One of the things I find challenging is how do I describe myself to other people as I seem to have a number of interests that seem at first glance, separate and unrelated. I work in government and education sectors, am a freelance online engagement specialist and have an active practice as an artist and writer. To be honest, for a number of years these diverse parts of my life created a lot of personal angst, as I felt I was losing my identity as an artist.
More recently, I have realised that my worlds are not disparate, they are in fact strongly connected and that one world informs the other. My work with environment and sustainability programs has fed into my passion for place and identity in my creative work. My teaching is directly related to the media I use as an artist as well as in my government job.
I have been heartened to read that some of my favourite writers and artists kept their day jobs, even after finding success. For example, Huffington Post’s article 11 Authors Who Kept Their Day Jobs includes such figures as Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafta and Lewis Carroll who all had other work aside from their writing practice. Another article titled Working the double shift by Emily St. John Mandel is also interesting, although she is not overly optimistic that her writing will be recognised in any significant way. But what about artists? Part of my motivation to ‘get a real job’ was to free myself from a need to sell my work or rely on government grants, as I didn’t want to compromise my work, to mould what I made to appeal to a gallery director or a funding board.
But there is a downside, whilst working in a ‘day’ job has freed me on one level, it constricts me on another. Firstly, my time to be creative is constrained, so I have needed to polish my time management skills. The other constriction relates more to my writing practice and personal views. As a government worker I am apolitical and not permitted to speak out against the policies I work under. While this is not difficult for my immediate work environment as I work in a program that supports my personal values, I struggle with other areas of government policy… Enough said. But in essence, working the day job can broaden your perspective of the world, which can only benefit your creative work, as Summer Pierre asserts:
Many artists tend to be very isolated and [having a day job] is an opportunity to be part of the world and get material” -Summer Pierre author of the book The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week.
My view has changed over time as I have realised that I need to have this other life, not just for money, but to feed my ideas, to give me a chance to build friendships with like-minded people and to challenge me mentally.
Poet, writer and ‘photodude’ Brother Dash (Dasham K. Brookins) offers this insight:
There are some artists that have an either/or approach to their creative expression. I’ve even heard some of them refer to other artists that don’t make a living off their craft as mere “hobbyists”. Not only is that attitude condescending it’s factually incorrect. As a poet, writer and burgeoning multimedia dude I am an expressionist. I express myself creatively. I am an artist. Whether or not my “profession” is poet, comedian, rapper or author is inconsequential to me being an artist.
Finally, 11 Celebrated Artists Who Didn’t Quit Their Day Jobs makes a reference to Toni Morrison, which was personally very affirming as it acknowledged the most important job I have ever had – that of being a mother. When my son was small and I took him to gallery openings I was called ‘breeder’ and told ‘you can’t be a mother and an artist’ by some not so nice people, but this did not put me off at all. I can remember my rebellious reaction at the time was ‘just watch me!’ Now 20 years later, I see many women successfully raising a family while pursuing creative practice, successful careers and community service.
The most important lesson for me, is not to close yourself off from certain types of experience but use these different worlds to enrich and honour not only your art but the people you encounter. Vive la difference!