I Want Your Job: Artist

'Art too serious? I'm up for fun'
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The Independent Online

Joshua Sofaer, 34, is an artist, whose current project is called "Name in Lights".

What do you actually do?

I create art in an event-based format that involves collaboration with other people. I try to think of methods that will make people think and engage with the world around them in a different way. For instance, I've done a scavenger hunt at the Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. People are given clues to interpret, to find certain objects or meet people. They bring the objects back to the gallery, and I form an exhibition from whatever's brought back. So people see their city through the eyes of an artist. Art can be too sonorous and serious - I'm up for fun.

What's the schedule like?

It very much depends on what I'm working on. It could be anything from talking to a technical manager to determine how to create an art installation, to pitching to a company to get sponsorship for a project, or talking to a gallery about how to set up a space. I have a studio to have brainstorming sessions, draw maps and think, but I don't actually produce art there. People think that artists just paint pictures for people to buy and put on their walls, but the idea of the artist in a garret is a 19th-century notion of what an artist is.

Why do you love what you do?

I have a personality that's constantly questioning. The world is a giant feast, and I want to taste everything. My job lets me co-opt all my different interests into what I do. If I have a hunch about something, and want to test an idea, I can turn that into an art project. I'm fascinated by celebrity culture and the idea of fame as a historically created construct - so my current project Name in Lights asks people whose name they want to see in lights, and why. I'm trying to force people to think about why someone is made special. The winning name will appear as a 12-foot high illuminated sign in the centre of Birmingham.

What's not so great about it?

It can be very tiring to constantly defend what art can do. In mainland Europe, artists are understood to be part of the rich tapestry of cultural life, but here, art gets a dodgy press. You're putting yourself on the line the whole time, because everything that you produce is a resolution of an idea - and you are constantly judged.

What skills do you need to be a great artist?

For certain types of art, like ceramics, there are specific technical skills, but I do think that it is a state of mind. You need a mobile imagination, and an acute sense of how people engage with things, and what is perceived by the senses. Art school isn't absolutely necessary, but I'd suggest a foundation course, which only lasts a year, and is very practical, exposing you to a massive range of techniques and ideas. An art school education offers an incredible basis for challenging assumptions and mind-expanding experiences, but it doesn't necessarily prepare you for a career in the art world, which is an amorphous, shifting place.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted your job?

They say that the best way to become a writer is to read - so the best way to become an artist is to experience different kinds of art. You have to believe in it. If you don't believe in art in practice, don't become an artist. Look at foundation courses, try stuff out. Just like any field, there are trends. If you're going to be successful, you need to be aware of the zeitgeist - the context in which you are producing art.

What's the career path and salary like?

It's never the same for two people, as it depends on the work you make and who's buying it. You could sell one canvas for £800, but you might not sell any. A new performance artist might earn £100 for presenting a piece. A lots of artists have other jobs to support them - teaching, workshops or art therapy.

To find out about 'Name in Lights', visit www.notcelebrity.co.uk

For information on art careers, visit your regional Arts Council at www.artscouncil.org.uk (England), www.scottisharts.org.uk (Scotland), www.artswales.org.uk (Wales), or www.artscouncil-ni.org (Northern Ireland); or the Artists Information Company at www.a-n.co.uk

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