An Inside Job

What’s it like being an artist who works at an art museum? It’s certainly not an uncommon occurrence. Every museum I know of has various staff people who are involved with the arts outside of work. The level of involvement varies from those who are committed to being serious artists and promoting their careers to those who dabble in art as a hobby. And why not? There’s an unassailable logic about artists wanting to have a job where they deal with art, either directly or peripherally.

detail of All Men are Created Equal (Portrait of Barack Obama) by Michael Klauke

Michael Klauke, All Men are Created Equal (Portrait of Barack Obama) (Detail), 2008

So what is it like? On one hand, working in a building full of art from throughout history can be inspiring. On the other hand, being surrounded by so many great works of art can also be humbling, and make you feel like you’re in a competition of sorts that you’ll never be able to win. And if I was being facetious, I’d say on the third hand, sometimes it’s just a job!

Here at the NCMA I’m only one of several artists who are serious about their own work and devote a great deal of time to it…when they’re not putting in their 40 hours a week at the museum. It really is a balancing act in a lot of ways. The museum job pays the bills, and sometimes it’s difficult to not think of art as just an avocation, instead of a profession.

For that reason, among others, I prefer to keep my art career mostly separate from my museum career. By its nature, making art is traditionally a solitary and very personal activity. Even though artists want their work to be seen by others, it ultimately takes shape in the mind of one person. And that’s true, no matter what their day job is.

Michael Klauke is the Assistant Registrar for Collections 40 hours out of the week. In the other 128 hours, he is an artist. His work was recently featured in the News & Observer.

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