Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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02/14/2006: "But I *am* an, seriously!"

I was introduced to another faculty candidate today and he too said something like "oh, the famous Elise Tomlinson, I visited your website on moving to Juneau"...etc. So, perhaps my Alaskan FAQ thing will be my only (incredibly small) claim to fame. As we started discussing his research options on our campus he mentioned he didn't realize I worked for the university... that he thought i was "an artist". I said "BUT I AM AN ARTIST!".

It's one of those things...ya know. You get introduced at a party and the first thing someone asks is "what do you do?". Well, I do lots of things, but I guess they aren't interested in my musical saw abilities or that I can tie 15 kinds of knots (kinky!)...the question is understood to mean "what do you do for a living?" i.e. "to make money". My first thought is always "I'm an artist"...but I stop myself because I feel like saying that would be somehow disingenuous since I don't make enough income on my art alone to buy...well, toothpaste for example( least not the name-brand stuff).

Remember back when I said I programmed my TIVO to record all the shows with the keyword "artist"? I had *no* idea how many programs there would be...not just movies, but reality shows, sitcoms, many I had to cancel the option. I guess society is a bit in love with artists, or the idea of them anyway. Just for a comparison I programmed in the key word "librarian" and so far, not a single episode of anything has recorded. So, no wonder right?

Replies: 20 Comments

on Tuesday, February 14th, Rod said

I can completely relate!
I hate meeting new people when they ask the dreaded question, "what do you do?" And I usually differ to them, or try to change the subject, or I have to make some self-depricating remark. I mean, I love my job, but it's not one to mention casually in the local tavern. 75% of people think you're being snooty.
As Kermit the Frog would say, "it's not easy being a Sommelier." :(
I prefer to say that I'm an auto mechanic, because then the are really interested in me!

But I can definitely say, you are, and have always been, a true artiste! :)

on Tuesday, February 14th, berry bowman connell said

OK OK So I'm gonna have to cough this up eventually. When I first saw your site, I loved the couple of pictures you had on it, and I came back and saw the cats, and they were marvelous creatures to behold and there was that pretty nude in the flowers on the left (I sort of thought there was a connection in the floral colors and the couch the cats were on, but then again, my imagination does get a bit carried away) but, that was it. Very nice writing, wonderful sentences....
Then I went to Bro'n'Sis's on the weekend and she was showing me how to make links and she went to your site and, I dunno, pressed some confounded magic button and about a million beautiful pictures came flying onto her screen!
So, this morning I'm treating myself to a special Valetines present from you (inadvertant as it may be) and seeing your pictures!

on Tuesday, February 14th, Howard said

I hate that question too because it's almost always followed by, " Oh really, What kind of art do you make?" Sometimes trying to reduce my artwork to a non visual discription a non artist will understand just seems like too much effort. It always sounds vague and weak and not very impressive. I also hate some of the assumptions that go along with calling yourself an artist that people make.

on Tuesday, February 14th, Daniel said

That was one of the major factors in my decision to quit teaching (k-12 art). I had great students, and I ran my classes like a studio, so I painted and they painted everyday. But the majority of "art teachers" are not artists and that realization made me ill. I had to regularly interact with these people in meetings and such and they would actually mock the fact that I was "still" painting.

I have said before that I think your Librarian gig is cool. Your forced to interact with people (who read!!!) and you get to hang-out on a college campus all day. I just wish I had thought of it first.

As far as anyone asking what you do... the answer is always "I'm an artist." When they ask about the library... "I just do it for the free books".

on Tuesday, February 14th, Elise said

Hey Rod, maybe rather than saying you're a Sommelier, just say you get paid to drinks loads of wine... wouldn't I love that job!

And Berry, what a lovely (and I never use the word lovely) thing to say...I must admit that I forgot today was Valentine's Day but I'm soooo happy that you're enjoying my paintings and this rambling blog thing that is so much fun for me...I enjoy yours too. Happy Valentine's day to you as well!

Howard, I can see your point but you really are a "working" artist in the true sense of the word. If I were you I would feel proud and if they want to know "what kind of art" you make, just tell them your a painter experimenting with "surface treatment" then brag about some of your publications and shows.

And Daniel...I think my librarian gig is cool too (thanks!) I'm really proud of what I do, it's actually very technical these days, mostly online stuff and working on a college campus (especially the UAS campus) is wonderful, it's like never having to leave college!

But just like there are assumptions about what an "artist" is (or an "art teacher" for that matter) when you tell someone at a party that you're a librarian...they automatically think of buns and granny glasses and that all you do is check out books or spend the day reading and shhhhing people, which is not at all a part of the modern librarians routine.

As for quitting teaching art, do you miss it? Do you ever regret quitting or do you think that you do better work now?

