Or are you?

The Holiday Season means holiday parties which mean wearing spangles, eating weird things skewered on toothpicks (olive, ham, cheese on a single toothpick: gross), and making hideous small talk. I’m pretty sure an elf dies every

time I fill an awkward silence between me and a holiday-sweatered-stranger with, “Sooooo, New Friend, what do yoooou doooo?”

This is a common question. We ask each other what we do because that’s often how we define others and ourselves; by our publicly recognized profession. When someone asks me what I do, I launch into a long winded explanation that essential boils down to: “although I’m a database manager, my path is arts administration.” Because that’s what I want to do and how I define myself.

Now the question itself is an ambiguous one. If someone was legitimately asking me what I do I could answer with a variety of things that have absolutely no affect (I hope) on my paycheck. “Well I’m an avid breather, in fact I’m doing it right now, I compulsively doodle in the margins of books whether they’re mine or the library’s, I bake cookies while watching reality television and when I run I fantasize about being a cage fighter.” Those are all things I do. Pretty regularly, nearly daily (and in fact constantly as far as the breathing bit is concerned). However here in the US of A that is not a satisfying answer. See when we ask someone “what do you do?” the question really means “where do you work?” not “what are your hopes and dreams and how do you enjoy spending time?”

It’s been said in the US we are what we do. We perceive ourselves and others by our job description. So how does that affect us as arts managers and artists? I’ve spent a significant portion of my life sitting around and painting but that never comes up when I’m asked what I do. 

How do you define yourself in a society that defines itself by the job position? Artist? Arts Manager? What do you do?