Walter Miranda
Plastic Artist

The Professionalism and the Plastic Artist

Published in D.O. Leitura (cultural newspaper of the State Press) in June 1991

Some years ago, talking to a friend, I heard very interesting opinions about the plastic artist and the concept of work. On that moment, we discussed several point of view on the plastic artist's profession. After all:

  • When an artist is professional?
  • When he just creates his works or when he exposes them or when he sells them?
  • Which concept of profession the plastic artist have in the capitalist society today in function of the product of his activity?

I think that, with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, some great ideological discussions began and, at least, they threatened the holders of the means of production at that time. After all, they were accused of enjoying (without a drop of effort) on the work executed for other. In the center of the discussions there were two controversies:

1) the value of a merchandise depends on its usefulness.

2) the value of a merchandise depends on the work used in its production.

Some said that the meaning of the word " usefulness " was relative because it depended on the feeling of who would buy. Others said that the feeling of who would buy depended on the need coming from his way of life and his social level. Some said that the work depended on the amount of manufactured merchandise. Others said that the amount of merchandise depended on the law of supply and demand. To complicate still more, other appeared saying that the law of supply and demand was dismantled with the coming of the advertising, that has the power to address the potential buyer's opinion.

From all of that, appeared the great social conflicts, known by all of us and that, in all of the cases, culminated with some kind of “ism”. To make things bad, ours (of Brazil) “ism” is not there, nor here. The widespread corruption reigns. The rules are not defined very well and they change in agreement with the dominant interests.

Today, our economic policy is not committed with the means of production, but just with the means of speculation, camouflaged by the dialectic use of the word globalization. And when there is some deflection in the economical politics our dominant class creates economical mechanisms that put more value in the consumption than in the production, in the market than in the costs, in the quantity than in, the quality. Finally, we are always valuing the relative to detriment the absolute.

And it is not possible to discuss that anymore with the economists, bankers, entrepreneurs or who of right. It is what it is! They are unalterable laws!

Now, if that whole confusion happens in function of quantified things, what to say about conceptual things like the work of art and the artist's work?

That discussion is very old and until the Renaissance, everything was focused in handicraft which was paid in function of the used material, the necessary time for its execution and the technical difficulties of each order.

With the use of the canvas as support, it became easier to transport the paintings in Renaissance and they had their status changed to "goods” of a more accessible market.

At the same time, the concept of the word "artist" began to be mythicized, no longer it meant a mere "artisan", a mere human being. In the beginning (the artists were few), everything was a beauty! It was very comfortable for the new "demigods", who deigned to show their divinity through works of art, to be treated with reverence. And, at the end of the century XIX and beginning of the century XX, the artists began to abandon the skill of the arts. No longer it was more necessary the domain of the "workmanship” and the thing still got more complicated, because what was mensurable became conceptual.

If in the Middle Age the works were paid in function of the executed work, number of hours, used material and technical challenges, with the artist's mystification the value of the work of art became relative. It depended on the artist's name and his status. The technical quality of the work no longer was worth, especially because a lot of times it was conceptual, which relativized, still more, the relationship work/price. Some said that a work (art) could not just be connected anymore to absolute subjects (techniques). Others said that the conceptual had to be necessarily connected to the occupation. The discussion continues until today. Maybe the posterity will get some conclusion. I doubt!

The fact is that, independently of the philosophical side, after the Industrial Revolution, the society started to value the merchandise related to a line of production and the need of consumption produced artificially. Since then, the artists (now many and many) became characterized as "vagabonds", because they didn't produce essential goods to the consumption society. They only liked to pass the time painting, sculpting, carving, drawing, etc.

Van Gogh was protagonist of great dramas in function of the dichotomy work/product and his letters show how much this had disturbed him. The people considered him crazy, drunkard, useless to the materialistic and mercantile society (most of the artists, with rare exceptions, already tried that situation, begining with his own family).

The work became related to a suposed financial profit and, not anymore, to the time dedicated to an activity. That is the ingrate inheritance that the artist received from a society based in superficial concepts.

So, usually, every artist considered "unknown" by the art market, is not classified as a professional artist, even if he passes everyday painting, sculpting, carving, drawing; while a famous "artist", who is a seller (participant of the market), will be considered a professional artist even if he passes one hour to produce a work and pass the rest of the time in the bohemian life.

  • Which one is less or more worker?
  • Which one is less or more professional?
  • How to characterize professionalism inside of that activity?

Im my opinion, the two examples of artists, above mentioned, are workers. Each one with the specificity of a wide activity where it is difficult to determine its borders: the Art.

Art, is a concept created by the human being to explain one of the ways used to express his anguishes and longings, his relationship (material, spiritual and philosophical) with the world around him. Finally, to express his feelings. In that sense, so much yesterday as today, the greater function of the work of art is not its sale, but its relationship with the spectator, without to impinge him the same author's intention since it is impossible to decipher all of the elements, conceptual or material, implicit in a work. Especially because, the art is a kind of language and, as such, it can give us several types of interpretations.

In that sense, I think that the concept of professionalism come upon by the fact that the artist must have a frequent production and take this production to public through art exhibitions, salons of art, art shows, etc. It is not enough to produce and to leave the work hidden below the bed or just show them to his relatives and friends. This coud make him an artist, but not a professional of the art. Concerning the work sale, this is a consequence which does not depend on the action of the creation and which it is connected to the capitalist and materialistic mercantilism explained previously.

As the plastic artist has the terrible habit of needing to eat, to dress and to have home to live decently, he needed to adapt himself to the rules of the materialistic society. As we cannot avoid the fact that the work of art, after being ready, also acquire the concept of product, we must be careful for not mixing the water with the wine. There are works which have a market receptivity and other no. However, this doesn't decrease nor increase the value of an artistic production of any artist, they are just characteristics connected to market subjects or private interests; they are just faces of a same polygon.

The plastic artist, independently of his technique, style and concept, will be professional if he has a consistent art production and take his work to the public with certain frequency. If the technical or conceptual level of the work is good or bad, that is another story, after all, there are good and bad professionals in all of the branches of the human activity.

It is necessary to remind, that art is a human manifestation present in all cultures (in one or another way), in all times, and that it never depended on factors strange to their essential reasons. Especially because, when the art was born, in the prehistory, there was no art market!!!

Walter Miranda - May/1991

Revised and updated in December/2001

Walter Miranda
Ateliê Oficina FWM de Artes
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