It’s become a habit for me to start these with an example, hasn’t it? Let’s do it one more time.
Artist’s friend asks what Artist does for a living.
Well, says Artist, I make art.
Well, says Friend, Isn’t that kind of, you know, expensive?
You can’t really make money doing that, can you?
The thing is: plenty of people do make money from their art. But plenty of us think that in order to be a legitimate, successful artist, one must make money from their art.
I’m here to say: that’s a lie. I do not believe that in order to call yourself an artist, you have to make money doing it. You do not have to make some big, crazy jump into the unknown. And you certainly do not have to devote every single waking moment to art.
“. . .for most of history people just made things,
and they didn’t make such big freaking deal out of it.”
*Liz Gilbert’s words,
There’s this idea of work-separation in our culture. That there’s creative work, and there’s regular work. People who work at a desks or drive trains are not “creative people,” they are “regular people.” But people who compose music and paint murals – they are “creative people.” This is why a lot of artists believe that they can’t live + work in the real work, and still make art.
But that’s a lie because…
If you are alive, you are a creative person.
The idea that you’re merely a hobbyist, or an amateur if you aren’t making money from your art is crazy. It suggests that true legitimacy comes only if people think your work is great enough to buy it. And like we talked about last week, you are the only person who can decide your own legitimacy. You are also free to make art without the obligation to share it with anyone. Would I still make art even if no one paid me to do it?
I’m not saying that creating art will never be your real job. I’m saying that you should never feel embarrassed or shy about having a real job for as long as you need to. If/when the time comes that your art can support you, GO FOR IT. But until then, you absolutely don’t need to worry that your art has to pay the rent money too.
One of my favorite books on creative living, puts it this way:
“Money helps, to be sure. But if money were the only thing people needed in order to live creative lives, then the mega-rich would be the most imaginative, generative, and original thinkers among us, and they simply are not. The essential ingredient for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust – and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy, it merely means that creative living is always possible.”
|| Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
I read a novel recently, called Little Fires Everywhere. In this novel, Mother and daughter are living together in an apartment they rented from a wealthy family. Mother is an artist, a film photographer. She spends all her extra time with photography. Sometimes her photographs sell to art galleries and collectors, and she gets a little extra money to buy shoes for her daughter. But this Mother doesn’t just make money from her art, she holds down a half dozen other odd jobs that she pools together to pay the rent. She works as a waitress two nights a week, she cleans houses on the weekend. She buys her daughter thrift store clothes, and she finds art supplies at garage sales and flea markets. She arranges her art around her life. And in this novel, is a line that makes my point exactly:
“. . .her mother’s real work was her art,
and whatever paid the bills existed only to make art possible.”
The Illusion of Time
– why we think we need uninterrupted time to create, when really, we don’t
People feel that if they get a regular job, they won’t have time for art. And I get that. It’s probably true (depending, of course, on what kind of job you have, and its expectations of you). But if your job doesn’t give you enough time for art, you should probably find a job that does (just as if one pair of jeans doesn’t fit, you buy a pair that does. You don’t stop wearing jeans altogether).
Here’s what I think:
– too much time can be just as dangerous as too little time.
– we use not enough time as an excuse, because we doubt ourselves.
We all dream of uninterrupted time, don’t we? Writers, especially, dream of the kind of hermit-life that doesn’t allow them to be bothered or spoken to. Sitting for hours and hours, writing alone in a cabin with open windows and the smell of coffee. Burrowing underground, surrounded by nothing but nature and time. The idea of uninterrupted time sounds wonderfully romantic, but unless you have someone willing to fund your existence so you can live in a hobbit hole, dreaming is all you can do.
I would argue that having less time can actually push you to create better: For example: you’re a writer and say, you work full time in the electronics section of BestBuy. You write every morning before you head off to work, and you write after you get home (if you’re lucky, you write at your lunch hour too). But because you only have two or three opportunities to write a day, your brain is pushed to anticipate those moments. When you finally sit down to write, you almost can’t wait the length of time your laptop takes to turn on.
I’ve had this happen to me dozens of times. I put my creativity on hold, and then my brain started to anticipate the fun I’ll have once I sit down to create. I work creativity into little moments – in-between laundry loads, in the car, after dinner. Creativity is important to me; I make time for it.
So whatever style of person you are: whether you love uninterrupted time, or you love to create in a rush, please don’t feel like you have to carve out enormous chunks of time. Don’t feel like you have to put aside your art to work in the real world, no more than you can put aside your smile or your laughter. You can bring your art right alongside your real life, because art is real life. Creativity can be folded into everyday moments.
“Most individuals have never had enough time, and they’ve never had enough resources, and they’ve never had enough support, patronage or reward. . .and yet still they persist in creating. They persist because they care. They persist because they are called to be makers, by any means necessary.”
|| Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Your Job Can Fund Your Creative Life
– in more ways than one
One of the biggest issues I have with the “hermit-artist-type” is that it ignores the fact that the world around us is our greatest inspiration. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in public spaces and seen or heard something that I immediately wrote down because it related to my story. Usually it was something small, but it was special all the same.
And the thing is: what I saw and wrote down weren’t things I could have picked up in the wilderness or in whatever place people go to escape the world. I wasn’t going to learn all the things I know about how the world works if I hid myself away from it. That’s why I believe: the best ideas aren’t found in solitude, they are found in everyday life.
*of course there’s
something to be said for solitude.
It’s permanent solitude
that isn’t healthy.
Let’s use again, the example of our writer who works at BestBuy. I guarantee you, she will learn what she needs to know about people from conversations at the lunchroom table; the disappointed stare of an unsatisfied customer; and the moment when her boss gives her a kind word at the end of a very long day. She’ll learn about the world from experience – and there’s a lot of inspiration in that.
The world is a wonderful place for artists. It offers everything we need for inspiration. And I think artists want to shun that in the high-and-mighty name of solitude. The idea that we can create better by ignoring the world and branding ourselves as a “special kind of people that dislike the company of other people.”
I’m not saying that people who don’t have day jobs are seeking solitude. I follow some pretty amazing creatives who have vibrant social lives and are doing just fine. But I don’t want anyone to think they have to quit their life, or become a hermit in order to be an artist.
So…I want you to remember:
It’s totally fine if you don’t fit into the typical hermit-artist mold.
I don’t. And I still call myself a creative person.
You’re fine. Just keep creating.
postscript #1 – if you ever want inspiration
for creative living, I highly
recommend Liz Gilbert’s
Magic Lessons podcast.
postscript #2 – also, Abigail Lennah and I
are doing a super cool collaboration
and we’d love you to be apart of it.
More details here.