by on March 20, 2014
In this study, we explore the ‘‘professional artist’’ as the outcome of an identity process, rendering it the dependent rather than the independent variable. In their responses to the 2010 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey (N=13,581)—to our knowledge, the largest survey ever undertaken of individuals who have pursued arts degrees in the United States—substantial numbers of respondents gave seemingly contradictory answers to questions asking about their artistic labor. These individuals indicated that they simultaneously had been and had never beenprofessional artists, placing them in what we have termed the ‘‘dissonance group.’’ An examination of these responses reveals meaningful differences and patterns in the interpretation of this social category.
We hypothesize that highly embedded art world members experience less ambiguity around their identity as artists, while those who only entered art-centered environments in their graduate training years experience more difficulty identifying as professional artists. Seeing one’s self as a professional artist is an achievement that compares to entering other elite status groups, in that advantages accrue to those with the implicit and explicit knowledge of group conventions, attitudes, habits, and ways of being and can remain beyond the reach of even those who are trained to belong.