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Does being an artist make me a wanker?

Updated: May 17, 2022

I have come back to this question, and this piece of writing, multiple times over the past 6 or so months. The answer to the question alternates, but never quite settles. I want to find an answer for both yes and no, but the problem and the solution are entrenched in my social positioning and the personal reasons behind my ambition to persue an academic career.

As someone who grew up on the bottom end of the economic food chain, in a tin shed in a small logging community - forgive me if i'm a little anti-elitist.

It happens more often that not, that when I walk through a gallery with my family I spend a vast amount of time defending the art. Not because I like it but because am defending my own life decisions. My family fully support my career choices but they are also very vocal about how crap they think most art is. If they can't see craftsmanship in it or they don't get the context, it's a wank - and a lot of the time it is.

I think this is a pretty common experience.

Sometimes when I go back to my hometown, or talk to extended family members, or even just when I'm having a conversation with someone random and I'm asked what I do, I cringe at myself.

When I'm away from the city I avoid telling people I'm doing my masters, because it's not the piece of paper that matters to me at all, and that's where I become the wanker.

It's the upwards of $50,000 worth of self scrutinisation that I want. No matter how hard I try, normal day-to-day life doesn't afford me the space to prioritise studio time and my painting in the way that I want to. I really do want my art to be the most important thing in my life. At least until I find my groove with it. When I really consider how much a university degree costs in money, time and energy, I'm made aware that this decision makes me somewhat of a privileged narcissist.

I'm lucky enough to not have children or an extended family that rely on financial security from me. I'm lucky enough that I can jiggle my way through bureaucracy and live comfortably in rentals on (less than) minimum wage. I'm lucky enough that I don't have a serious addiction, or a debilitating mental health disorder that would hinder this pursuit. I very nearly could have, and in my circles it's all to common.

Picture this

I've decided to work part time and take out a gigantic hex debt for a degree that has no guaranteed job prospects at the end. So that I can try to better understand myself and my positioning in the world by making pictures and hanging them in different ways.


Artists will tell you that art is not self gratifying, it is a magical way to observe and record the world around us in ways that other forms of communication fall short - it's therapeutic, it can be a universal language. Art history gives us a lengthy chronological map of the psyche and idiosyncrasies of society and its individuals from around the globe, and continues to do so at an exponential rate. I don't want to bang on about my 'passion' for art, how I couldn't possibly imagine myself being anything else, because I can.

I think the answer is yes, it does make me a wanker. I think all artists at an academic level are and all academics certainly are, because it is contextual. Without the social comparison, intellectual persiut is pure.

I know I could me more comfortable in anti-elitist art circles, most of the artists I know outside of university are making way more money from their art than I do and their relationship with their art practices seem way less strained than mine.

But I think it just comes down to the pursuit of happiness. Being brought up away from the rat race that prioritises financial success and traditional family dynamics encouraged me to chase mental stimulation and do what I want with my life.

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