In my last blog post, I talked about the typical responses you get when you tell your friends and loved ones that you want to go into a creative field full-time as your primary source of income. Once you get past the initial reaction of “Can you really sell that? Is it realistic to think you will make any money doing that?” the next response tends to redirect your creative efforts to a hobby on the side.
Over time and with the right marketing, you’ll start to sell a few of your creations. That’s when you tend to get the response of “Oh. So, you are actually selling your art. Great! But why go full-time with this?” For me, the conversation has repeatedly been something along these lines:
Me: “I’ve had a solo art exhibition, have consistently gotten into juried art exhibitions, and I feel I’m ready to focus on my art as my full-time occupation.”
Concerned family/friend: “That’s nice. You should be proud of yourself for accomplishing that. Good for you. But how much money can you really make from this? How much money did you make from it last year."
Me (in as friendly a tone as possible): “If I were in any other occupation, asking for my salary and earnings would not be something anyone would think of asking. Why is it ok to ask when you are in a creative profession? I am getting a steady income from my art. That’s all you need to know unless you are my accountant or the IRS.”
Concerned family/friend: “If it can’t support you, which it sounds as if it can’t, then it’s an expensive hobby. If you cover your costs as an artist, isn’t that the most success you can really have? Why give up a secure job and jeopardize your future earnings for the insecure life of a creative person?”
Me (clearly finding it hard to have a friendly tone): “It’s a calling and who I am. I’m doing this if it makes money or not because I have to. If you don’t understand that, then I can’t really explain it to you. How about that sports game last night?”
What I think lies behind the resistance to pursuing a creative field, in my opinion, is the genuine need for financial stability (or at least getting our basic needs met each day/week/month. Many people tend to consider art as an expensive hobby that wealthy people (mostly bored women) tend to take up.
What lies behind the resistance to pursuing a creative field, in my opinion, is the genuine need for financial stability (or at least getting our basic needs met each day/week/month. Many people tend to consider art as an expensive hobby that wealthy people (mostly bored women) tend to take up.
They’ll bring up any of the many female artists who have only been able to create because they have been in this situation. But, I tend to cut off this line of questioning by others quickly because, at the end of the day, only I am responsible for my life as an adult. At some point, you need just to ignore what everyone else is saying and start living your life and creating the things that make yourself happy.
Traditionally, most full-time artists either have a spouse or partner with a secure job that pays the food, housing, and other daily expenses of life, teaches art classes on the side, takes commissions or licenses out their art, or has a passive stream of income coming in that pays their necessary expenses. If you don’t have any of these (or don’t have enough coming in to cover your bills), then you may find yourself in the position where you’ll have to consider getting a day job and carefully selecting what you put out as a creative person.
All artists at some point will face the dilemma of finding the balance that’s right for them between making the creations that feed the soul and making the creations that will sell and feed the bank account. The more you lean towards making something creative that the public may not want to buy (but you love to make), then the more you will need to consider supplementing your creative efforts with another income stream or two. The more you lean towards making something creative that the public will readily buy, then you can run the risk of not seeing much of yourself in your art and having your creative efforts not feeding your soul.
I’ve chosen to have a separate day job from my art to pay my necessary expenses. I’m not comfortable living off my partner or anyone else. I don’t come from a family that has passive income streams to pass on, and my efforts to learn how to build them have been spotty at best. For a while, I tried to pursue art full-time living off my savings, but I found the pressure to make what I needed to live on to be too much. I was twisting myself into creating whatever would quickly sell for the most amount of money in response to the pressure. Creating art wasn’t fun, and when I look back now on the art I created during that time, I don’t want my name associated with it.
So, I’ve chosen the day job route as this gives me time to develop and grow naturally as an artist creating more of what I like to create and coming up with classes to teach based on my experiences that I wish I had the chance to take.
I’ve had day jobs in other creative fields in the past. But I found that when demand peaked for my creations and I had a chance to sell, then demand peaked for my day job and they asked that I put them first if I wanted to keep my job. So, my art was put on a back burner. I also had day jobs in unrelated fields that paid very well but sucked the life out of me when I got home. There was little to no time for creating by the time I recuperated from the job each night.
My current day job is a good fit in that it gives me the necessary financial stability (as long as I live very, very frugally) while also offering freedom from the pressure to conform and fit into a box. I’m not drained or tired when I leave as it’s in a field that I’m just as passionate about as creating art. I’m transitioning into having creative efforts pay more and more of my necessary expenses, but I’m doing it slowly, so I still enjoy the process and the journey. And concerned family and friends have all stopped speaking to me, or they have stopped trying to talk me out of my decision. Either way, life is happier for all of us.