So, you’re looking for ways to make a living and make your art…
You’re committed to your craft. Your novel. Your poetry. Your painting. Your drawing. Your mixed media. Or your dance. Your deepest desire is to develop your voice and vision, and to give form to the creative drive within you. It’s a gift. You’ve been told that so many, many times, and countless people have encouraged you to make the most of your gifts.
Because the world needs them.
It’s true. We do.
Here’s the thing, though. You don’t become proficient overnight, and even if you spend your college years (and possibly some post-grad time) honing your craft and really focusing on developing your talents, you probably still have a long, long way to go, till you achieve what you and others consider “mastery”.
It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated, focused practice to develop anything close to mastery. Now, that number/assumption has been disputed (and quite vigorously so), but fundamentally I think we can all agree that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, so talent needs a lot of sustained TLC in order to develop into its most mature form. Even Picasso, who drew amazingly as a boy, continued to work and hone his practice all his life.
You might have no intention of becoming another Picasso (though it’s great if you do), but still. Honing your talent takes time. And while you’re taking the time, you need to eat, keep a roof over your head, and have your basic needs met. So that you can continue to focus on your art and develop it without having all your life force siphoned off worrying about your next meal or hiding from the landlady a-la George Thoroughgood.
So, what to do? That’s the age-old question. Nowadays, you have more options than ever before.
- Get an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign going to get support from your fans and spread the word about your mission.
- If you’re fresh out of school, move back in with your parents. 21st century parents are a whole lot more tolerant of that sort of behavior, than they were “back in the day” when I was fresh out of school. Er, scratch that — even if my parents had been open to me moving back with them full-time, I wouldn’t have done it. I was too focused on getting on with my life.
- Take a series of temp jobs that get you enough coin to get by. That’s what I did, for a number of years, and it worked well for me. It was enough to pay for a spacious apartment in Center City Philadelphia with plenty of room for me to spread all my projects around. Then I got married and got a whole lot of extra responsibilities, and guess what? Rent goes up, when you get all respectable.
- Get a “real job” and balance your job-work, everyday life, and life-work. This has been my approach since, oh, around 1995, when a thing called a “career” showed up in my life.
There are other options, sure. You can probably think of more. And your various choices have a lot of pros and cons. Some get you more freedom, but less money. Some get you exposure, while being short on guarantees. Some can keep you teetering in a fine balance between your regular life and your life’s mission and make you absolutely crazy with uncertainty.
For me, the last option turned out to be the most practical — largely because either none of the others existed for me, or they just weren’t stable enough. Getting a “real job”, if you’re just getting into the workforce, can seem like a real compromise, when your soul’s purpose is at stake. At the same time, how good a chance do you have of truly fulfilling your life’s mission, if you’re constantly struggling to make ends meet, and you’re constantly having to choose between paying your bills or buying art supplies?
Plenty of fantastic artists have done it, over the centuries. But it really does suck.
In any case, what we do for money and what we do for our art, may be very different things, but they don’t need to be mutually exclusive. And believe it or not, once you get into the corporate arena, you’ll find a whole lot of people there, who got a real job and a career, because it’s the best way they can find to live comfortably enough to create freely and without existential concern. That’s what happened with me, when I put in my 10+ years building web technologies for one of the most powerful financial services companies on the planet. I worked each day with people just like me — surrounded by writers, artists, crafters, painters, poets, inventors, actors, musicians, home brewers, and cartoonists.
It wasn’t our first choice for sustaining our art, but it sure as hell beat wondering about our next meal.
Plus, we all kept each other company.