One day about ten years ago I was on my way to work (I think this must’ve been the radio station, or the bank, I forget) after I’d gotten out of art school. I don’t remember why, but I stopped at a Pancake House where I ran into one of my (literally) old Fine Arts professors (God rest him). After I’d greeted him he was all
‘So, what are you doing now?’
‘Of course, you would be.’
—which was as much as to say, ‘Of course you have a ‘real job’—your paintings suck, so you need one.’
Okay, so I may have interpreted that on my own, but that was really how his reply impressed me.
I mean the guy told me to my face in class that my work was shallow (I remember painting this head of Bert (as in Ernie and)...
...and this carousel horse...)
I was likewise never one of his ‘angels’ (neither I nor my work was pretty enough for that), so I guess what he said was a matter of course.
Turn the clock back another ten years or so when I’d just gotten out of advertising to go to art school. My mom had asked this famous artist whether he’d mentor me, and he said no. Mainly because I had a ‘real job’ (at the agency, as a copywriter), and that I’d said I was planning to go back to work after finishing my painting degree.
He didn’t think I was committed because I had a real job. He didn’t think I was serious. He thought I was just some hobbyist or something.
Fast forward to two months ago when Mom was lugging my four-foot long frame to go to some gallery, whose owner said I wasn’t going to get a show but that they wouldn’t mind trying to sell my stuff. The first thing they asked me was whether I was ‘full time’, probably because I’d said I taken the day off work to go see them.
Why is it people seem to think you’re not a ‘serious’ artist if you have a day job?
I confess: I’m actually writing this piece in reaction to this blog I saw very recently about why artists should get real jobs.
I don’t even know how I’d come across it or why I read it, but I did and it got my goat so good that I actually commented (cos I hardly ever). I even commented again when I thought my comment didn’t get published (so now I have two comments on there LOL), and now I’m writing this post.
I’m pretty sure I’ve written elsewhere about how other artists have looked at me askance (or at least, I felt like they were) upon finding out I had a ‘real job’. Like it wasn’t enough, how people already look at you funny for being an artist in the first place.
If you happen to check out the blog I saw and you saw my double comments the bottom, you’ll see how I’m all ‘good for them’ for artists who do manage to make a living (or a killing) making art. Honestly, and truly, I wish I could do the same.
I guess it just isn’t in the stars for me.
I was born on a Thursday, and ’Thursday’s child has far to go’. When I was a kid I thought that meant I’d go far. Now I don’t believe in nursery rhymes that way any more than I do in horoscopes, but now I’m thinking that means it’ll be a dog’s age before random strangers ask me to sign their jillamonster t-shirt, or something.
I always used to find it, ‘unfair’ that people like me have to ‘get a real job’ and not spend all our time and energy just painting monsters or something. But like Bruce told Vicki in the Batcave, it’s not a perfect world. I’m not a trust fund cow, and it’s bad enough how I never hear the end of how selfish I am to be spending all my filthy lucre on paint instead of helping out at home.
One of my bosses at work (at the time of writing) is a cellist and he says he’s gotten more or less the same thing from his fellow musicians. His thing, on the other hand, is that artists do need to have a ‘real job’ even if they ‘don’t need it’ to live because ‘real jobs keep them grounded’ or something. As in, ‘in the real world’, or something. I guess.
But the thing is, for me—and I daresay for many, many, millions of us—art already is a real job. It’s not ‘just a hobby’ or ‘something nice to do for therapy’ or whatever. And just like any real job, it demands your commitment, your life’s blood, your signature on a flaming parchment, all that jazz.
I guess where most people get stuck is that if it was a real job then it’s got to be able to pay.
Like all the time. Like every month. Like a paycheque. Like that.
And like I said, some people (actually a lot of people) are able to do this quite successfully. And I say good for them.
But for the rest of us who do it ‘just because’, whether or not it ‘loves us back’, I guess one way to look at it would be like (if I may make so bold) missionaries or volunteer doctors.
Like once back in high school during one of those ‘immersion’ classes, I met an English teacher in a public school who I felt belonged in Bryn Mawr or something like that. Me being the no-filter fiend I was, even then, I said so. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked her. ‘They need it more, here.’ I never got her name, but to this day I have never forgotten her.
I realise painting unicorns and mermaids by any stretch of the imagination is nowhere near as noble as all that, of course. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are some things you commit to even if you don’t get paid a whole lot for doing them. It just feels right.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we need to pay the bills. And though not applicable to me, I'm quite aware of the fact that most of us have (tiny) people relying on us to keep them from sleeping on the street.
There are tough choices to be made, sometimes.
But for those of us who are willing and able to do almost anything to ‘do their thing’—painting monsters, playing the oboe, making velvet flowers or whatever—that sometimes entails choosing to live a double life.
In my case I call it my ‘Batman’ life—during the day I go to my office job, and at night I go and fight the combined forces of sleep deprivation and self-doubt, lol.
As I’ve said in those double comments back in That Blog, it’s not a healthy way to live. I’ll say it again, it’s downright exhausting. I guess it’s just I wish people on either side of the fence (i.e., ‘Why don’t you get a real job’ versus ‘Poor you, you have to get a real job’) didn’t ‘judge’ artists with real jobs. For, you know, having real jobs.
But whether or not they do, I reckon I won’t be alone working a real job while ‘art-ing’ just the same. If you’re living your own Batman life and find a Bane starting to break your back, get some encouragement (or at least a ‘green herb’ for your wavering resolve) here.