I think every “professional” artist who opts to make their studio work the focus of their career – as opposed to choosing a more understandable path, like teaching – has heard some variation of how they don’t have a “real” job.
A customer, who thinks they could make your work just as well for half the price.
A family member, who thinks you should grow up.
A child, who says mom or dad don’t have a job.
My inner optimist doesn’t believe that these people are trying to be hurtful (well, except for that jerk customer, but that’s another post); they just don’t get it. It’s a different way of looking at the world and employment from them. It’s more comfortable for them to be in a different field, or to have a boss instead of being the boss AND the sole employee. The world of a working artist isn’t something they covered in Home Ec after you took your career aptitude tests, or even in your professional development course in college (if you were lucky enough to have one). So they don’t understand it. It may concern them, because they care about you and your success. I really don’t think they’re trying to be hurtful.But then there’s another set of individuals. The individuals who should know better. The individuals who by all rights should be identifying with you. The individuals who you should be able to sit down with over a plate of cookies and have a bitch session about all the people who think you don’t have a job if you’re a working artist.
The OTHER ARTISTS who say these things.
Seriously, what is UP with that? It’s a strange phenomena that I personally have encountered several times now, both directed at myself and at other artists. Where does it come from? Fear? Jealousy? Societal pressure to conform?
I think the answer is resentment. With maybe some fear thrown in. Because something I’ve noticed in my encounters with this strange mentality is that it often comes from artists whose careers didn’t follow their ambitions; artists who wanted a creative career, but something stopped them. Either they found it too hard, or maybe they got sucked into a “day job,” that became their career. Maybe they were told one too many times that art only belongs in the realm of hobby, and they came to believe it. However it happens, I believe it breeds a resentment against artists who are able to make a go of it (or at least try to). Because, at least in my experience, their words hold a lot more bitterness than those of non-artists. And they get so angry about it too.
A small compare-and-contrast, based on my own experiences:
My mother (with whom I am fairly close) and my sister (with whom I frequently don’t get along with) have both, at one point or another, questioned my career choice (and further back, my college major choice). My mother has been known to frequently ask, “But what are you going to do for a job?” My sister was surprised to hear that people make a living selling art work at festivals and fairs. But both always spoke in tones of concerned curiosity (I use the past tense because they finally “get it” now…I think…).
An older friend who, at one time, aspired to be a theater actress and director, and currently works for the local government organizing community events and teaching community theater classes. Another friend, close to my own age, who aspires to be a musician and recently quit his job, in theory to pursue music full time. The former at one point denounced me as being completely unrealistic, with no idea how a “real job” or the “real world” works and claimed I was trying to get her fired with a suggestion I made to a problem she was having. The latter recently lectured me about how hard it is to make music, that I don’t understand that he can’t just “sit at a canvas and make something appear.” (In the interest of full disclosure, that diatribe of his was the motivation to finally write this blog article, but not the sole inspiration)
What I can’t convey well through text is the vitriol in their words. The first, now former, friend’s hateful look and nastiness in her voice. The second friend’s insistence that I can’t possibly know anything about making music (I admit I’m not musical, but I married into an extremely musical family) and that I can’t compare creating music to creating visual art (my husband, a writer and musician himself, disagrees). It’s dismissive. And to add more insult to injury, these individuals frequently are bewildered as to why this would be offensive! Cue a round of “you shouldn’t be offended just because I completely dismissed you and your work as somehow illegitimate.” Which is just as frustrating and hurtful as the original insult.
So here’s my eternal question: How can we fix this?