Art Market

What’s the Opposite of Your Art-World Job? The U.S. Government Has Answers

Abigail Cain
Aug 9, 2017 8:59PM

Photo by Andy Purviance, via Flickr.

Photo by Oli Scarff, via Getty Images.

Sick of running an art gallery? Maybe it’s time to consider a career as a lumberjack.

At least, that’s what data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests when run through an algorithm developed by the New York Times. Enter any one of the 974 occupations recognized by the federal government, and the system will spit out its opposite—as the Times puts it, the “career path most different from the one you’re on.”

This classification is based on a list of most- and least-used skills for each job, defined by government survey responses of current workers in those fields. For gallerists or art dealers (who fall under the broader classification of “agents and business managers of artists, performers and athletes”), oft-utilized skills include negotiation, persuasion, and administration.

Their least-used skills are a laundry list of physical abilities—trunk strength, manual dexterity, “ability to coordinate two or more limbs”—which, unsurprisingly, turn up on the most-used list for lumberjacks.

Ellie Rines, who opened New York’s 56 Henry gallery in Chinatown, thinks the government may be undervaluing the importance of manual labor for gallerists, however. “I might fall in the lumberjack category,” she says. “I think there’s much more physical labor involved in running a gallery than one might think, at least at this level. There’s a lot of inspecting paintings and operating machinery. Two weeks ago I had to drive a box truck.”

But what about artists themselves? Being a fine artist, according to the government’s data, requires a combination of creativity and marketing savvy. Least important are skills that require leadership and teamwork. (There is no “art” in team, if you trust the Labor Department.)

According to the algorithm, artists’ opposites are physicists. Of course, there’s the obvious gap in mathematical skill between the two jobs. But for two careers that are supposed to be diametrically opposed, there are some strong similarities. Both artists and physicists value “originality” as one of their top 10 skills, for instance.  

South Korean artist Yunchul Kim—who spent two months as artist in residence at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) facility in Geneva—backs that up. “Creativity and imagination are the most important factors for the both artists and physicists,” he notes. “They are not standing on opposite sides, but looking at the same world in different ways.”

Designer and technologist John Maeda, who taught at MIT’s Media Lab and served as the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, has long advocated for the addition of arts to STEM fields. Maeda, who has also worked in venture capital, recalled a startup pitch meeting during which the company’s founder explained that she was originally trained as a painter. His venture capital partners looked quizzical. They’d expected her to have a more typical background in computer science.

“Having crossed both worlds of art and tech in my life, I explained how I’ve noted how a painter is much like a physicist: they’re both extremely conceptual and are leap-based thinkers,” Maeda says. “And so if you want a physicist as a startup founder, you’re going to want a painter just as much.”

Beyond the gallery world, there are a constellation of art-industry jobs with a series of increasingly offbeat opposites. Art writer? Mobile home installer. Public relations specialist? Agricultural grader. Museum technician and conservator? Model.

As it turns out, the opposite job for a curator is also modeling. Curators may be happy to learn that physical attractiveness is not included on this list. (As it turns out, beauty doesn’t seem to be considered a skill by the Labor Department.) The jobs are opposite, it seems, because modeling requires a number of physical skills and curating requires very few.

“The skill that the models supposedly use the most is ‘ability to maintain balance,’” notes Public Art Fund associate curator Daniel S. Palmer. “Coincidentally, that is exactly the same thing that I’ve been working to cultivate between my professional and personal lives.”

Abigail Cain