I’m always intrigued by synchronicity – the phenomenon of ‘meaningful coincidences’. It’s that thing where you’ve never heard a word before in your life, and then it gets mentioned by your mom, your boss, your favorite blog, and a stranger on the bus, all during the same week.
My latest experience of synchronicity was that of artists talking about how they fund the starts of their artistic careers. Because art tends to be the one field where, financially, you don’t really hit the ground running.
In my experience so far, money in general is something artists are not keen to discuss. A part of us feels that it’s wrong to charge money for something we love to do (this is, of course, so untrue), and another part of us feels we deserve to be paid but worries the rest of the world will think less of us if we ‘sell out’ (i.e. make money – which in any other profession is decidedly a plus). Many of us feel we’re not making enough – and indeed during the first years of a developing artistic career, most will be making next to nothing at all. Some who make it big feel they’re making too much, or receive criticism for making too much (I refer you back to the ‘sell-out’ idea, which gets thrown at artists as an insult far too often, but I think few of us actually know what it means, beyond ‘You’re successful now and I hate that about you.’)
Add to this the fact that it is next to impossible to put any sort of ‘objective’ price on a piece of artwork, and you get a situation where most of us delicately skirt around the issue as if it’s hardly there, as if it should hardly matter.
So it struck me when within the last few days I first came across a very interesting post by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love), talking about all the jobs she held while writing her first four books – because Eat Pray Love was her fourth published novel, and only after it turned out such an unexpected success could she afford to take up writing as her actual main profession. If Eat Pray Love hadn’t turned out to be the movie-adaptation smash-hit it ended up being, I’m sure Liz would still be working two jobs to make sure her bills were paid – and more importantly, I’m sure she’d still be writing.
(check out her post here, it’s really uplifting in a no-nonsense, kick-in-your-pants kind of way)
Shortly after that I came upon a sweet and heartfelt note from a successful artist to her husband, thanking him for all the support – moral, emotional, and financial – he had given her when she was just starting out, and without which she feels her success would never have been possible.
A day later I read through a long Facebook discussion among artists about how tough it is to make a sustainable income from art – and surface and pattern design in particular, where a few people were saying it’s difficult to keep going when your partner is asking why you aren’t contributing more to the family budget.
What struck me the most was that I could relate to each of these different stances.
I completely understand Liz Gilbert’s drive to keep writing and consider herself a writer even while she was working at cafés, restaurants, book shops, or magazines. I work a full-time day job and squeeze the art around it – it won’t be that way forever, but that’s how it is now, and it will be a while before I can Houdini myself out of those golden handcuffs. Ok, maybe they’re not gold exactly. Maybe they’re silver. Or money. Yes, money handcuffs. A steady paycheck is a comforting thing, especially when you’re renting an apartment and you have a three year old to provide with food, pants, and fire trucks.
I feel the gratitude of an artist in those vulnerable first years towards those around them who can provide a shoulder to lean on, in any sense. My husband is proud of my every success, and supportive of my efforts, and that means more than one would imagine. Our monthly salaries are roughly equal, and, in a pinch, we could probably survive on just one, but that isn’t the sort of pressure I’d risk putting on our family. He likes to joke that I will be allowed to quit my day job when my monthly earnings from design are equal to my monthly salary. In truth I’m not sure when we’ll both feel ready to take that leap, but I guess we’ll figure it out together.
Finally, I absolutely understand the struggle of the early artist years – having to constantly discover new reasons to keep going, when it’s so much easier to stop. Whether you’re focused on the art but pressured by not making enough of an income, or you’re earning through the day job but pressured to find time to devote to the art, either way it’s rough. And it stays that way for a while. But there is something about the creative professions – it’s almost like possession. It’s not so much a matter of personal decision – it’s an idea living inside you that wants to come out. And it will be very persuasive in talking you into helping out.
So, who should be funding our dreams? There’s no ‘correct’ answer to this question. If you’re lucky enough to have a trust fund, a wealthy family, or a winning lottery ticket, count your blessings and focus on your artwork – contrary to popular myths, great art does not have to come from suffering. If there’s no one there to pay your bills but you, take heart, because you are not alone. And remember that you can absolutely do it on your own – all of it. The bills, the art, the family – you can find that balance. And then continue to tip it, bit by tiny bit, in the right direction – a full time job, a four-day work week, a part-time job, a weekend job, the occasional freelance gig – whatever it bloody takes, until you’re there – full-time Artist.
Because whatever our personal circumstances, in one thing we artists are universally lucky – I have yet to come across another professional group with such passion and drive.
It’s almost like a super-power.
Use it wisely 😉
Can you afford to make art full time? Have you got a strategy in place for making it happen? Let me know in the comments!
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