Sunday, August 26, 2012

Making a living vs. making art

This is one of my thinking-aloud posts, so please bear with me...

I have a friend who loved art and did beautiful work of her own in high school. Like many artists, she was encouraged by friends and family to become an art teacher. She is an art teacher, and for the last 17 years or so has been teaching art to kids of various ages (art teachers bounce around a lot from school to school) and making almost no art of her own.

I ran into a friend at a concert this weekend. Her husband, who is an art teacher, was there. I had shown him some pictures of my drawings from when I was taking art classes, so he asked if I was still drawing and painting. Sadly, I haven't been -- I felt short of cash this summer and one thing I cut out was my art classes. He said that he doesn't do his own art either. He teaches high school students to make art, and by the time he gets home from work, helps take care of his son and shuttle him around to activities, he doesn't do his artwork.

I love to read fiction and have dreams of writing. I love drawing and painting. I got a degree in English and creative writing because I wanted to some day teach writing classes. Then I started in my MFA program, got discouraged for various reasons, and stopped writing. I did barely enough writing to get my degree and then, until I started this blog ten years later, almost nothing. I got busy making a living. I taught composition classes and, on the side, taught test preparation classes. Then I landed a job in information technology. Then I decided to get a Ph.D. in a more "practical" discipline. I worked an incredibly demanding job involving a lot of travel and a lengthy commute until I hit the jackpot and actually found a faculty job. I found a job I was qualified for in my geographic area, which is an incredibly lucky and amazing thing because the job market is so bad. I am entering the fourth year of that job.

But I'm not really that happy. I love teaching, but a lot of the other parts of my job drain me. The campus is not the kind of place I had hoped to work, and I get caught up in a lot of the squabbles and committees and budgeting issues. And I'm not writing. Or doing anything that feels like creative work, other than teaching. I've done some research projects that weren't close to my heart and the writing on those was easy for me. I'm a good writer, when I'm not deeply invested in what I'm doing. When I am doing something I care about, I seem to choke. My dissertation was the exception -- I loved that work and I did it. I need to choose some project I care about it and work it like that. I have a bunch of ideas but haven't really settled on anything yet.

I don't even read fiction much, because when I start a new book, I'm so drawn into it that I don't get much done. I read a lot of nonfiction because I can pick it up and put it down without getting completely enmeshed in it. For some reason that seems even sadder.

I need my job because I need to pay my bills. My husband and I managed to rack up a lot of credit card debt and we're trying to dig out.  I don't think I need to quit my job to write, I just need to clear out some of the time I'm wasting and use it productively. I even had a dream that felt like a voice from God, asking me to spend just one hour a day with it.

That's not too much to ask.

I don't need to become famous. I don't need it to be published. I don't even need someone else to do it. I need to do it for my own sanity. In Ally Condie's series, which details a dystopian society that tightly controls art, one of the characters paints with water on a cave wall. That spoke to me -- the work is the thing. We're here to make sense of our world, at least for ourselves, and creative work is how we do that. Even if we can't make a mark, we can make meaning.

It's so easy to get so caught up in making a living that we forget to make a life.


  1. 10:51 AM

    Make time for your art!! Your last sentence says what I argued with others about at the beginning of my career as a nurse! I refused to NOT make a life. I always had time for my art. NOw that I am retired, surprisingly, I still have to consciously think about the importance of making time for my art in my life.

  2. 1:09 PM

    I understand what Debby is saying about still having to consciously think about the importance of making time for our art. It's the same for me, but nevertheless I am trying to write seriously these days. And while I have made progress, I still find myself getting distracted by life, family, and other, sometimes trivial pursuits. But if we keep on trying and keep what we love to do close to our hearts, I believe that we will eventually find a way to make it happen in some way or other.

  3. 2:27 PM

    Wow that last sentence is a powerful punch in the guts. So, so true. Carving out time for these creative things that really nourish us is so important for the soul, but so easy to shove it down the priority list. Hmmm...


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07