Artists get a bad rap. Non artists often think we live lives of utter ease. That we're flighty, flaky, unreliable, unstable, fly by the seats of our pants, have a lax work ethic. We hear, "That's a nice hobby, but when are you going to get a real job?" Just the other day, my neighbor expressed much the same sentiment. She remarked with a touch of scorn and much envy, "It must be nice not to have a real job". She pointed out that I don't have to answer to a boss, that my career is stress free and listed many of the other myths---some romantic, many not--- presumed about the life of an artist. I simply smiled and replied, "Yes, I am very lucky, indeed". And I am. But silently bristling, I thought, she hasn't the slightest idea. The life of an artist is anything but carefree. It requires a great deal of hard work and self discipline. It impacts every aspect of your life. I'm not saying that there is no pleasure or fun in art. There is. But mainly, it's a lot of put your nose to the grindstone, grit your teeth sort of thing.
My last job, I routinely worked double, triple and rotating shifts. It was a job which required constant vigilance and had much stress. But believe it or not, I daresay that a full time career in art can be just as demanding.
There is much sacrifice involved---personal and financial. When there is an exhibit deadline looming and you have to work up to the very last minute to complete ten pieces, there is no way you can attend your best friend's birthday party or your nephew's little league game or read the latest Grisham novel. There is no time clock to punch, but you work weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and on your birthday. It is not uncommon to be up at 3 am working...working until your eyes are crossed and your legs grow numb. My typical work day begins at 9 am and ends at 2 am. There are no sick or personal days. You never retire.
You never know when your next paycheck will arrive. Sometimes two months or more will pass without a sale. You forego many things : a new car (mine is a beat up 1998 Toyota with no radio or air conditioning...and I live in Florida), clothes (mine are always used, from a thrift store), vacations (haven't had one in eight years). You clip coupons a lot and economize any way you can. You live out of the Dollar Store. You pawn the things that you love. You don't have an employer provided pension or health and dental insurance. Sometimes that aching tooth just has to wait until you can scrape up the money to go to the dentist.
And then there's the business side of art. And in this regard, an artist must wear many hats and wear them well--- as this aspect of art is just as important as the creation of the art itself. You must be a business manager, an accountant, an agent, a PR rep, a socialite (i.e., you must attend many social events at which you must be charming or--- at the very least, not commit an unpardonable faux pas). You need to promote your work in many ever expanding social media outlets. There's licensing, sales tax and other tedious legal requirements to be met.
You work in isolation, rarely interacting with another soul all day. You had better enjoy your own company, because you'll be spending a lot of time with yourself.
Sometimes you struggle with creating the perfect art you envisioned in your mind (it often looks far better in your mind). You struggle with self doubt and rejection. You strive always to make better art. To learn more about your craft. You seldom are where you want to be with the progression of your art. You can always do better. Self satisfaction with your work is often elusive.
Your art is subjected to much scrutiny and criticism. You must smile when someone views your work and remarks: "My 9 year old son does art like that. His stuff is better". Or when someone asks: "Why does your art cost so much?" "Will you accept $100 off your asking price?" "What is that supposed to be?" "I don't get it. Why did you make that?" It feels much like when one criticizes your most beloved child.
As I proofread this blog, I note that this all sounds so bitter and complaining. This was not my intent. My intent always is to pen a blog that is sometimes informative, lighthearted, thought provoking with a dash of humor. But, for me, this is the reality of an art career--- without the sugar coating. The part that no one warns you about when you embark upon such a career.
And you want to know something? Despite all the struggle and the sacrifice and the doubt and the isolation, there is no better job in the world. I love every minute of it. I wouldn't change a single thing. I thank the art gods each and every day that I am blessed to be an artist. That I am able to pursue a job that is much more than a paycheck. The job I was meant to do. A job for which tremendous sacrifice is never too great.
I ain't no sissy and if you're an artist, you aren't either. Never apologize for your art career. Never diminish it by saying or thinking that it's not a "real job." It's the realest and one of the toughest there is.