Excerpts from “Making Your Life As an Artist” by Andrew Simonet

Here are 3 excerpts from Making Your Life As An Artist” that relate to our in-class discussion of the role of art in our culture, and making your Elevator speech.


Our Role in the Culture

Artists are the only people who contribute new knowledge to the cultural realm. Others can refine, popularize, or synthesize our research, but we discover new cultural information.

That is a sacred responsibility.

We live in a time when we are inundated by images: pictures, language, videos, stories, music, bodies.

99% of those images are made for one reason: to get you to buy something. We artists are responsible for that tiny sliver of images that can be made for every other possible reason: cultural, spiritual, political, emotional.

In an age of image overload, this is a sacred responsibility.

Our Role as opposed to the Effect of our Work

“One more thing: our role as artists is different from the effects we have on the world.
Artists have a lot of effects on the world: our work impacts education, citizenship, multiculturalism, urban renewal. But those are effects of our role; they are not the role.
Our role is to ask rigorous and reckless cultural questions, do our research, and share the results. When we do our role well, all kinds of other things happen. We invigorate cities. We spark important, difficult conversations. We educate. We inspire other fields. But if you evaluate (and fund) the arts based on those effects, you quickly distort the sector.

An analogy: addiction programs in a mosque or church or synagogue can be hugely successful. But what we if funded these places of worship based on their ability to treat addiction? What if we resourced them based on the effect (addiction recovery) instead of the role (center of spiritual life)? First, you’d get some pretty weird churches and mosques, bending over backwards to prove they were curing addiction. And, eventually, they’d lose effectiveness. The effect (addiction recovery) would diminish as their role (place of worship) was neglected.

Effects are great. But our role is more important.”

Leading with your Mission

“Your Mission
Every artist has a mission, a purpose bigger than yourself, a generosity. No one gets into this work for the money or status. Not for long, anyway. Artists begin with something to give to the world.
It may be a way of seeing or listening.
It may be pushing embodiment or questioning Big Cultural Narratives.

When we lead with our mission, more people connect with us.
And it makes us more powerful and more fulfilled.”

CIVILIAN: “What do you do?”
ARTIST: “I make postmodern dances for the stage.”


CIVILIAN: “What do you do?”
ARTIST: “I’m interested in what is happening to our bodies in this age of digital devices. Are we connecting or disconnecting?”
CIVILIAN: “That’s so interesting because I was just…”
CIVILIAN: “What do you do?”
ARTIST: “I make large-scale figurative paintings and installations, often site-specific.”
CIVILIAN: “. . .”


CIVILIAN: “What do you do?”
ARTIST: “I’m looking at all of the stuff we own, the things that fill up our homes. Where does it all come from? Does it keep us safe? Does it overwhelm us?”
CIVILIAN: “Yeah, I was just telling my friend the other day that . . .”

-Andrew Simonet from “Making Your Life as an Artist


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