“What work of art best illustrates your work ethic?” This was the last question during my interview for a client services representative position at Artnet. It was my first big-girl job after college. I had been working at a small department store in hair accessories and makeup, and I was looking for a full-time position that would enable me to save enough money to begin graduate studies in art history.
My first thought was, what the heck kind of a question is that? I almost panicked, but the image that immediately came to mind was Goya’s Forge hanging in the Frick’s West Gallery. I had become familiar with the work while completing an internship with the Frick’s Education Department a few months prior. I was always taken by the painting’s dark background and its monumental size. It was also a scene of labor, and intense labor at that. I explained to my interviewer that I considered myself to be a reliable and hard worker, eager to learn and not afraid to rise to a challenge, just like the laborers depicted in the painting’s triangular composition. I described the strenuous posture of the three men and how they are thought to represent three different generations of laborers. I said that I considered myself to be in the first generation, or stage, of my career—still young but eager to start and grow my skill set. I’m not sure how convincing she thought I was, but my answer seemed to satisfy her. Afterwards, it occurred to me that she probably was not interested in my response and that her question was meant to see how quickly I could think on my feet.
I am grateful to the Frick to this day, because I ended up landing that position at Artnet and, though I was taken aback by the interview question, I didn’t fumble for an answer. I have not been asked this question at any interview I’ve had since then, but my answer would still be the same—though perhaps now I find myself in that second generation, the mid-level of my career. I smile at that painting whenever I see it, silently laughing, remembering that day, and thanking it for getting me out of a tight spot. I never did go on to pursue graduate studies, but that is a story for another day.
Francisco de Goya (1746–1828), The Forge, ca. 1815–20. Oil on canvas, 71 1/2 x 49 1/4 in. (181.6 x 125.1 cm)
Staff Favorites is a series of personal reflections by Frick staff members about works of art in the permanent collection. In January 2021, the Frick—in association with DelMonico Books/D.A.P. New York—will publish a collection of texts in a similar vein by prominent artists, writers, and other cultural figures, each sharing how a work of art at the museum has moved or inspired them. Titled The Sleeve Should Be Illegal & Other Reflections on Art at the Frick, the anthology is made possible by The Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation.