Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stuck in the "Emerging" Phase: Coming to terms with a label that makes no sense!

Today's guest post comes from Rosemary May Richings. Her insight on labels and the "emerging" writer are intriguing and right on! Thanks for joining us today, Rosemary!

People often refer to me as an emerging artist. Whenever I hear this term I often ask myself the following: what does it really mean and is it really necessary to articulate an artist’s level of experience and identity? The Manitoba Arts Council website ( defines the term emerging artist as the following: an artist who is at an early stage in their career, who has specialized training in the art form, and who has created a modest body of artistic work. The only distinction that’s made between the emerging and the established artist is renown and recognition. The Manitoba arts council online glossary uses the words ‘has produced a modest body of work’ in their definition and that leaves me with two questions: 1) isn’t that in itself something to be proud of and 2) is this label really worth living with and passively accepting?

In the literary community and also in all other arts related communities as well, there’s this tendency to put the emerging artist on a pedestal through arts festivals, publications, and government-funded grants exclusively for the romanticized, emerging artist.  Unfortunately this creates an assumption that falling under the category of someone that’s an emerging artist comes from nothing but inexperience and misfortune and creates an impression that the emerging artist needs more assistance than the established artist. Literary magazines are a perfect example of this because they endlessly stress their hunger for new, emerging talent but, because this a popularly known fact and the emerging artist is also competing with established writers who may of found an ‘in’ with the magazine it’s an extremely competitive market to reach out to.

To clear up a misconception that some readers may have at this point I’m going to go ahead and say that there’s nothing wrong with encouraging new, ‘emerging’ talent. Encouraging new, emerging talent to flourish is a great thing to do and I have a great deal of respect for festivals and publications that welcome the emerging artist with open arms. The problem with these programs is the notion of the emerging artist is exoticized and some programs are in place specifically for emerging artists, which are more intensive in terms of financial and/or mentorship based assistance. The life of an artist of any discipline is unique simply because you never stop learning and it’s unpredictable so this high level of financial support and/or mentorship based assistance that’s commonplace in programs for emerging artists (especially emerging youth artists under 30) should be accessible to all artists equally regardless of whether or not the individual is what grant language defines as ‘emerging’ or ‘established’.

Workshops and financial assistance does in fact exist for established artists but there’s a lack of equality in terms of how much assistance is available. These programs should be in place, with an equal amount of assistance regardless of an artist’s renown.  This lack of equality in terms of people’s perceptions towards the emerging vs. the established artist exists in the attitudes that exist towards the popular notion of mentorship based apprenticeships, where the established artist is the mentor and the emerging artist is the one being mentored. The benefits of this exchange come not just from the established artist’s experience as a professional and the skills they’re teaching the emerging artist apprentice. Although the established artist will most likely know more in terms of making art professionally, the emerging artist may provide insights on the creative process that the established artist may not of thought of before or introduce an artistic perspective that will impact the established artist significantly, perhaps even challenge their perspective. This isn’t true 100% of the time, but the truly exceptional emerging artist will most likely be capable of making this sort of impact, not to mention the incredible opportunities that arise as a result of artistic exchange for positive, potential, future collaborators and/or supporters.

The term ‘emerging artist’ has a great deal of discrepancy and lack of clarity in terms of what makes someone an emerging or established artist. I realize that the purpose is to make distinctions quantitatively in terms of the level of respect and renown that the person has but the unpredictable, roller coaster pursuit of success that all artists of all disciplines experience which makes the little things that count in order to label someone as ‘emerging’ or ‘established’ a source of continuous debate. The nature of the artist’s life imposes further questions about how appropriate and straightforward quantitative terms based on experiences and renown really are when discussing a particular artist and their background in their craft.

What complicates the differences between the terms ‘emerging’ and ‘established’ further is the existence of a particular type of artist that’s surprisingly common (and I personally have the most respect for) whose recognition and renown is separate from their identity. To examine what I mean by that, let’s momentarily shift to the anonymous graffiti artist that uses the pen name Banksy. He or she has been the most successful at making this balance happen because they’ve continuously made their life and their art into two separate identities and have managed to gain respect and success while remaining anonymous to intentionally avoid fame. Banksy’s real identity is a mystery simply because the face behind Banksy’s work has chosen to keep their identity secret although books of his or her artwork have sold millions of copies worldwide, many people can identify the difference between Banksy’s graffiti and other graffiti artist’s graffiti, and a documentary on Banksy was even nominated for an Oscar.

Artists like Banksy are proof that the terms ‘emerging artist’ and ‘established artist’ are impossible to define and based on nothing but subjective interpretation. As artists we shouldn’t feel the need to define success based on a grant speak standard definition of what it really means to be successful. Success is a debatable term that both the people it is attempting to define and those that are defining an individual’s success from an outsider’s point of view often fail to realize what its true meaning really is. Terms like ‘emerging’ and ‘established’ artist are difficult to pin point since they involve making sense of a term that’s as vague and difficult to make sense of and has no clear answers in terms of when one starts and the other begins as the differences between things like ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ and ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This doesn’t mean that they should be dismissed as ways of explaining where you are at in your artistic career but this quantitative definition of success shouldn’t stop an artist from having faith in their capabilities as an artist or their knowledge of their craft.

About the Author:

Rosemary Richings is an emerging Toronto based writer and university student working on her double major arts degree in English and Drama Studies at York University’s Glendon College. Her work has appeared in some arts festival settings such as the Paprika Festival, The New Waves Arts festival, and some poetry slams in the GTA. She recently completed an internship at The Toronto Fringe Festival where she conducted research for their 25th anniversary project and her essay, The Dysparxic Writer, an essay about her experiences living with Dyspraxia and her point of view on the importance of storytelling will be published in August on Marie Lavender’s blog, Writing In The Modern World ( in August. For more writing and creative project related updates check out her blog: R.M.R’s Writing Space ( 

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