Listen. If you want to help me and give me opportunities, you can call me whatever you want. I’m happy to receive your beneficence as a “young” artist (I’m 42) or as a unicorn (a magical, majestic creature, certainly) or as an “emerging artist.” It’s really, like, all semantics at a certain point – if also inaccurate. Since I can no longer technically be called a “young artist,” I am, most often, called this “emerging artist” thing when I apply or receive artistic opportunities. But what does emerging really mean?
To me “emerging” calls to mind a little green sprout in the springtime, maybe the hint of a flower bud. It makes me think of an artist who is on the cusp of becoming themselves – someone about to discover their craft – a world of potential. The idea of supporting emerging artists, I think, is to help someone at the beginning of their career to bloom, to discover their artistic practice, to unleash their aesthetic. My sense is that funders like to fund this sort of thing. I think they like to feel like they had a hand in the magic fertilizer that feeds a growing artist. It’s a little bit sexy, perhaps, to be a part of a new artist’s journey of self/artistic discovery.
Now, in my case, I am a grown up woman. I have a clear aesthetic. I know what I am and how I work. I have bloomed, y’all. Many times. And I do not feel like I’m emerging. If I’m a plant, I have popped my head above the soil, seen the whole landscape, grown tall and bloomed. It’s just that you probably missed it.
The reason I’m considered an emerging artist is because most people have missed it. I’ve been doing all the blooming in gardens no one visits. So very few people have experienced my particular brand of emergence. This does not mean I am not an awesome plant. I am. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but since you probably haven’t seen it, I sort of have to. I am a rare interesting kick ass flower, y’all. I don’t need help blooming. So I don’t dig being seen as “emerging” because I ain’t. I am emerged.
What I AM is under-resourced. Underexposed. Underfunded. Under-acknowledged. Under-recognized. The problem isn’t with me (which is what emerging implies, as emerging is something I’m doing) the problem is with the establishment that is not giving me its resources. I’m looking for a word that puts the focus where it belongs, which is on the culture and the field. Because I do need the support of all the structures that want to help artists in need but I always feel slightly uncomfortable when the grant or residency or award or whatever is geared toward emergence. I feel like they meant to fund someone else – someone younger, someone they could mold and guide a little bit, not this big old sunflower just searching for some sun, soil and rain.
Do any of you emerging administrators have a better word for emerging artist? How do you think “emerging” looks next to “administrator”? Funny, right? If you’re an administrator, you administrate – whether you’re starting or finishing. That’s how I feel about the “emerging:” before “artist.” I’m an artist. In need of opportunities, without a doubt. But the “emerging” always feels a little bit condescending.
That said, I will reiterate that I will accept any label that comes attached to resources I need. I will be your Magical Unicorn Artist in exchange for rehearsal space. I’d just like to challenge all of us to find a better word than “emerging.:” We can do it. We’re creative people, right? We work with words. We can shift how we talk about the arts. And I think, for the benefit of everyone (the emerged, the emerging, the unicorns, the young, the old,) we should.
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