On occasion, I work as an art technician. The job involves handling, installing, and sometimes fabricating artwork, and all the physical aspects of transitioning galleries between exhibitions.
The work is not for the faint-hearted (think: carrying lumber and sheet goods up stairs) or status-minded (the art world can be very classist), but I find it rewarding and educational. Technician work requires multiple abilities: skills of facture, art materials knowledge, problem-solving, and communicating with artists. Art schools don’t teach how to build crates, pack artwork, make pedestals, light galleries and so on. You also need to be able to switch gears: to throw it into high gear when it’s time to jam, and slow down for details and delicate work. It is wonderful work when you can manage this as well as maintain a good attitude and a sense of camaraderie with your team.
I’ve been helping out with exhibitions at Art in General, a non-profit alternative art space dedicated to producing and presenting new work. Their mission reflects the ethos of the art world I’d like to participate in.
I’m proud of the work I’ve done there—this week involved framing things on odd angles, sheetrock, 15 pedestals, 72 linear feet of guttered shelves. Ticking off what seemed to be an impossible checklist is very satisfying. As are the moments when a tool becomes an extension of your consciousness. While I love doing graphic design work, it can mean sitting at a screen all day, increasing my appreciation of the physicality and immediacy of technician work (which, in turn, can increase my appreciation for design work).
Best of all is doing this work alongside good-natured, problem-solving co-workers. I need enthusiasm no less than skills; the “let’s do it” attitude whether the job is re-doing a detail that’s 1/8″ off, or rip-cutting a lot of plywood first thing in the morning.
There are pitfalls to the work—for artists, disillusionment; and in an oft-male-dominated field, confidence becoming arrogance. But I’ve been very lucky to get my on-the-job training from experienced individuals who share knowledge generously and patiently, and who are communicative and team-oriented. And in inviting new members of a team now, I know that I owe my comfort with tools and confidence in my skills to those mentors. In gratitude, I look forward to sharing my modest abilities, and hopefully, my enthusiasm, with those who are hungry to learn.