SurfacingNo9-2, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

The other day, somebody from Flak Photo posted something on Twitter about what it means to be an emerging photographer. Now, I think this is kind of an interesting discussion, and probably one that merits more than 140 characters, so I decided to do an entire blog post about just this topic.

For starters, in the days of old, an “emerging photographer” was usually a younger artist, particularly one who had not had a major show. Typically this type of photographer (or artist) would have completed art school, gotten the coveted MFA degree, maybe even done some groups shows, started working as a professional, that sort of a thing, but had yet to have “their big break” (as it were.)

These days, in the era of new digital media, “emerging” means many different things to many different people. For starters, there used to be a sort of age restriction on “emerging” artists-typically it was somebody under the age of about 30 or maybe 35. Now though, we have artists and photographers I like to call “career switchers.” You know what I’m talking about here-these are people who started their lives in one profession (or trade) went on to grow up, do the whole “house, car, kids in the yard” thing, and then maybe one day, by chance, happened upon a camera and BAM! their entire lives changed. They suddenly wanted to be a photographer and so off to photo school or possibly it was time to start applying for that spiffy new job in that shiny new field. Sort of like a mid-life crisis without the convertible, if you will. There have also been many artists who discovered their “passion” latter on in life. So, maybe in their case, it took them 40 or so odd years to sort of “grow up” and decide what they want to be now that they’re almost “old.” All of these people should really be considered “emerging” artists (in a way) even though their 30’s have passed them by.

Then there’s the whole “degree” thing. Many photographers (and artists) today opt to avoid the whole “art school” thing, simply because, well it’s expensive and they really do not want to teach. Still many more attend trade schools, community colleges, and go the self-education route. Maybe they are educated in other fields, and they don’t want to bother to go back and get a degree in art, one that would cost them a pile of money and render then, alas, just another unemployed MFA art teacher. Sure, these people are out there too.

Now, it might be easy to say, “eh, what does it matter? Who cares if somebody is called ’emerging’ or not? At the end of the day, does it really matter?” The problem with taking that stance is that, well, the term “emerging” existed for a reason. There are galleries, contests, grants, and these sorts of things targeted to these “emerging” artists. To open up such competition to the “professionals” (actually, that’s a bad word, let’s go with “established artists”) would give the poor up-and-comer a big disadvantage. They’d have to compete with the established folks, and that can be hard to do-they might never even get their foot in the door, let alone “make it” with that big, one person show, right?

No, we need some kind of term for “emerging” artist, really we do. I mean, we have “professional” and that’s a nice term, except that it really has ties to money-a “professional” is one who is maybe more commercial than his artsy counterparts-but, does that really make him “better” (for lack of a better word) or just more able to sell his wares? And, if we go with “professional” what does that leave the “emerging” artist? Non-professional? That word hardly fits, I mean, they are neither amateur nor unprofessional, so it’s not a good choice. No, I think, when it comes down to it, the word “emerging” has to stay-it’s a good fit when you really stop to think about what it means.

So, then we’re back to the age thing, or are we? Can an artist be “emerging” if they are in their 40’s but, say, have crossed over from another field or maybe come from another discipline? I would think so, but then, how do you word the grants, contests, and gallery calls for that? “We’ll take you if you are either under 35 but sort of kind of a beginner. Not unprofessional, mind you, just sort of “emerging” but you can be older than 35.” Now that’s a mouthful, don’t you think? Ugh. I think it might be best to leave the notion of “emerging” up to the artists. I mean, an artist should know if he or she is “emerging” or if they are sort of a more mid-career, established, professional, right? Maybe?

It’s very confusing. I’d be curious to hear you ideas on their sort of a thing.

Until next time…



  1. mythopolis
    January 5, 2010 / 11:13 am

    To me, I think of an emerging artist as simply a new face on the scene. An artist emerges upon making their work visible to others. The work may be amateurish or astonishing, but in either case the artist emerges upon presentation of their work to public scrutiny. I suppose an emerging artist could be viewed as one 'becoming', as though a talented novice. But I have seen artists appear on the art scene who upon their first showing, prove to be astonishingly accomplished….

  2. Carol
    January 5, 2010 / 12:54 pm

    Mythopolis, you have (once again) nailed it. I totally agree.

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