Wednesday, February 20, 2008

CAA Day One: The Next Big Piece of the Puzzle

This art life of mine, it's something of a puzzle. It reminds me of all those badly-behaved boyfriends I went through in my 20s; you know in your logical mind that life would be a lot simpler and a lot more straight-forward without them, but you miss them when they're not around, despite the complete and utter lack of any positive reinforcement for your patience and dedication. Art can be like that. It's problematic, it's tricky, it's not always reliable, it's sometimes reluctant to "give back." It sometimes makes me sigh and scratch my head and wonder why I'm bothering. But in the end, the answer is the same as it was for the badly-behaved boyfriends: I stick with it because I love it, because something in me needs it, needs it worse than I'll ever need anything else.

I'm at the College Art Association conference in Dallas right now, in a massive beige hotel that makes me wish I'd brought along my GPS and maybe a sherpa for good measure. I'm not here for the kind of big "social reunion" that these conferences can be; there don't seem to be any people here whom I know, and this is only my second time at the conference. And I'm not here just to soak up the sometimes-great, sometimes-brain-killing programming and presentations on the schedule (although I'm pretty excited about the interview with Yoko Ono happening this Friday).

I'm actually here for the next big piece of the puzzle, you see. I'm here to get ready to start looking for work. Not just any work; "art academic" kind of work.

Notice that I didn't say I was here to look for work; that's a different thing altogether. There definitely are a lot of people here with just that objective; I saw plenty of nervous faces and bodies clearly uncomfortable in suits and skirts and dress shoes milling around the Candidate Center (where actual job interviews take place) from the moment it opened this morning. I witnessed a friend of mine interviewing for jobs at a CAA conference a few years ago, and when I ran into him he was so stressed out he couldn't even manage to talk—and this was at 9 o'clock in the morning.

I'm not quite ready for that; hence, "getting ready" to look, rather than "looking."

I've landed lots of jobs in my life. I'm good at it. I know what my strengths are, I know how to write a cover letter and re-craft a resume to show my experience at best advantage for each job I apply for. I'm a good interview; presentable, personable, professional and prepared. I know how to do my homework, and I know how to follow up. So that much is not a mystery to me.

But the rules are different when it comes to academia. Exhibition records are important. Slides and CDs and printouts are important. And there are all kinds of arcane things for the job-seeker to consider: part-time, full-time, ladder rank, tenure-track, union or non-union, anticipated semester load, load relief, sabbatical, resources.

So I have a 20-minute appointment with an assigned "mentor" tomorrow. I don't know who this mentor is, but assumably he or she has been assigned to me because of some degree of overlap with work or philosophy or maybe it's all really just based on who's available. Who can tell? I have a list of questions to ask, and I have a plan in mind that I want advice on. I think there is probably a lot I need to do to enhance my appeal as an academic job candidate, and I think it will probably take me a year.

But maybe next year, you'll be reading a post about how I'm at the CAA conference to actually look for work. That's what I hope, anyway.

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