Don’t get me wrong – the opinion wasn’t that overt, and that it existed at all is ironic since I have several relatives who make their living mainly through one artform or another. Interestingly enough, I don’t know that they think of themselves as artists either. They consider it very much a business and are more likely to reference their careers in those terms.
Possibly because they grew up in rural Ohio with the same conservative image in their heads.
To be clear, when I say, “artist,” I mean anyone who focuses a large amount of their life on a creation: graphic art, music, dance, theatre, woodcarving, jewelry, etc. I don’t make a distinction between quote unquote high arts and low because from what I’ve seen, that’s a cultural construct to separate the upper and lower classes – or simply raise prices.
But that’s an argument for another time.
I’ve dabbled in many of these arts over the years. My family is what you’d call crafty. I learned to sew buttons before I was 7, I knew how to crochet (badly) by high school, and I’ve sung before I could read. I’ve studied drawing, dance, dramatics, writing, pottery, and more. I enjoy all of it, and when I have an image in my head that I need to make real, I use whatever medium works with the image. Some work better than others, and the only two I’ve ever done well at are music, writing, and dance.
Up until the past year, that’s the limit of how I thought of art. It was a pleasure that everyone should experience. It was a honed skill to be highly respected. It was a requirement of life. Despite that, I did not think of myself as an artist. Having those opinions didn’t make me a flighty, ditzy shirker.
Stereotypes are hard to shake, especially when you don’t realize you have them.
Then, for reasons too long for this post, I decided to dedicate my time outside of work to some of those arts: mostly music and writing. I applied for and got 2 jobs with entry-level pay and M-F banker’s hours so that I could pay bills and also have time to focus on those arts.
I still didn’t think of myself as an artist. I guess I’m dense.
It wasn’t until I was sitting at my standard, reliable job with absolutely nothing to do that I had the eureka moment. I had already made up all the work I could think of, and I was out of ideas. Everything was up-to-date, and I had to wait on others to get back to me before I could do anything else. Well, I was raised old-fashioned, and if I’m getting paid, I feel like I should be working.
You and I both know that there are slow days in any business. If the managers had accepted that and given the ok to write or whatever so long as I was ready for customers when they arrived, that would be different. As it was, I was stuck doing someone else’s make-work (a total waste of time done solely for my hourly wage), and all I could think was that I could be doing something important with that time.
Like working on my music or my writing.
I resented every moment that draining, dull, pointless work took away from my life. Every second of it was a waste of time, and the frustration built and built with each hour and each day that I was faced with it. In that moment of frustration and resentment, I understood why an artist would quit a perfectly “good” job once they’d earned enough to buy their paints or materials. Their real job is the art – not the frustrating hourly wage they put up with to fund their art. Every instant spent putting energy into something that painful and pointless – instants that could have been poured into making something I care about – takes a will and determination for internal struggle that I had never realized.
I guess there’s more artist in me than I thought.