Artistic career = bad?

In my crowd, ‘careerist’ is a very ugly thing to call someone. It’s asking for a fight. It means someone who is insincere, unreliable and always looking over your shoulder for someone more important to talk to and never meeting your eye. It’s a loaded term and I’m pointing a .38 Special by balancing it with ‘artist.’

This post is in reaction to this post written by John Clancy over at the Clyde Fitch Report about Careerism in the Theater. So, here’s how it shook out for me as I read this article. My first response is to the title in which, to be honest, I mis-read as “Career in the theater.” And that is a pet peeve of my mine – the idea that an artist can’t have a career. Or that you can’t be considered an artist if you also wish to make money at your art. I like having a career. I like that my plays pay my bills and it is because I can pay my bills that I have the freedom to create. There are a number of things I wish to accomplish with my particular creative expression and making a living is one of those things. I’m damn proud….oh wait, it says careerism. Do I even know exactly what careerism means?

Careerism: devotion to a successful career often at the expense of one’s personal life, ethics, etc.

Hmm. Well that’s a bit different. There is a difference between wanting to making a living at your art, and putting a successful career before your art. To me, that would be writing solely for money without any other satisfying factors (such as pride of work, writing work with impact, and so on). And that doesn’t interest me at all.

But, as I read the article I get the impression that the author means career and careerism as the same thing. That to have a career as an outcome is bad for an artist. It’s better to have a body of work at the end of it all than a career. While I agree with the author that to be a quote-unquote dictionary defined “careerist” is a bad thing, I do not agree that having a career is bad. I do not see planning as a undesirable quality, you just have to be able to let go of that plan when it no longer works. You have to be flexible to go off in another direction. I do not see that wanting to make a living with one’s art means to lose one’s original mind. I do not see such a hardened line between being an artist and having a career. I like blending the two.

The author describes the life of a careerist as a never ending ladder while the life of an artist is a circle. And again, I agree that to be forever climbing a ladder to nowhere is unhelpful. It means you’re always looking to the next thing instead of enjoying where you are. But to live in a circle to me means you’re not growing as an artist. You’re just moving in place.

An interesting article to talk about because it’s so important to think on who you are as an artist and what you want to achieve with your art. What are your goals? What’s important to you? Where do you align yourself in the spectrum between artist and careerist?

About the author

Lindsay Price


  • I wish for every artist a career. A long and successful one. I just believe that the best way to have that and keep making great art is to spend more of your time thinking about your art than you do thinking about your career.