What’s the balance between having a day job, living comfortably, and being an artist? If you’re like me, you may find that while you’re pursuing your art practice you are also working to support the many expenses that come in life. No matter when it happens, for most of us there will come a time when we are paying for our rent, food, utilities, car, health insurance, student loans, and the myriad of other expenses that come with being a functioning adult.
The support we receive or don’t receive from our parents is a tough subject to talk about. I have had very good friends who were supporting a large portion of their expenses since high school or before, and I have other friends who have luckily not been required to support themselves even after graduating college.
For me, it’s a bit in the middle. My excuse for not getting a job in high school was that I had extra curricular’s. This was true, I did play soccer until my junior year of high school, and I was quite involved in my art practice at the time. After I graduated high school, I got a job doing a public art project with a program known as ArtWorks in Cincinnati. This was a cool way to get paid doing something related to art, and I do admit I enjoyed working every day on a public art project- and I made around $1,000 that summer doing it!
College was a mixture of jobs and internships, some in restaurants, others in retail, and a few with artists and art organizations. I always worked during the summers, and intermittently during the school year. This provided a good stream of income to support the things I wanted to do. Very luckily for me, my parents helped pay for my rent and some other living expenses, meaning that the money I made from my jobs over the summer or during the semesters could be saved for other spending needs.
So, fast forward to now, and I find myself working in a job that requires a much larger amount of my time and resources to commit to. It’s a job that has a lot of potential for growth, however, this comes with the necessary sacrifices required to forward a career in any field.
This leads to the point of this blog post: what’s the balance between having a day job, living comfortably, and being an artist? I was very excited to find a job related to my field after graduating with my MFA. This job has taken me on many interesting paths, from gaining my credentials in the appraisal field to learning fascinating new concepts about art, antiques, furniture, rugs, and silver. All in all, it has been a very good experience.
I can’t help to ignore at this point, however, that I seem to be at a crossroads. In the past, I usually viewed my job as secondary to my art practice. That is, my goal would be to work as much as was required to pay for just what I needed and then spend the rest of my time on my art practice. Something that I heard or read somewhere about having an art practice that I thought was smart was that when you’re trying to be an artist, it’s a good idea to keep your overhead low. I will admit this is partially what led me to start painting on my computer, as it didn’t require the expensive necessities of a studio, oil paints, canvas, mineral spirits, mediums, and all the other materials required for an oil painting practice. It was with the idea of keeping my overhead low that I felt I could contain my living expenses to a minimum, thus limiting the need to work longer hours and through that having more time to devote to an art practice.
I am, however, coming to a point where there are more necessities and expenses in life. As I said before, car insurance, doctors’ bills, health insurance, and student loan payments are all on the list of expenses that I am now responsible for. Not to mention paying rent, food, and all the other costs of living today. I am seeing that I can no longer necessarily keep my expenses to a rock-bottom minimum in the interest of being an artist. On this flip side of this I am wary of becoming enraptured in a series of expensive payments that limit my ability to make artwork. If one looks at this history of art, they can see countless situations of artists rejecting some material comforts of the world in pursuit of their practice. That might be easier said than done, admittedly.
So, where’s the balance? Do I need to pay for my doctor’s bill? Yes. It would be irresponsible to ignore my health. Do I need to buy a brand-new car or get the latest accessories? No, because that would result in me paying more than I need to, thus making my threshold for paying bills higher, and thus limiting resources that I can devote to my art practice. In the interest of being an artist I would say that I would be willing to limit my expenses on many things at this point in my life. How nice does my apartment have to be, or my clothes, or my furniture? Can I compromise on these things to save more for my art-practice?
As stated before, the idea of not necessarily being materially wealthy as an artist is not a new question. Artists have for hundreds of years have been forgoing the traditional paths and comforts of middle-class society. An affinity towards bohemian lifestyles has been embraced by many generations of artists, from painters in Paris in the 19th century to pop artists working in New York City in the 1960’s.
I think it comes down to what are you willing to sacrifice for your practice, be it art, music, theatre, a business, or any calling you feel you have. I do have to admit that I am gaining more perspective on how expensive affording basic living needs in the United States are today. It would be irresponsible to ignore these realities of adulthood in the name of pursuing my art practice. Yet I think that anyone who feels they have a calling to do something comes to a point where they are willing to go without some material goods in the name of what they believe in. I don’t know the balance between these things, yet. I am, however, learning as I go along.