A lot of artists have day jobs. It's not impossible to make a living as an artist, but certainly challenging. Especially in today's economy. So the reality for many of us is a day job to help pay the bills. We fantasize about becoming full time artists, completely immersed in our creative expression. We anxiously buy the books and videos that promise a path to becoming a professional artist. We attend workshops and envy the teachers, whose lives seem so idyllic and fulfilling.
It's all very understandable. Creative people must find an outlet for their expression. But they also have to pay the bills. So most of us trudge off each day to work. For some that means a suit and cubicle office. For others it might be selling real-estate or merchandise. Whatever the job is, we put in our time and live for the evening or weekend to feed our creative spirit. A lot of folks talk about how "soul crushing" this experience is. Well, I'd like to share a different perspective.
I spent a lot of time drawing as a kid, much to the chagrin of my school teachers. As I neared graduation from high school I fantasized about studying art. My father, an administrative law judge and accomplished painter in his own right, suggested I choose a more "conservative career route." He recognized my artistic talent but knew how difficult it was to make a living as an artist. He suggested I find a reliable career that interested me and do artwork part-time. Some people would call this "selling out." I'm not sure I agree. I see it more as "pragmatic juggling."
In my senior year of high school a local deputy sheriff visited my American Government class to talk about careers in law enforcement. I used to enjoy television programs like Hill Street Blues and always thought police work was an exciting and noble profession. With my father's support I went on to college and graduate school, studying Administration of Justice. That led to twenty five years in law enforcement, with the last eight serving as Chief of Police.
Throughout my police career I never abandoned my artwork. I moonlighted as an editorial cartoonist for two of my local newspapers. I took up landscape painting and studied extensively with Scott L. Christensen, among others. I infused artwork and creative writing into my work. More recently I began two blogs to share my cartoons, art and writing. In short, I found a middle ground to balance my creative needs and financial security.
My story is not unique. I meet artists all the time who serve as school principals, realtors, bankers, etc. What I discovered is that my professional career has helped me grow in ways I never expected. I am more organized, focused and capable. I developed useful skills in dealing with all kinds of personalities. My police background has helped improve my art. I am more observant, patient and have more to say now. Other artists I've met have similar stories of how their work life made them better artists and more well rounded individuals.
Yes, we all fantasize about living the artist's life. Painting all day, attending openings, teaching workshops and selling all our work to adoring patrons. Sounds nice. But talk to a full time, working artist. It's a tough road. Galleries are demanding. Supplies are expensive. The business side of art, with all its promotion and marketing, can be exhausting. Sometimes all of these pressures steal the very joy out of making art. Yes, there are a few artists who seem to be living the fantasy. But there are many other professional artists who are really struggling.
There are a lot of good folks out there selling videos and books on how to become a full time artist. Unfortunately, some people have very real financial challenges. School loans to pay off, kids with special needs, dental expenses and insurance bills. You don't see many people selling you on the "pragmatic juggling" approach of a career and part-time artwork. Probably because it's less sexy and romantic than living the full time artist lifestyle. Never the less, it's nice to avert financial uncertainty and artistic burnout. Taking the "pragmatic juggling" approach has served me just fine. At age fifty, I'm now in a position to enjoy a pension and dive into artwork full-time.
We each have to find our own path. If you are willing to live more simply, possibly relocate to more affordable areas, it is possible to make a living as an artist. For others, we find work that interests us and assures a steady income with health and retirement benefits. We hone our craft on weekends, evenings and vacations. We are less beholden to the demands of galleries or patrons and free to create as we see fit. If you play your cards right, you can retire and comfortably immerse yourself in your art. Many folks have done just this and went on to great artistic success and recognition.