Careers in the Arts

A project from 1978 by Steve Benson exploring the problems and possibilities facing someone cultivating a career in the arts


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Memory
  • Pedagogy
  • Performance

Organizing Institutions



Steve Benson


Louis Cabri, Aaron Levy

Process initiated


Opens to public



New Langton Arts
80 Langton Street
San Francisco, California


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce the release of "Careers in the Arts," a full transcription of a talk given by poet Steve Benson on February 16, 1978 in the Talks series curated by Bob Perelman at 80 Langton Gallery in San Francisco.

Benson prepared an initial transcript on electric typewriter in 1978 and abandoned it less than halfway through, feeling the result was not publishable and doubting he could learn more from completing the transcript. Twenty five years later, in 2003, Slought invited Benson to revise and complete the transcript. We are pleased to now release it online, together with preparatory notes for the talk and scans of an associated questionnaire and participant responses.

"A career in the arts," Benson begins his talk, "I don't really take to mean a career in terms of how am I going to make money and achieve financial success through working as an artist. A career, as I understand it, is a lifelong pursuit in which you have something that you want to do, which is to make art, and you know that you don't — you know that you want to do it at this moment and so you're doing it, but you also know that you want to... be.... You want to recognize that you've done that before and you want to recognize that you will be doing that some more, and you don't want to limit that, in any way. So, you have a career in the arts and you know that it's going to go on. And... or you may not. But I've decided, and that's part of why I decided to do this talk, I decided that I had a career in the arts and that was a fairly recent decision, like maybe about six months ago. And that, it was important to me to... know that.

And I became very aware of other people having careers in the arts too. And that, say, I was going to be a writer and I was going to keep doing that. It seems like how I make my career work is largely what I happen to be doing at the moment and so it's entirely unpredictable. But it also seems to have a lot to do with who the people are who I am working with. For instance you are here and we're talking. [...] Anyway, all that really has a lot to do with what my work as an artist is going to be, and not just in the next one minute, but through the rest of the evening, and also next year, or like, this will be an event that's going to be referred back to, and the people who are here are the community of people who will have a certain kind of report about that, that will be extended through people who aren't here. And what I do, is largely a function of who you are, and what you're doing, and how you take it. And I wouldn't be doing it if you weren't here."

read more


"I'm going to talk on February 16 at 80 Langton St gallery on careers in the arts. This questionnaire is part of my research effort. I'd be interested in any response you care to make, taking into account the questions raised and their raison.

(I'm enclosing SSAE so it will be convenient to return in whatever shape you want.) (The questions are written impersonally and you can replace someone with yourself. ) (I'd rather get these back by the beginning of February than later.) (I don't expect you to do this.)

1) What major problems face someone cultivating a career in the arts?

2) Did things used to be different?

3) Are these problems useful or detrimental to artists and art work?

4) Choice question: (a) If there is a problem is there a solution? (b) What are the ramifications?

5) What is the hidden assumption I am/you are making?"

-- Steve Benson, January 17, 1978

Audience included

Steve Benson, Stephen Rodefer, Artie Gold, Ron Silliman, Barrett Watten, Lewis MacAdams, Bob Perelman, Jock Reynolds, Jill Scott, Francie Shaw, Kit Robinson, David Highsmith, Carla Harryman, Rae Armantrout, Bill Graves, Geoff Young, Melissa Riley, Stephen Vincent, Ted Pearson, Keith Shein