CFP : Getting old as an artist. ‘Modest’ artists’ trajectories in light of time

Published on 24 October 2017 par Heta Rundgren

For the Journal "Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques", Special issue (2019/2) edited by Marie Buscatto, propositions before February 1st 2018.

Over the past decades, the number of people who desire to become renowned artists and/or to make a living with their art have highly increased whether they are actors and actresses (Menger, 2003), musicians (Coulangeon, 2004), visual artists (Abbing, 2002; Karttunen, 2008; Moulin, 1983; Quemin, 2013), writers (Lahire, 2006), film directors (Alexandre, 2015), dancers (Rannou, Roharik, 2006) or circus artists (Cordier, 2009).

This desire has not been impeded despite the low rate of success among artists to make a living as well as to be renowned and the increasing material difficulties experienced through time – notably high precariousness, low remunerations, high temporal availability, constant flexibility (Buscatto, 2012). In the last twenty years, numerous empirical studies have demonstrated both the objective difficult living conditions artists are confronted with in contemporary societies and the subjective conditions justifying such a strong commitment in several art worlds (Becker, 1982) such as literature (Heinich, 2008; Lahire, 2006; Sapiro, 2007), poetry (Dubois, 2012), circus (Cordier, 2009), electronic, techno and rap music (Jouvenet, 2006), jazz music (Buscatto, 2004), classical music (Lehmann, 2002; Wagner, 2015), “popular” music (Perrenoud, 2007), blues (Grazian, 2003), classical, contemporary, hip hop or jazz dance (Faure, 2004; Fleuriel, 2010; Rannou, Roharik, 2006; Sorignet, 2004), visual arts (Abbing, 2002), theatre (Bense 2006; Katz, 2015; Menger, 1999) or cinema (Alexandre, 2015).

Based on those studies, two main conclusions can be drawn. On the one side, once 35-40 years old, only a small minority of aspiring artists are recognized as such by the main audience, their peers and art critics, outside of a limited circle of close people – family, friends, neighbours, local intermediaries - within a specific geographic space – a town or a region for instance. Most artists who have not yet abandoned to create works of art – a very common case as demonstrated by Coulangeon in his statistical work about French musicians (2004) – either hold multiple jobs within their art world (Bureau, Perrenoud, Shapiro, 2009), or hold day jobs and lead a “double life” (Lahire, 2006) while experiencing a low level of artistic
recognition. On the other side, “vocation” (Heinich, 2005; Moulin, 1983; Sapiro, 2007) seems key in explaining why artists heavily engage into artistic creation in their first years of serious practice – e.g. in hip hop dance (Faure, 2004), in contemporary dance (Sorignet, 2004) or classical dance (Laillier, 2012), in jazz music (Buscatto, 2004) or electro, rap or techno music (Jouvenet, 2006) or classical music (Lehmann, 2002), in literature (Lahire, 2006; Sapiro, 2007), in visual arts (Abbing, 2002) or in circus (Cordier, 2009). “Vocation” is often coupled with “passion” to explain such a strong subjective commitment to artistic creation (Buscatto, 2015).

However, this body of research does not tell us much about those “modest” artists who are at least 35-40 years old and have kept on creating works of art even though they are not recognized as artists outside of a limited close circle. We do not know much about the ways they justify such a trajectory. A few studies do mention the necessary and painful reorientation experienced by some artists who were trained as soloists in classical music (Wagner, 2015) or in classical dance (Laillier, 2012). Some works sometimes show that most visual artists (Marguin 2013) or jazz musicians (Buscatto, 2004) will not be renowned when 40 and will have to develop other ways to make a living – artistic daily jobs or “double life”. But little is yet known about this
majority of “modest” artists: how do they deal with such a situation and which
meaning(s) do they give to it?

This special issue will be devoted to such a question: better grasp the subjective and objective conditions which make those “modest” artists keep creating works of art while not recognized as artists outside a restricted close circle. Why and how do they decide not give up such an activity? Shall we think of it as the fruit of a “passion trap” (Ballatore, Del Rio Carral, Murgia, 2014) which would make it impossible for them to drop their “vocational attempt” even if it is quite difficult to be recognized as an artist and/or make a living with artistic work? Shall we better explain such a situation by the identification of new ways found by those artists to define their artistic activity: as a pleasure to create; as a path to independence; as a need to feel socially useful through art; as a way to be better appreciated among their close environment since art remains highly valued in our society; as the rejection of a “normal” life; as an activity which may be valued in other social and professional spheres, even for “modest” artists, as a path to recognition “one day”? Do those artists find ways to support their artistic activity with “outside” means – inheritance, a working companion, state allowances or a bread and butter daily job? From one art world to the other, working opportunities may vary highly: while poets and writers mainly work in fields connected to journalism or teaching (Dubois, 2012; Lahire, 2006), jazz musicians (Buscatto, 2004), dancers (Rannou, Roharik, 2006) or actors/actresses (Menger, 1997; Paradeise, 1998) tend to be pluriactive within their art world. But despite such difference between art worlds, how may we think of the aging of “modest” artists sociologically and anthropologically?

Three questions underlie this call for papers. At least one of them, and if possible two, should be addressed in the proposals to be sent to the Journal.

1- In order to better grasp “modest” artists’ trajectories, authors should here identify rationalities which found their “modest” artists’ to create works of art over time even though they are not widely recognized as artists and that most of them do not make a living with their artistic creation – either because their main job or financial resources are not art-related, or because they do hold an art-related job which is not artistically valued in their art world – e.g. teaching, business theatre or entertainment.

2- An other question to be addressed focuses on ways “modest” artists organize their daily activities, finances and schedules in order to be able to continue creating works of art. How do they free time to create? How do they succeed in exhibiting their works of art even if the audience is restricted, the places to host their artistic activities are confidential? Which family, friendly, symbolic, technical or monetary resources do they build on to maintain their artistic activity? In which ways are their artistic work affected by those adjustments – styles, genres or settings?

3- Lastly, authors are here to question how “modest” artists’ trajectories are shaped by social, gendered or “national” inequalities. Does economic and/or social capital affect those artists’ ability to maintain themselves over time (Bourdieu, 1992 ; Friedman, O’Brien, Laurison, 2016 ; Roux, 2015)? Are choices made between professional and private life dependent on those artists’ gender (Buscatto, 2007; Naudier, 2010; Sinigaglia-Amadio, Sinigaglia, 2015)? Does aging reinforce, or not, social, gendered or “national” inequalities already observed in art schools (Mauger, 2006; Provansal, 2016; Rolle, Moeschler, 2014) and along which social processes – stereotypes, networks, social normal notably? An intersectional approach will be appreciated here.

This special issue intends to gather empirical studies led in different art worlds and countries and which address at least one or two of those main questions. They can be written either in French, or in English.

- Proposals should be sent to by February 1st, 2018. In 5000 signs, authors will detail the empirical material as well as the main results of the research they led in one specific art world.
- Authors will be informed of the positive or negative decision by March 1st 2018.
- For those accepted, a full article will be written according to the RS&A Journal editorial rules and will be sent by May 31st 2018 (a maximum of 50 000 signs is expected).
- Articles will be then evaluated by the editor of this issue and two anonymous experts chosen by the Journal editorial Board in order to assess both their scientific quality and their editorial relevancy. Anonymous reports will be sent to authors by the end of August 2018.
- Articles which are accepted with modifications (whether major or minor ones) will be edited by authors and sent for a new assessment by the end of October 2018.
- If corrections are required, they will be sent to the author by the end of December 2018.
- If the article is definitely accepted, the final version is due by the end of February 2019 (at the latest).

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