“What is your profession?”

Is that me?
That's me as a mathematician.

I had to visit a doctor recently for the first time, and I was asked fill out a form which – among relevant things like allergies – also wanted to know what my profession is. So I pondered, what is my profession? First I put in “artist”, but then added a “mathematician” after a slash.
I was a bit annoyed by myself that I apparently felt like I had to add some “real” job to the list. I justify this to myself by remembering that I am trained as a mathematician, while I am neither trained as an artist nor as a book binder. And asking for a profession is somehow different from asking for an occupation.

But it made me think. Indeed it is important to me that people know that I am trained as a mathematician. – But why? Actually, this should be completely unimportant to you. I suppose you judge me according to my works and my interactions with you. Which have little mathematical content. Should I decide to finally write that book for elder teens about mathematical curves that I wanted to write since I learned about them, then it is going to be important. But other than that?

Is that me?
Me binding books. - Is that my profession?

I suppose I am trying to impress people by saying that. Which is extremely stupid because I don’t like people being impressed by that. I rather want people to be interested by this fact but it doesn’t work that often. Actually, people tend to react much more interested when I tell them that I am a book artist than when I tell them I am a mathematician.

Or maybe I just want to fight the impression that I have no formal training whatsoever. Or probably I want to prove that I am serious about being an artist. -?

What about you – what is your profession?

7 replies on ““What is your profession?””

  1. I call myself an artist. Sometimes I modify that and say “book artist” depending on the context in which I am asked. I have been paid to work (and for work) in 17 different ‘jobs’. Some of them overlap and some don’t.

    And although I am not ‘impressed’ that you are a formally trained mathematician, I do find it intriguing and interesting. Two of my brothers-in-law are mathematicians/hotshot computer programmers. They are also both talented musicians. I am interested in the combinations of talents that people have.

  2. I am a fully trained Dutch teacher but most of my ‘regular’ jobs have been as a social worker of some kind for which I am not even fully trained. At the moment I practice neither. When asked I always say i am a teacher because that requires least explaining, I never mention my bookbinging or artistic endevours.

    Which is silly of course because that is what takes up most of my time 🙂

  3. I usually say I’m an illustrator, though I am trained in Communication Design rather then illustration. It feels more “me” if I say ‘illustrator’ instead of graphic designer or such, mainly because I’m a self taught artist before I received the training, and that’s somewhat of a point of pride for me (lame yes, I know, lol).
    There’s a sad taboo around people calling themselves artist here where I live, and I have heard, more than once, people ask what an artists ‘real’ job is. 🙁

  4. Thanks for your feedback! I continued thinking about my issue, and I should take back that I am trying to “impress” people. “surprise” probably would have been the better word. This also fits better with my annoyance if people do react impressed. So I am glad, that I didn’t scare you guys off with this revelation. 🙂

    It’s interesting to hear what’s your formal training. I guess that is part of what we are, or once thought we could be… And I am glad to find out that I am not alone with finding it difficult to answer the question after my profession.

  5. I’m fascinated by the connection between bookmaking and mathematics. Two friends in my book arts guild in Northern California were mathematicians, and I swear I remember someone else in our group saying they’d had a maths career as well. It’s a connection I keep coming across.

    As for me, I’ve often made a point over the years of telling people that my academic training was in linguistics, not art (I worked as a fine artist before making books). Part of it, I think, is a desire to acknowledge this part of my life as much as anything. I’d often thought that my education in language was better training for what I wound up doing than art school would’ve been. It is interesting, to me, that you are bringing your background as a mathematician to what you do today, whether you are using those skills consciously or not.

    1. I was looking today for some citations for a specific project and found this here by Richard Courant:

      Mathematics as an expression of the human mind reflects the active will, the contemplative reason, and the desire for aestetic perfection. Its basic elements are logic and intuition, analysis and construction, generality and individuality.

      I find this very true, and the description also seems applicable for the craft of bookbinding – maybe that’s one connection?

  6. I went to school for Psychology & Sociology… my first job out of college was running a small African Imports company so I learned to be an accountant. Which is how I spend half my days now and the other half running the social media sites for the company I now work for.
    When I’m submitting work for shows I struggle with calling myself an artist or having an artist statement. That being said I think your work has much more of an art element to it than mine does.
    On a side note I’m married to a mathematician and I know that there is more to life for mathematicians than numbers 🙂

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