I am an artist currently based out of Colorado. I have spent much of my life pursuing the arts to the point that I find my art practice indistinguishable from what most consider a religious practice. I reach out to you because I am currently at a make or break moment and it scares me. I don’t make much money from doing my craft and have worked in the food industry to pay the bills. As I hit age 31 I am beginning to doubt any sort of sustainability the way I’m going. But I can’t seem to let go. I love it. But my dad is offering me a position as a sales person for a big produce company in Florida. I’ll make good money but will lose much of my identity as an artist in the process since I will spend much of my time training and working and will have to cater to their corporate protocols. I’m scared that I am succumbing to the necessity for stable income at the cost of losing my consistent practice and my studio. I don’t know what to do. I heard you and Alex speak on Duncan Trussell’s podcasts a few times and finally built up the courage to reach out.
Dear Colorado Artist,
It has taken me awhile to respond to your message.
Wonder how things are turning out for you since you wrote to me for advice?
When we have been are at a crossroads we listen to our hearts.
Most artists have to “ride more than one horse.” Unless we “come out of the gate" as a famous, sought after, self-supporting artist, OR unless we are an heir whose parents will support us while we find our way to becoming a famous, sought after self-supporting artist, we might be better off taking a job. Working a job can serve others. Even doing a job that pleases our parents, we can commit ourselves to creating art at the end of the day, on weekends and every spare chance we get.
Being an independent grown-up means having our own place to live, wheels, food, decent clothes and money to spend on what we want and enjoy. To do this, most of us have to work at a job. A person could learn a lot about how to sell their art by taking a job selling produce, an honest living that serves others. Alex & I have many artist friends who work in the food business.
Most artists we know have had jobs working for others, including parents. Some jobs might be called “shit jobs.” I waitressed through college and an MFA.
Alex worked 9-5 for Columbus Outdoor Advertising. In hindsight, we clearly learned a great deal from those jobs.
What you choose to do now is not permanent. Don’t murder alternatives. Stay open to a job you like better or that pays more or somehow better supports your art. Working in an art supply store we could learn a lot about art materials, upcoming art opportunities and get a discount on supplies. Working at a framer could teach you to frame your own work and make more sales of our own art. Selling produce could offer us free or discounted food and make us a better sales person.
Use your advantage. If we like painting our pet and get good at it, we would make a good living painting pets for others. We could paint produce and hang the paintings around our office, even sell them to co-workers and then others.
Don’t make working a job you don’t like be an excuse not to be all you can be. If you think you have talent as a craftsman, allow that to be the passion that your job pays for. Making money can buy you a studio, the best materials/equipment you can afford, the best clothes to wear to art openings, a trip to a major city to see and learn more about the creative passion you are pursuing. Dream big and work to support that dream. Make something happen.
So appreciate your having the courage to reach out to me. Would love to hear about how your journey is unfolding.