The other day I was introduced to a very accomplished artist at a function. I was introduced as an artist as well and we began our conversation. However, when asked what I “do”, I faltered and referred to my position of employment, rather than the art I was working on at the moment. This tick, is a direct manifestation of an unseeded insecurity that I didn’t realize I actually possessed. I am a very confident artist, I am clear on the value of my work and my goals, yet, as it has been quite some time since I have been a working artist (i.e. living off the proceeds of my artwork, rather than being subsidized by other employment) I am still tripping on the question.
The question “what do you do?” is certainly a loaded one. In our society, this is typically paired with a monetary value…I do “x” that provides $”y” and this is why it is valid. The unfortunate this is that value is equated to money and less quality or creativity.
Art, music, writing, acting, competitive haiku, and all other highly creative pursuits are viewed as something one does in their spare time. This might be the case, but that does not automatically reduce the effort to that of a hobby. Being a working artist is not a given for anyone…one has to put in the time, effort, and network your ass off. If you are not of the temperament to be the “starving artist”, and you don’t care to live off the currency of Ramen noodles and cheap wine (been there, done that), you’re other option is to get a job to supplement your dreams and goals.
I happened to be very good at learning development, a skill I found out I had while working as a temporary employee. I knew computers and had a background in English, so I rolled right into a career as an E-Learning developer. This has been a lucrative venture for over 18 years…all the while, maintaining my artwork…but not 100% dedicated or committed to making it full time again. Hell, when you start earning lots of money, especially when you have never had such a thing, you tend to get sucked into that lifestyle. Coupled with relationships and obligations…it is the proverbial Company Store and you can’t get out easily.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not for one second complaining or begrudging this choice. The downside, which becomes more and more apparent as the years go by, is the dilution of the potential to create paintings that are strong, accomplished, and have merit beyond your significant other saying “that’s nice honey.” There needs to be a commitment to get to this level, and as anyone who works a full-time job knows, there is little left after your 40+ hours at the office. Regardless, and because I am infinitely stubborn, I refuse to accept these terms. Much to the chagrin of my wife, kids, co-workers, and my weary brain, I spend the late nights working on my art, I spend my commute time on the train thinking about the next painting to work on, or new ideas, I get out there and meet other artists and stay active in the creative community, and I try to keep up a presence on social media (all the kids are doing it).
So all this surmounts to my declaring, although I have a cushy job, prioritize my family, and do not live in NYC, I am an artist as tenacious as any other…even more so because I have to fight everything to have the privilege of standing in front of a canvas and know that I will create something as an artist, not a hobbyist.
“What do I do?” I am a goddamn artist (this will be on my next business card)!!!