Are You an Artist or Just the Sign Language Interpreter?

August 2, 2011

Sign language interpretation is part skill, part smarts, and a little bit of pixie dust. What are the qualities that elevate a sign language interpreter to an artist? Brandon Arthur provides his perspective on raising the bar.

You know them, the sign language interpreter “everyone loves, everyone wants to hire, and everyone wants to work with.”  Where do people with this perfect blend of supernatural skill and inviting personality come from?  Regardless of the answer, I believe we can agree that these amazing people exist in small numbers—only a handful per community.  Though small in number, the positive impact of their work and interactions is far reaching.  These interpreters clearly approach their daily work differently and in that difference I would call them artists.

Differentiating Characteristics

I know…I know…artists are difficult to categorize and often defy classification.  While this is true, there are characteristics consistently held in common by this group of sign language interpreting artists that the rest of us mere mortals can learn from.

Sign Language Interpreter – Artists:

  1. Believe that art is a choice first, a commitment second, and never a “pastime.”
  2. Understand that it isn’t the size of the stage, number of people, or the sophistication of those they work with that defines their art or its importance.
  3. Subscribe to the notion that art is only created when it is freely given.
  4. Understand that context is everything.
  5. View the sign language interpreting profession as more than a zero sum game.
  6. Take ownership of their humanity and the mistakes and flaws in their work that result.
  7. Don’t minimize the details.
  8. Embrace the concept that meaningful change begins internally.

When you consider the scarcity of the characteristics listed above, it is clear why there are so few artists in the profession of sign language interpreting and why we desperately need more of them.

It Starts With a Choice

It occurs to me that the daily choice to overcome the inertia of a short-term industry perspective is what prevents most of us from being artists.  Regardless of how slow and imperfect the industry progresses lets choose to be among the few in our community with the courage to create art and make a difference.

While aspiring to be a Lou Fant —whose long-term perspective helped establish the early footings of our profession—might be a stretch for most of us, we can be Lou-like in someone’s life today.

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61 Comments on "Are You an Artist or Just the Sign Language Interpreter?"

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[…] remember that a sign language interpreter sees themselves as a craftsperson, an artist.  They spend hours—even years—honing their skills of observation in order to understand how to […]

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Denae Puccio
As an interpreting student trying to immerse myself into the world of interpreting this article gave me a lot of things to think about. The portion of this article that particularly stuck out to me was the line in which you said “Regardless of how slow and imperfect the industry progresses lets choose to be among the few in our community with the courage to create art and make a difference.” Nearly every time I tell someone my age of my ultimate career goal, they laugh and ask me why I would want to get involved in a such a… Read more »

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