• Is the art world divided along class lines? Call to a conversation/collaboration

    Hi all fellow artists!

    I’m a Master’s degree student in Fine Arts in Belgium and I’m very interested in social mobility in the art world. I come from a traditional working class family where my parents didn’t go to college but made their living by doing manual labor in my small hometown in Finland.

    I’ve learned that this is very unusual when I chat with my fellow art students and academic artists about their backgrounds. Well appreciated artists exhibiting their works in institutionalized museums seem to come from academic families too, and it looks like the social mobility is very tiny when it comes to the art industry. Which is of course a shame.

    This also leads to the situation that I feel like I have two identities: my old background identity with the working class, but now these people see me as a snobby smarty pants who has studied art — and on the other hand I don’t feel like I fully belong to the academic art world either, as I can’t recognize the difference between a wine glass and a champagne glass and would prefer a beer in a can anyways. The feeling of otherness is strong.

    Is there any other artists on this community who share a similar background and are dealing with the same questions? Would be interesting to talk with you and who knows, maybe we can come up with a collaboration project idea, a new artist collective or what not.

    Best wishes,


    Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium

    • Hi there Toumas, My name is Lawrence...I am a Digital Media Artist from South Africa and I can relate to the type of situation you find yourself in as I also come from a humble background in which art has never been taken seriously, having to transition into the small community that recognizes and sees art in a different way.

      I have always found that I didn't belong in both worlds because I viewed things differently from what they do, but over time I have found that that's what actually works best because seeing things from the perspective of the 'other' often translates into my work and my different experiences with people has helped me gain a better understanding of just how and what people think about certain things.

      I believe that the whole idea behind social mobility into the more institutionalized structures is based on a certain validation felt towards them. I feel that instead, it should be the other way around where society is more accommodating to the notion of being different simply because we have different perspectives, views, experiences...which is what inspires my work mostly.


    • I made a short film called BoundLess Society: Discovering Contemporary Art where I discuss my (along with other artists) views on what we think about the social constructs in the art world, please do check it out when you get the chance.


    • Buenos días Tuomas,

      Soy Yassine Chouati, comparto contigo ese sentimiento desarraigo y desorientación identitaria. En mi caso como artista de origen marroquí expatriado en Europa se traduce en  sentirse ajeno al mundo, desorientado, como un niño abandonado, un sentimiento que experimentamos todos los que abandonamos nuestros países de origen para vivir tras otras fronteras. Cuando la pregunta ¿de dónde eres? se repite tanto; cuando te esfuerzas en identificarte para evitar entrar en detalles o cuando te conviertes en turista en el país de tu infancia, en un extraño, donde nadie te reconoce, nadie te espera, nada es igual, la familia, los recuerdos, el acento, la actitud; cuando te esfuerzas en hablar con el acento de la tierra, sin confusión lingüística; o cuando estando ya asentado en tu país de adopción te llaman inmigrante, “moro”, “negrata” o, en el mejor de los casos, cuando te dicen “vosotros sois...” la pregunta que me planteo a menudo es ¿nosotros quiénes somos? Los marroquíes, los senegaleses, los sirios, los chinos, los nigerianos, los mexicanos, los peruanos, etc. ¿Quiénes somos? Este es el sentir que experimento a diario como artista expatriado en Europa. Procedente de Tánger, la ciudad que más sufrió las consecuencias de los Años de Plomo del régimen de Hassan II, me vi forzado a abandonar mi país debido a la precaria situación socio-económica y a la falta de derechos tan básicos como el de la libertad de expresión.

      Por último quiero expresarte mi interés en colaborar contigo , sabiendo que estamos trabajando  el tema de las  identidad paralelas, desarraigo y desorientación desde diferentes puntos de vista.

      Un cordial Saludo


      Web personal: https://yassinechouati.com/


      English Translation:

      Good morning Tuomas,

      I am Yassine Chouati, I share with you that feeling of uprooting and disorientation of identity. In my case as an expatriate Moroccan artist in Europe it translates into feeling alien to the world, disoriented, like an abandoned child, a feeling that we experienced as people who left our countries of origin to live behind other frontiers. When the question, 'where are you from?' is repeated so much; When you try to identify yourself to avoid going into details or when you become a tourist in the country of your childhood, a stranger, where no one recognizes you, no one expects you, nothing is the same, family, memories, accent, attitude; When you strive to speak with the accent of the earth, without linguistic confusion; Or when you are already settled in your country of adoption, they call you an immigrant, "moro", "negrata" or, at best, when you say "you are ..." the question I often ask is "who are we?" The Moroccans, the Senegalese, the Syrians, the Chinese, the Nigerians, the Mexicans, the Peruvians, etc. Who are we?

      This is the feeling I experience every day as an expatriate artist in Europe. Coming from Tangier, the city that suffered most from the Hassan II regime's Lead Years, I was forced to leave my country because of the precarious socio-economic situation and the lack of basic rights such as freedom of expression.
      Finally I want to express my interest in collaborating with you, knowing that we are working on the theme of parallel identity, uprooting and disorientation from different points of view.

      A cordial greeting,


      Personal Website: https://yassinechouati.com/

    • Hi Tuomas.

      I draw, paint, and dabble in intaglio printmaking. Like you, I often feel out of place in the art world. However, I do come from an academic background, only it was not centered in the arts. I come from a family of teachers and engineers. I was raised to value math and hard sciences. To this day, I have a degree in biology and work in technology. Art always had to be secondary, a hobby. I often feel that I don’t fit into the academic art world because I only recently began educating myself in art, its practices, and its history. It was just a few months ago that I called myself an artist for the first time.

