The Joys of Being an Everyday Artist

Independent Rock Band, The Skins. Image courtesy of theskinsband.com

Independent Rock Band, The Skins. Image courtesy of theskinsband.com

A few times each school year a student with creative leanings comes into my office hours and bemoans the fact that their parents are completely unsupportive of their unprofitable artistic aspirations. “It’s like doctor, lawyer or accountant are the only jobs they’ve ever heard of!” they state while rolling their eyes and throwing their heads back in exasperation.

Women from Gee’s Bend Quilting Group in Alabama 2005. Image Courtesy of Andre Natta

Even when families and friends are supportive, their encouragement can saddle writers, performers, designers and their imaginative kin with unrealistic expectations. My grandparents were always enthusiastic about my educational goals as long as I aimed to be “like Cicely Tyson” when I studied theater, “like Angela Davis” when I went to graduate school or “like Spike Lee” now that I make documentary films. Both sides of these popular views of the creative life obscure the joys and possibilities of being an everyday artist.

Skeptics are correct in presuming most people in creative professions will not acquire fortune and fame. Gatekeeping arts institutions−due in part to a steady decline of public funding−ration access to the training, material resources, exposure to the public and affirmation by critics necessary for an artist to enjoy global reach and the sales/fees/rights values that come with it. Offering someone a predatory loan or an adjustable rate mortgage are much more efficient, secure ways to earn vast sums of money and high social status.

Graffitti by SAMO, Al Diaz and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Graffiti by SAMO, Al Diaz and Jean-Michel Basquiat

But, are bank account balances and social media clout the best measures of success? Some individuals are simply drawn to making—paintings, performances, furniture, essays, poems, quilts, pottery, music, whatever it is—for making’s sake. For some of us, our art is a vehicle for expressing, convening and educating our communities. Either way, our success is better defined by if and how we realized our personal creative intentions. Our work may or may not be how we make a living; however, without the work there’s no joyful life.

This October on our blog is Black Artists month. We are celebrating the tradition of anti-racist creators who are more committed to making a contribution than to “making it big.” No matter how or what you create, Progressive Pupil encourages you to embrace your imagination, support the arts in your community and celebrate the everyday artist within.

Robin J. Hayes, PhD

Principal Organizer

Robin Signature

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5 Comments

  1. I loved this post! I must say that it hit pretty close to home – my favorite line was, “It’s like doctor, lawyer or accountant are the only jobs they’ve ever heard of!” My senior year of college, I felt like everyone around me was constantly studying for the LSAT, CPA, or MCAT. I remember feeling overwhelmed because I wanted a profession that was creatively unique, channelled my passions and was different from everyone else. My number one fear that was holding me back was that my family would disapprove and be extremely upset after spending thousands of dollars on LSAT prep courses for me to take a professional risk instead. Believe me, I was very surprised to have received my mother’s blessing and support. Now two years later, I couldn’t be happier in my unique professional field and I am currently in a master’s program that is helping me cultivate my passions into a successful life long career. We live in a society ruled by student loans and social media, which is preventing many of us from seeking creative careers due to fears of financial instability and constantly worrying about what other people may think. I think young people today need to be encouraged more to take professional risks, foster their creativity, and not be so focused on living up to the expectations of others.

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  2. Finn B.

     /  October 17, 2013

    This post sadly speaks to what we value in our society. The less we value artists the harder it will be for those artists to continue to live their lives as such. So much of our success is measured by our salaries. I have many friends who are actors and it is incredibly difficult way to make a living. Even if you are able to obtain a large (even leading) part in a play or film, when it is over you are unemployed again with no health insurance or safety net. Making a stable living in these fields is incredibly difficult even if you are successful in your craft.

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  3. Dorit

     /  October 17, 2013

    Jami, RIGHT ON!!! As a producer of contemporary performance I am constantly talking folks (young and older) ‘off the ledge’ of quitting their artistic or creative ambitions. Don’t give up, DIVERSIFY! Find ways to apply your talents in your community, art can and does happen everywhere 🙂 I preach the pro-am (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro%E2%80%93am) model – have a job, make a living, make your art, enjoy your life – do it all with the conviction of your heart. I also wonder a lot about repurposing the word ‘hobby’. People often say to me that don’t want art to be their ‘hobby’ – but I argue that if we approached our art with a more hobbyist spirit (dedicating all our free tie, our free funds, and our free minds) to our creative ambitions, we might feel more fulfilled that those who approach creativity as a professional means of succeeding, which often leaves folks feeling sad and less-than. The goal can then be impact rather than income.

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  4. Dorit, absolutely. This blog post definitely struck a chord with me — even though I work and go to school full time, I’ve been trying to adopt the mentality of something my friend calls “procrastiworking”– when you can’t focus on what you’re supposed to do in that moment (answer work emails, study, clean, whatever), make something beautiful. I think our society instructs people to believe that consider yourself an artist/creative person, you have to have some form of legitimacy conferred on you or your work. Unfortunately, those “authorizing” bodies aren’t accessible to most, and celebrating the spirit of creativity every day — and honoring and dignifying the art that we make, on our own terms — becomes a radical act of self and community love. Happy Black Artists month 🙂

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  5. Oluwatoni A.

     /  April 9, 2014

    When you ask a creative ‘What do you do?’ it’s never a concrete answer like said ” doctor, lawyer or accountant.” That’s the beauty of art. It’s articulated in many forms and likewise so is the artist. Many of the artisans I’ve met were meant to be engineers or are practicing law to support their passion for creating art. I’ve found that some of these art avenues are dominated by elitist institutions. It’s very important to support the art within our community.

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