I don’t know why this is but there is this persistent assumption that artists of all stripes are happily willing to provide their artistic services for close to nothing, for exposure or just flat out free. So I’m not sure if people are aware of this but artists don’t have special abilities that allow us to make art supplies, food, housing and clothing magically appear. We have to obtain them through the same means that everyone else does; by acquiring money. Now I’m not going to sit here and go into a long spiel about the abuses many artists encounter while trying to make a living from their craft, all I really want to say is if you wouldn’t expect a painter to paint your house for free then please don’t expect an artist to paint the family dog for free or a designer to design your family reunion t-shirts for free. Artistry is a service. It may not be on par with caregivers, lawn maintenance or auto repair but it’s still a service and a quietly but often overlooked or taken for granted valuable service.
I’ve lost count of how many times someone has asked me if I could draw or design something for them only to have the conversation end once I mention that I charge.
I don’t have children. Early on in my teens I realized that the path of parenthood carried a responsibility I felt I would never be able to live up to. Through the years people were certain that I would change my mind. I’m 43 now, I think I’m a bit past changing my mind. I can’t say I know what it’s like to birth a little being from my flesh and then put my heart and soul into nurturing it to maturity. But in a small way I know what it feels like to nurture life, to create and the highs and lows it brings. I have a small garden that I tend to every year with my husband where we rejoice in the fruits of our efforts come Fall but we also sulk in our disappointments when seeds don’t bare fruit or when unexpected frosts, droughts, endless rains, blight, bugs and other hungry creatures destroy crops. I’ve raised a little kitten to old age who now despite her spry nature, struggles with kidney cancer and I am left to watch in quiet sadness as she slowly declines where there is nothing more that I can do then to do my best to keep her comfortable as possible until her inevitable end, which I’m hoping is long off.
And I create art.
To the non artist, art may not seem to be on par with giving birth to a child. There’s no physical pain, food cravings or hormonal changes that one goes through when creating art but there is a birth, there’s a process of bringing something to life. When an artist creates art, they are giving birth to a piece of their soul. They are giving birth to a vision, an idea, to a way in which they see the world. They capture that vision in their mind and then struggle through the internal pains of getting that vision from thought, from immaterial, out on canvas or paper, into a material existence. It can be a trying labor with risks. Sometimes the vision dies before ever reaching the canvas. Sometimes it goes through numerous changes. Sometimes once it’s out the end result isn’t quite what one had hoped for. But in those moments where the work turns out just as the artist had imagined, the soul celebrates and rejoices. Sometimes as an artist you’re even surprised. You step back, looking at what you have just created and think “Did that really just come from me?”. You can’t believe it. You may even think it was some kind of fluke, where doubt subtly creeps in as to whether you could pull off something like that again but for the moment your happiness over rides the worry and you bask in the amazement of your soul’s creation. In those moments you immediately bond with your work. You see yourself reflecting back at you from the canvas and maybe it sounds a bit narcissistic, but sometimes you just fall in love with your own creation and you entertain the thought of never letting it go.
Unfortunately an artist has to eat.
If you’re fortunate enough to be an artist who has found a peaceful balance between having a day job that’s outside of your artistic endeavors and pursuing your creativity on the side, you may never have to experience the pain of having to let go. You can create for fun if you like or sell pieces you are truly proud of at your own discretion. But every artist who ventures to make a living from their work goes through the process of letting go and sometimes it’s not easy.
Up until recently I’ve been pretty okay with sending my pieces off to their new owners. I do have moments where I wonder if they are being treated well, have they been framed, are they somewhere where they can be seen and does the new owner truly enjoy their presence? But for the most part I’m happy that someone liked my work enough to want to own a piece which helps for me to eat and pay bills.
Then someone came calling for “Voodoufairy”.
In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have let her go. Every once in a while I’ll keep a piece for myself and she was one I probably should have kept. When I posted her I was so proud. She was the first in a series of colored portraits that I’m currently working on. It was my first attempt at doing portraits and from my perspective, it turned out great. I was amazed at the success of my first attempt while equally worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it again, hence my desire to do a series to try to prove to myself it wasn’t a fluke.
I didn’t realize my level of attachment to this particular piece until I got ready to ship her off. I felt a pain inside I don’t usually feel. A piece of me was leaving home. A piece that I had truly poured into that drawing. A lot of things came together while working on her; a new direction of working in color, more confidence in my skills, a willingness to step out from my usual use of black and white, an open admission of my love for wanting to create beautiful things and a desire to buck the trend of trying to do large works when my heart prefers to work on the smaller side. A vision came together with that piece that has now made a new home in Wisconsin. I didn’t realize it was going to hurt this bad. She’s been gone for three weeks and since then I’ve felt this small tear in my heart that I’m trying to mend with the third drawing of the series. I hope Voodoufairy is in a place where she is treated well and that her new owner is enjoying a little bit of my vision of beauty.
A hobby, according to the dictionary is “Something you do outside of your current occupation for fun and relaxation with no intentions on making a profit.”
There are a lot of people out there who do creative things just for the fun of it. Just creating something and possibly sharing it with others brings them joy and satisfaction. But I get the impression that the general public assumes that any creative pursuit that doesn’t make you famous or is bringing in a substantial amount of money is nothing more than a hobby.
For some of us artists having someone call what you do a hobby is like watching someone kick your beloved grandmother in the stomach. Your immediate reaction may be to snap back and say “It’s not a hobby!” but that could lead to a debate that might leave you feeling more vulnerable or even cause you to question what you do. Sometimes it’s just best to imagine Godzilla biting their head off and then walking away while reminding yourself that they don’t know any better. As frustrating as it may be, accept that this is a part of “paying your dues” for being an artist. People often only see the end result of things and forget that every meaningful artist with a creative endeavor had a beginning somewhere, maybe a penniless one in obscurity or one born out of just having fun, but it was a beginning none the less and more often than not it didn’t lead to immediate riches and instant fame. Their assumptions about your craft says more about their limited understanding and less about your capabilities or resolve. Anyone who has ever tried to build or create anything knows that the obvious rewards tend to come after much effort, patience, persistence and work….lots of work. So unless a person comes out and specifically says that what they do is a hobby or that they are a hobbyist, it’s best for people not to make such assumptions. But unfortunately some people just don’t have that kind of insight. In the meantime as a little incentive always keep in mind that the day when you are making a steady $2k a month from your art you will be able to look at them and smile with a smirk of satisfaction while thinking to yourself “And you called it a “hobby”“.