Library or Art?

I need some career assistance. I’m torn between two pretty stupid career paths! How does a person become an archivist? Not necessarily a librarian, maybe more of an image or document or collections specialist? Is it a special Grad program? Is it library science?

Also, I’m an artist and am also thinking about getting my MFA, which would be great for growth and expanding my work, but maybe a shit idea as far as getting jobs later. I would legitimately like to teach at the college level, but it’s pretty tough out there as far as getting a position.

Archives are so lovely, quiet, sacred, ordered… so many things I cherish. But if I go that path will my art get abandoned, or stagnate? Will I regret not getting an MFA? If I get an MFA will I just feel super stressed and freaked out about participating in the rat race of the “art world” and trying to get a faculty job? Help! -Anonymous

First off, I have no idea how one becomes an archivist. But you know who would? An archivist. Why don’t you contact a few collections specialists and find out how they came to their jobs. Go far, go wide. Contact someone at a University, at a museum, at the Library of Congress, at a corporation. I’ve been to the Coke archives. Did you know they used to make Coke gum back in the 1900? They did. And an intact pack is work like 5k. They had a few of them.

But I digress. You seem to be going in a lot of directions at once, but if read between the lines and try to listen to what you really want, it’s archives. Lovely, quiet, sacred, ordered. While art can be any or all of those things, the art world is none of them.

So go, figure out how to be around the things you cherish and make sure subsequent generations can enjoy them too.

Assuming you go down that path, your art might be abandoned. Or stagnate.

But that’s okay. I’m not much a believer in making art for making art’s sake. If you need to make art, if it compels you, awesome. You will make art. But if you feel your art stagnating, don’t fight it. Let it fall by the wayside for awhile. You aren’t going to lose your capacity for coming up with ideas nor lose the skills to bring those ideas to life.

I hate to hear artists complain that they can’t make art because they can’t get inspired then force themselves to make art anyway. Bad idea! Great art doesn’t come from forcing yourself to make art because you think you have to make art because you tell everyone you’re an artist.

I’ve been on a kind of hiatus from making art for a few years. A project here and there, but no major shows. That’s okay. I’ve been doing my version of archiving. Inspiration hit recently. I’m doing a new project. This, you’ll either be happy or frightened to know, is part of it. I’m certain the world isn’t hurting for lack of the uninspired shows I didn’t bother making in the interim because I wasn’t inspired. And I didn’t lose my touch from a few years of stagnation. If anything I’m coming back to the table with a wealth of new talents, insights and experiences.

Which is to say becoming an archivist might make your art flourish. Maybe it’ll inspire you in new directions. Maybe you’ll need to do something not so lovely, loud, profane and chaotic after a long day archiving. Maybe that’s what the art world needs.

As far as regretting not getting your MFA, if after going to a special grad school with a library science type program and then going to work as an archivist you still want to get your MFA, it won’t be too late. Art MFA programs are full of older folks. And if teaching is more your eventual art goal as opposed to being the next Jeff Koons, having been an archivist with a library science degree will make it that much easier to get hired.

How does this all sit with you? Does it resonate? If so, great. Good luck. Go archive.

If not, scrap all that. Apply for MFAs and join the rat race!

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3 Responses to Library or Art?

  1. MD says:

    (this comment has been edited -mikey)

    It’s not all or nothing. It might be a little funny (but wouldn’t be unheard of) to get degrees in both, but you don’t have to give up your art to pursue information science.

    Maybe you won’t be working (the “making art” kind of working) as quickly as you could be otherwise, but all of my MFA friends who are teaching at the college level complain (or make excuses) ALL the time about how they have very little time for their own work because teaching hogs it all up. You have to want something really bad to make time for it. Anne Lamott always says “Nobody cares whether or not you write, so YOU have to.” That’s a good thing to remember.

    If your desire to get an MFA is closely aligned with your desire to teach (I couldn’t tell if you were like “Yeah, maybe teaching would be alright” or if you were like “You know what? I’d really like to teach!”), they need professors to teach the students at library school too. And also, art libraries & museums need archivists. You’re not leaving anything behind forever. You probably knew this already, but I thought I might as well point it out, the way my grandmother points out all the vegetarian items on restaurant menus.

    Indiana University has a pretty fantastic (if not the best?) library & information science school. Not a bad town either. Just sayin.

  2. yelena says:

    This blog is already uncannily answering all of my most anxiety-producing questions of late (except the wedding one – so glad I don’t have to deal with that). But seriously, creepy and amazing! I literally had this question about becoming an archivist a month ago. Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics fact sheet:
    They have a bunch of useful info on there, including what education you need, what the job entails, societies to contact, etc. Also, you guys, I’m really digging this positive attitude advice about academia and jobs – such a breath of fresh air when all you hear is academia will take your first born, make you ugly, and stab you in the back, etc. Thank you for inspiring some positive thoughts!

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