      I feel like an outsider in my day to day job because my heart is not in the work that I do. I don’t have a technical background. I have a math mind and am trying my level best to apply it practically to my job but I thrive where there is creation and design.

      I understand what you mean about not quite belonging to either world. But perhaps that is what makes our opinions that much more valuable. We have different insights than the traditionally educated as well as varying life experiences to extract from and apply.

      Art is inherently subjective and we often think that our works don’t qualify us in the realm of “artists.” But considered by who? Based on what principles? Perhaps we don’t fit into the established norm, but isn’t that the art has the most to say?

      Historically, academics have established what art is because of opportunity. At one point arts were a luxury. I, myself, was told as a child that it was an extravagance that was superseded by pragmatism and necessity. The working class was just not as present in the art world in previous generations. It has that opportunity now.

      The current norm will also not always be the norm. It is subject to change. Radicalism only allows it to grow whether from a work itself or its response. Art can be the most accepting world depending on our viewpoint.

      Looking forward to continuing the conversation,


    • Hi Tuomas

      I certainly think that art is divided along class lines, the are families who have introduced their children to art from an early age, and it is like a custom to attend gallery exhibitions, talks and theaters etc.

      In South Africa my experience is academic class had their own functions and understanding of art as a medium of practice and would encourage their children to participate if willing.

      Sophiatown in Gauteng was the place where one saw a boom of art practitioners before the force removals of the 1950s. Most popular was singing and acting, which was more accessible to the people who didn't neccessarily come form academic backgrounds. Painters and other artist who were working weren't much recognized by the larger communities beside where they lived

      In the townships, after the removals we also had our own theaters and art practitioners, the difference is the education and knowledge of art as a medium of practice was not excised and promoted to being a career. It always seen as a past time activity

      Only recently we have a galleries in the township, and we are seeing the same boom of Sophiatown days happen again. In my case my family was working class, They were not aware that i could chose photography as a career and practice it, i was told i would only photography people on the streets and make lousy money, so i had to prove myself within my own family and teach them that there is more to it.

      Where as i study with other kids who went to art school form high school and they already had an idea of t what the art industry entails, so i think although a shift is happening, the division still exist. Now my struggle is teaching my family and surrounding neighbors  the importance of collecting art and archiving it,  in contrast to the academic families who have had an understanding of this concept from an early age.



    • Hi Tuomas and everyone else!

      Just thought I’d include my point of view to the conversation as well because it is very interesting to see how similar our perspectives are regardless of our different backgrounds and experiences.

      I chose to study art as a passion. Growing up art was the only thing that I liked to do and it still is. Then as I got older I had to concentrate more on school because it is what my family expected of me, so I pushed away from Art for a while to focus on academics. Luckily I was able to study it in the University, but not until my third year because of lack of space in the classes.

      I completely agree that you do fall into this kind of limbo of whom you are perceived as, instead of who you actually are in the art world and society in general. I used to hear 'what are you gonna do with that Degree?' all the time from both sides of the spectrum (Familiar and Academic) and to be honest, I can say that I am still figuring it out. 

      Seeing the way that the establishment of School and Art systems work (not only individually but in relation to one another as well), I have come to learn that I really don’t want to have to fit into a space where I don’t feel comfortable, so I aspire to imagine and carve out my own, where others who feel like I do can find that same comfort that I am currently still seeking.

      Social structure is interesting in all of this because art has been seen as a ‘leisure’ or ‘commodity’ considering that IT TAKES TIME AND MONEY, which many people who are in the working class do not have enough of. Not only that, but there is also knowledge and resources (or lack-there-of) that never reach some communities/people because they are too busy working or have no idea they exist. For example, I didn’t know Art High School’s existed until I was already studying at the University and there was no way for my parents or siblings to know either because there was really no time to do so from what I saw growing up. It’s almost like there was no choice, especially considering things like funding for schools.

      So you are getting hit from both sides: family trying to pay bills and schools not being able to provide either (but not by choice). Where I am from, there was a lot of lack of money for resources and materials from Elementary School to High School; when that happens, the first thing to go is Art - every time. That shows you how little importance is put on something that is so crucial to learning not only about the world, but about ones-self, too.  I only took one art class during my whole childhood, and that was in my last year of high school (which was coincidentally the only year they offered that art class and the teacher struggled to keep it from being canceled the whole semester). 

      Coming from a world that is developing faster than it should be, it is very common for people to bring up the fact that art is supposedly 'not where it’s at’ (not lucrative) because of all of the advances in technology that are pushing people further from hands-on work to computer/tech based work; that if you want to do well you have to have a corporate office job or go into business, but that is only perception of ‘success’.

      I am personally still working and developing (slowly but surely) as an artist to show people that it is possible to make a career out of your passion; you just have to work actively to make it a reality. After observing and reflecting on my own experiences ‘in the art world' I still don’t feel that it is the space for me, socially or academically, so I really don’t want to learn how to work it, or go by its rules. I want to make something that is my own, in collaboration with others to be able to teach communities about the importance of art in our lives, not only about what established individuals consider to be good art. I want to encourage the ‘other’ to empower themselves through the Art itself and then share their perspectives so that others can learn from them, too.

      We are now living in such a fast-paced world that people think that if they don’t get with the program they will fall behind. But we always have to remember that quality takes time… 

      I hope you are all doing well, talk to you soon and thank you so much for sharing your stories!

      -- Victoria Ayala