Oh damn, I've spent so long on this monster comment that I've missed my 20 minute exercise window this morning. Ah darn... :P

on Tuesday, February 14th, Daniel said

I taught for five years and it honed my technical skills beyond anything I ever learned in college, because I mastered all the basics by having to produce daily examples. So teaching was MY best education as a studio artist. I feel the quality of my work is the same, but I now have interrupted stretches of hours on end that allow me to work bigger.

Before teaching I ran art galleries for four years and that taught me the exhibition racket; but also was the best education for understanding/being comfortable with the entire sectrum of contemporary art.

I miss my students, just like I miss throwing monthly opening parties at the galleries (we used to go through two cases of wine/night). But at the same time... I don't miss ignorant public school administrators or oblivious Board Members. Teaching was a great experience... that I'm glad is over.

on Tuesday, February 14th,">Rob Roys said

oo yeah.

For the record. you are an Artist. You work in the fine traditon of many great Artists who decide their work is best supported by a job then whoring yourself to a patron, market, or mass-style.

Be proud to hoist this banner-you are marching in a long line of great Artists.

I always tell people I am a Minimalist-Expressionist working in the abstract idiom. Most people do not know what that means, the others think I am an idiot, (which is fine by me), and then others actually get the joke.

on Tuesday, February 14th, Elise said

Wow Daniel, that must have been a lot of fun working in art galleries.

I agree that teaching something is the best way to learn. It sounds like you've been able to work in art related fields while also being a serious artist, that's very impressive. So, you must have an insiders approach on how to get gallery representation etc. any tips you'd like to share for the uninitiated among us (myself included)?

And Rob, when I read how you describe yourself I laughed out loud...too funny. It reminds me of that line in Hedwig.

"Late at night I would listen to the voices of the American masters, Tony Tennille, Debby Boone, Anne Murry who was actually a Canadian working in the American idiom. And then there were the crypto-homo rockers, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, David Bowie who was actually an idiom working in America and Canada."

on Tuesday, February 14th, leahpeah said

you play the saw?? will you teach me?

on Tuesday, February 14th, Elise said

Yes I play the saw! Most saws will sing but it's best to get one designed especially for playing. Also, I have the special wooden grip for the end so that it's easier to bend. I got my saw and accessories at They have tutorials for learning to play though I also purchased the instructional video by Charlie Blacklock. I'm going to buy one of the accompaniment CDs as well, since mostly I play alone though I'd like to play with others when I get better.

I have a tenor saw with a cello bow. I can send you more specifics if you're interested. I even did a painting of a woman playing one:

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on Tuesday, February 14th, Jackie said

E: Ok - my sister is a librarian too, and she does not fit the 'stereotype' either! I don't know if you've heard of our local Seattle librarian who has made librarians infamous. Nancy Pearl -who has written 2 books "Book Lust" and a sequel. So here's a link to her 'librarian action figure' - it just cracks me up!

About "admitting" to being an artist: Howard, I get what you mean - I almost feel like I'm apologizing to some people when I say I'm an artist. In fact, I almost didn't hook up with my sweetie of the past 9 years because of her prejudice towards artists. Boy - have I taught her a lesson to prejudge people!

on Tuesday, February 14th, Elise said

It's funny that your sweetie was prejudiced against seems like the majority of guys I've dated were totally into the idea of me being an artist...but that might just be the kinds of guys I've gone out with (liberal pinko commies).

on Tuesday, February 14th, RB said

As someone once said "The business of America is business". For too many people in this country the worth of any endeavor is measured almost entirely by how much money it brings in.

on Tuesday, February 14th, Elise said

Hi RB, that's probably true...I'd like to think that my friends aren't like that though...but who knows?

I worry that I think that way sometimes too, not about how much money I make...but I look at some pieces of contemporary art that sells for ungodly amounts of money and I have to wonder...what makes that piece of crap so much more "valuable" than my work...ya know?

on Tuesday, February 14th, RB said

Well, from what I've been able to read here on your blog, you do seem to have a really good group of friends around you, who seem to understand that it's the place in your life that you've given to art that makes you an artist.

By the way, thanks for stopping by my blog. :)

on Tuesday, February 14th, Elise said

Yah, I do have some pretty great friends, here in Juneau and elsewhere. It helps at tax time.
btw, my horoscope (on your site) wasn't that useful!

on Thursday, February 16th, greg said

I'd suggest you offer them both what you do chiefly with your heart, plus the conventional answer. You could say "I'm a painter ... and a librarian!"

There it is, and sounds interesting too IMHO!

but yeh ... I hate that obligatory question too, very much! Especially since I'm not working! :P At least now I can say, "I'm a stoodent!" I realize it's a part of figuring out in conversation who it "is" you are talking with. I enjoy learning if someone is into the arts or humanities. Otherwise I brush 'em off - it's all I care to talk about ;)

on Thursday, February 16th, Elise said


on Friday, February 17th, greg said

oh man--- do we *need* a business coach! :laugh: :hehe: :laugh:

on Friday, February 17th, Elise said

No kidding! Any volunteers out there?