspect of art worlds. Failure to fulfil the demands of these non-practitioners may lead to the fact that despite there being relatively few recognised artists in Scotland, many art practitioners lack the visibility that may enable them to survive as 'artists' and have to accept the requirement of a 'huge effort for, often, little pay' (Taylor & Littleton 2012: 126).

An 'artist' has been interpreted as a representative of an agenda of 'resistance' (Oakley 2009), an ambivalent economic-cultural class (Bourdieu 1988) and a type of job (Banks 2007). This paper might render visible an aspect of artistic 'deservedness' often overlooked, challenging the everyday understanding of the title 'artist' simply as an acknowledgement of an individual's artistic talent or ability.

Writers without readers and markets: ethnography from a literary workshop in Havana, Cuba

Author: Molly Rosenbaum (University of St. Andrews) email

Short abstract

I am interested in understanding how writers become writers socially, not necessarily pedagogically, in Havana, Cuba, where the socialist economy creates a very different relationship between author, the text and the reader.

Long abstract

In Havana, Cuba, the writers with whom I conducted fieldwork, struggle to call themselves 'writers', although they graduated from the nation's top centre for the study of narrative fiction, practice their craft regularly and publicly present their writing in formal workshops and literary salons. The government operated printing presses, imprints and bookshops are not interested in profits and often are not monitoring how books sell or whether the public may or may not want to buy them. In this paper, I will discuss how this type of market challenges the relationship between an author and their reader, whether 'real' or 'imagined', and how it influences the way young writers on the cusp of publication understand what it means to be a writer in Cuba. Centring the discussion on the Declaracion de Principios (Declaration of Principles) written and edited cooperatively by one group of writers, I will show how my interlocutors in Havana conceive of the literary old guard (las vacas sagradas), the vanguard (vanguardia), the Cuban publishing infrastructure and the craft of writing. I will also examine how these writers discussed what it would be like to be a writer in a more market-driven publishing system and how they imagined an ideal future for writers in Cuba. In examining these topics, I hope to contribute to broader questions about what it means to 'be' a writer socially and how certain conceptions of 'readers' and 'markets' influence how a person conceives of their writer status.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.