Discourses of 'Risk-taking' and 'Calling', and the Stability of Art Worlds
"Discourses of ‘Risk-taking’ and ‘Calling’, and the Stability of Art Worlds"
Risk entails uncertainty of outcomes and the possibility that they might be negative. Artistic career paths are often described as risky because offering ‘ordinary’ practitioners little certainty of economic success. But artists also risk artistic failure.
A variety of ‘ordinary’ artists and artist craftworkers living in Wales, when interviewed often describe themselves as ‘risk-takers’ and as having no choice because ‘called’ or compelled by their nature, to pursue art. Discourses of ‘calling’ and of ‘risk-taking’ are functional for the stability of art worlds which depends on people able to tolerate ‘failure’.
Presenting oneself as risk-taking, or called, imply moral rhetorics which legitimate actions and make claim to virtue. Following a calling implies willingness to make sacrifices. Risk-taking’s moral virtue lies in the willingness to sacrifice what is actually valued in order to achieve higher ends. Interview material suggests that what is likely to be given up to pursue an artistic career - high income and economic security – is not highly valued.
Art is risky because of uncertainty about being able to satisfy some criteria of artistic success, and the ambiguity of the criteria themselves. Artistic careers are distinctive as much for the essentially contested nature of judgements of artistic success, as for risk-taking per se. Artists risk not only failure, but uncertainty over whether they have actually succeeded nor not. Strategies to deal with this systemic uncertainty include presenting the attempt to produce good art as virtuous, regardless of outcome, and the maintenance of the artistic identity and life style as ends in themselves. Such ‘fall back’ positions reduce their exit from the field.
The implications of this analysis for policy-makers are discussed.
Keywords: artists' risk-taking, artists' 'calling', artists' identity, criteria of artistic success
Mr John Parker
Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, School of Environment and Society, Swansea University, Wales, Great Britain, Swansea University
Ms Hilary Stanworth
Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, School of Environment and Society, University of Swansea, Wales, Great Britain, Swansea University