This page was last modified on 31 March 2014, at 03:35
Photo Credit: photo taken by pboyd04, accessed through Flickr, date accessed 3/31/14
In terms of a working society, culturally we have seen a great shift. We are now living in a “post-Fordist” world that recognizes the ideal of craft and not just the concept of the assembly line production. This shift has given way to the rise of many questions in terms of what it means to “work” today. Does working constitute a nine to five job sitting behind a desk? Can “do it yourself” (DIY) forms of creative labor represent legitimate work forms in today’s culture as well? These ideas stem from the “Craft Model” approach to organizing and legitimizing work. In short, the Craft Model epitomizes DIY strategies, where each person yields their own product. They are typically skilled in their craft and from an economic standpoint; it is through their pride and passion for their expertise that they generate revenue. However, we live in a world that idealizes mass profit in the market. Value is placed on producing cheap products at a fast rate. Taking into consideration all of these ideas, where does this situate creative workers in our society? How is our market economy affecting them? Or, is it affecting them at all? These, along with numerous other questions and dynamics serve to factor into the creative industry and creative laborers in today’s society. In her work, “Youth Voices: Life Stories of Navigation and Negotiation,” Miranda Campbell makes the point that the creative youths in this industry are being overlooked. This cultural demographic is facing a lack of attention and awareness at the policy level by means of their production. I have corroborated this notion through my own experience with an ambitious young artist by the name of Nathan.
March 17th, 2014. It is a rather cold and dreary late afternoon on St. Patrick’s Day in Jackson Square, New Orleans. Due to this gloomy weather, there are not many people walking about the square. As I look around I can see street performers putting on a show for a rowdy crowd. I can also see a row of psychics all situated at their own tables with their tarot cards out and ready to be approached by someone walking by eager to hear about their destiny. The psychics interact with one another and it looks to me that they have formed their own unique segmented community amongst the other creative laborers in the square. I find this quite interesting. I continue making my way around the square until I hit the strip of laborers I am most intrigued by: the artists. These creatives are different from the others I have seen thus far. They too form their own fragmented community of workers among the creatives in the square, however, unlike the boisterous street performers, or the chatty psychics, these artists appear more serious. They are calm, focused. These artists are all fixated on painting at their stations and seem to be rather un-phased by any onlooker passing them by. As I stroll by each distinctive artist’s portion of the fence, one work, one artist rather, catches my attention. A very young looking man who is in the works of painting a unique and colorful cityscape catches my eye. I know this is the artist I must explore.
Meet the Artist
Nathan is 23 years old, from Michigan. In my interview with Nathan I unveiled much about his position as an artist. Growing up in Michigan Nathan gained a sense of creativity from watching his father “always making stuff, like molding together different parts of dead insects and creating something new.”  He also grew up as a skateboarder and was influenced creatively by the graphic art of the skateboard culture. Nathan enjoys all of the little unique charms and people of Jackson Square and feels that it is an ideal place to show his work. Interestingly, he voiced that he has never really considered himself a professional though he is confident in his skills and his techniques. Though Nathan does state that he is very satisfied with his annual revenue, he is more interested in touching the psyches of his audience through his works. He quotes, “I focus on Southern rural culture and I have a lot of paintings that deal with old New Orleans blues. I try to capture lyrics that are still meaningful and very true to this day. I like to do that to give someone a nice little quote for someone to think about.” Another point that Nathan brought to my attention that I found grappling was that he believes that his lifestyle as a creative laborer can be most influential to people around him, above his actual art. “I think I can shed some light on the fact that it is possible to be a happy, self-employed artist.” I think that this is vital in understanding how creatives view their field. Commonly, it is an assumption that a creative worker has an unstable job and lifestyle. However, Nathan had a countering opinion to that. He regards his job as very stable, in fact he says, “it is the most stable thing I have in my life right now.” Though stable, Nathan voices the fact that he never feels totally successful in his work. He is always looking forward in hopes of accomplishing more. He will never be where he wants to be in his painting. What is one major goal for Nathan? He has yet to figure it out. However, he is content in always being able to make stuff and stay in touch with his artistic self.
A cop approached his worktable. The cop states to Nathan that he must put up his permit on display due to city regulation. Nathan complies. When the cop exits, Nathan explains to me the current controversy with city hall and the artists of Jackson Square. There is much disruption about spaces and acquisition of permits for the artists; the city is making it nearly impossible.
On the weekends, Nathan and his neighboring artists get to the square at around 2 a.m. in order to claim their spots. They play cards and engage in conversation to pass the time. They have generated their own mini-community in the square; like a family, they stick together.
- Nathan H., interviewed by Taylor Zinman, Jackson Square, March 17,2014.