The Creative 9 to 5: Making Art Work

Artist as Occupation; Creative as Career

by Jaylin Paschal

The lofty and glamorized ideal of an artist is nice: You set your own hours. You do what you love. You create as you see fit. You don't necessarily have to go to school. Your work is published or showcased. You have no boundaries; no precedents. You are immortalized by what elements of yourself you've made tangible and available for consumption. Expression, expression, expression. Art, art, art. There's lots of "Quit your day job" talk; lots of "Choose passion over wage" encouragement. And that's great, but that's also the thing--it takes more than just passion to justify "going for it" as an artist.

People hardly ever think of the legwork that goes into having an artistic career; into making art a living rather than a hobby. It is a lifestyle that is often romanticized by both outsiders and those looking to be insiders. Creative entrepreneurship or careers are based on the obvious--talent, vision, skill, imagination--but also the not-so-obvious: work ethic. You need a drive which matches your passion; an omnipresent fire under your ass that makes you meet your idea with execution; a will not only to make, but to market. Because at the end of the day--you have to eat. The starving artist trope can be you. If you let it. You have to be ready to put the work in.

Example. My boyfriend is going for it. It's write, rewrite, edit, perform, practice, record, edit, perform, post, write. It's meet, and call, and conference call, and meet, and collaborate, and call. It's waking up asking "What do I need to do today?" and going to bed asking "What do I need to do tomorrow?" It's work. It's work on top of work. It's exhausting. It's passion meets grind. It's daily. It's nightly. It's open mic. It's citywide showcase. It's joining collective. It's leaving collective. It's joining collective. It's traveling for shows. It's more than being a writer, or being a poet. It's choosing writing; choosing poetry. It's deciding to do it. And then doing it.

My father, a photographer, has been able to create his business on the foundation of his passion. But it's not just taking pretty pictures. I've seen firsthand what goes into the creative entrepreneurship. I've seen him edit photos, or consult with clients, or pick out ribbon for photo packaging, or carefully decide what type of paper to print on, or develop a representative program, or write photo essays, or teach himself about lighting (and buttons and lenses and settings). When he gets off from work, he heads to the studio and goes to work. 

And even more personally, I can reference my own experience as a writer and blogger. Everyday, there's something to be done. Whether it's writing or editing or emailing or taking photos or interviewing or covering events or researching. There is nothing "easy" about maintaining a blog while beginning to navigate adulthood--especially not when you're trying to develop your blog into something more; into a brand. I've created this platform to act as a springboard for me into a creative career in content creation or magazine publication or journalism. Which means, for me, one thing: Work.

Even beyond creating something, from idea to masterpiece, you have to learn to market, to manage, to promote, to negotiate, to collaborate, etc. You have to gain exposure, to create a consistent audience, to build a reputation of quality, and to establish yourself as a professional in a very anti-professional (Note: not unprofessional.) world. It's a full-time job, if not more intense.

Artists will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.
— So they say.

Oftentimes, the financially successful and culturally relevant artists spend countless hours working start to finish, yet nonstop, on their work. It's more than just making and posting and getting likes. You could have hundreds of likes and thousands of followers and have all your work pinned but, at the end of the day, being on someone's moodboard will not pay your bills; you (unfortunately) don't get money per reblog or Facebook share.

You have to want it. You have to want it enough to be okay with not seeing immediate reward. You have to want it enough to lose sleep. You have to want it enough to prepare yourself for opportunity; to seek that opportunity out; to answer submission calls or artwork requests or features for nightclub amateur nights. You have to want it enough to know that just wanting it--just idealizing it or romanticizing it or loving it--isn't enough.

And sometimes, it's a nice thought to be able to create just to create; not for profit, or sales. But the reality is, if "Creative" is more than a description of you and you choose it as your occupation title, you have to make art work.