To be an artist today is to confront continual uncertainty. There is economic uncertainty, and also uncertainty of purpose. Modern society seems to value art — art is preserved in museums, and purchased for large sums by “collectors.” And yet the normal artist is strangely disconnected from the top levels of success. Compare this with other professions. A competent pilot, trained at a good flight school, is more or less assured of a successful career. He or she might not get the opportunity to fly the biggest and newest commercial planes, or fancy jet fighters; but a stable career is a reasonable expectation, certainly compared to what an artist can hope for.
The profession of art has not always been so uncertain. For example, Cennino Cennini discusses the motivations of those entering the profession in the 14th c. “There are those who pursue it” he writes, “because of poverty and domestic need.” In 17th c. Holland, parents would encourage a talented son to pursue art as a profitable and respectable occupation. Nowadays, “poverty and domestic need” would better describe the results of becoming an artist, rather than causes for becoming one.
There is far more wealth in the world today to purchase art than in any time past. The difficult position of artist today is therefore something of a mystery.
If there is a general appreciation of art, and money to buy art, then why is it so difficult to fulfill the role of artist?