“Art is not a job for an artist, just as religion is not a job for a priest.” Kutlug Ataman
Kutlug Ataman is a filmmaker and contemporary artist born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1961. He graduated from UCLA in 1988 with an MFA in film. His work deals with self-expression and identities and has been exhibited throughout the world. He currently lives in England. I found the above quote in a book titled 33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton. And the sentence intrigued me because it seemed a bit nonsensical especially in context. Ataman had, in an informal interview, previously stated, “I’m not an interior decorator. I do not make beautiful objects for beautiful people.” And then went on to say, “Sometimes I see myself as almost like an academic. My artworks are not really products; they are papers that you write when you have finalized a strain of thought.”
I decided that perhaps it would be easier to understand what he meant if I focused on the latter part of the sentence first. Obviously, religion is the belief in and worship of a divine supreme being within an overarching system of laws and principles. And priests are, of course, the religious authorities who perform the necessary rites and ceremonies of a religion. So this would mean that religion is a series of behaviors engaged in by the practitioners and the priests are the enforcers and gatekeepers of the belief system. That definitely sounded like a job to me.
So I moved to trying to interpret the former part of the sentence. Art could be considered the visual expressive output of human emotion and imagination. And artists are individuals who express their emotions and ideas in a visual medium … which doesn’t at all sound like a job.
Cue my “Ah-ha” moment.
Ataman talking about interior decorators and academia had lured me into thinking of art and religion as occupations instead of vocations. It was only when I thought about how I actually create my artwork and how I feel about my art practice that I realized I don’t consider it work no matter how much time I spend “working”. It’s not a job for me. It is almost organic.
I originally viewed Ataman’s statement wrong and I think there are a lot of instances where people can be led to view things in the wrong way. Especially when society holds very rigid beliefs about the polarity of various positions or attributes a relative value based on popular perceptions. For example, do you have to go to work? Or do you get to go to work? We all have to go to work, right? Unless you are so wealthy you don’t go to work or … it’s a vocation or … But what if you’ve been out of work and now have a good job and are planning for the next step? What if you absolutely love your job? These aren’t have to go scenarios, they are get to go scenarios. Another old trope: Marriage is hard. Society, popular culture, and marriage experts talk all the time about how relationships take work. Effort. Does it really? Certainly there are issues within a marriage that can be challenging. But I think if it’s a good relationship it doesn’t seem like work – it’s just what you do because, you know, you love the other person and that’s why you picked them. And doesn’t just viewing it differently make it seem less like a chore?