Emerging like a …

… crocus? A butterfly?
The 3 stages of an artist’s career are labeled as follows: emerging, mid-career, and established. Mid-career and established seem like pretty solid, uncontroversial categories, to me, but I’ve always been a bit confused by the first one – emerging.
The term “emerging artist” is thrown around in the art world with some consistency. I have seen the term defined, by several sources, as someone who has caught the eye of an art critic or gallery but hasn’t yet established a reputation as an artist which seems like a fairly concise definition until you start thinking about it. “Caught the eye?” What does that mean exactly? Does it mean “OH MY GOD, this artist is the next Vincent van Gogh!!!” or more of a these paintings are pretty good? Do you always know when you’ve caught the eye of someone? Is this experience simple and straightforward or more murky – like dating? If it’s like dating this is going to be a painful process should I ever actually emerge because, before I met my wife, I was never sure if a woman was interested in me until she was standing in front of me, completely naked, saying … well … er … asking for attention. I would use different words if I wasn’t blogging but I’m sure you can figure it out. I’m not even sure what a gallery equivalent for that would be however, if it includes nudity, I’m putting my hands over my eyes and humming the William Tell Overture until someone else walks into the room.
So the definition seems rather subjective to me. Perhaps gallery owners have a territorial marking systems or, like gay men in NYC in the 1970’s, a whole semi-secret code that is too complex for outsiders to understand even when they know a code exists. And, to be honest, I could just roll with the catch the eye definition – even with the inherent ambiguity of it – if I hadn’t noticed that in some cases an “emerging” artist seemed to be synonymous with a young artist. However, one should be able to emerge at any age. Henri Rousseau, a toll collector, didn’t start painting until he was 40-some years old and then spent several years emerging. Grandma Moses emerged at 78, two years after beginning to paint (because embroidery exacerbated her arthritis.) Being mid-life is not the same as being mid-career and being of an advanced age doesn’t mean an artist is established therefore emerging should not equate with young.
But it doesn’t really matter. I just read something the other day about a “pre-emerging” artist.       Pre-emerging … like a weed.