February 18, 2011

paying the rent one letter at a time

One idea loosely touched on in the radio interview I mentioned in my last post was the fact that a creative mind and a business-savvy mind rarely exist inside the same head. The romantic stereotype of artists, writers, musicians, etc., living in garrets and scrabbling for absinthe money is the stuff of good novels and bad movies. I'm well aware that the exceptions are legion, but I'm still pretty convinced that the average 'art brain' has neither the hardwiring nor the desire to do both things well. Then again, maybe I'm just making excuses for myself by tarring my art homies with the same brush. But no matter how we do it, we all need to pay the rent, right?

When I first lived away from home I shared a shabby two-bedroom apartment with two friends in Victoria. I was a typically idealistic, naive art student at the time, and secretly admired older, wiser Dale because he seemed to typify the brooding creative type, sitting up late with his books making notes, chain smoking and drinking screw-cap wine. So when he told me that he aspired to be a letter carrier I thought he was kidding. He wasn't being facetious, though, and it jarred my preconceptions enough that I never forgot it. Over the years I have re-visited the idea and it has slowly dawned on me that he was onto something. Long before I realized the wisdom in his words, though, I became a teacher, a job so demanding that I didn't have the energy or discipline to even look at my sketchbook at day's end, even if the desire and need continued to torment me.

Earlier this week, Di sent me a link to this great post about armchair economics. Loving it, I did a little blog browsing and discovered the following video clip of the blog's author, Murr Brewster. Proof in the pudding. I can't tell you how many masterpieces I have painted in my head while wearing out shoes on the local trails and streets with my dogs, and feel as if I've missed my calling. (N.B. Dale may have been a man of rare insight but the picture lies: he was no priest.)


kj said...


gee she's a likeable woman, huh? simple common sense.

i've always thought you are a good combination of artist talent and business savvy. and hhahaha i see myself that way too! :)

it's nice to be here, andrea. we have bonds, you and me....


Murr Brewster said...

Whoa. Lookit me up there, big as life and twice as shiny. I haven't looked at that for a while.

Interesting you should mention your friend who wanted to be a letter carrier. I was struck by a couple things at an early-ish age; one was an article in the Saturday Review magazine about bright people doing mundane work, divorcing the ideas of making a living and doing one's so-called life's work. The cartoon illustration for the article was Albert Einstein pumping gas ("Al" was embroidered above his overalls pocket). At the same time, a very bright young man I knew took a summer job as a letter carrier, and I thought: that sounds cool.

Add to that the fact that my dad, who was paying for my college, thought college was to get an education, and he didn't care that I "did anything" with it other than be educated. So I worked in my field (biology) for two years and then quit, made scrimshaw, and got on with the post office. Never regretted it.

Thanks for the compliments. You're pretty awesome.

Vic Kirby said...

Have you read "Your money or your life"? It addresses the idea of divorcing making a living from having a life, amongst other non-conventional concepts

paula said...

well i liked this. although it sucks when mail doesnt get to the right place i know....
i wish art could get made in my head.
ultimately i think having a job job AND doing art is up to the 'artist'. some can do it and some cant. we all have to make it work one way or another. this is a good post andrea!

andrea said...

KJ: Yes, very likeable (like you!), and as far as me having business savvy I'm so glad you think that. It's not true, but I'm so glad you think that. :)

Murr: I'm loving the image of Albert Einstein pumping gas. It's the embroidered pocket that makes the difference. As for me, I seem to have learned everything the hard way. Unlike your dad, my role models still haven't learned, so at least I'm making some kind of progress.

Vic: I'll google it, though I think it's too late for me to lay the groundwork for a productive life.

Paula: You'd have made a perfect letter carrier/artist. You'd be able to do double duty and carry a backpack with you just to collect your "finds" while dropping off the mail.

Hayden said...

artist or not, this makes sense.

business/career success usually requires that THAT is your life. Few kids starting out understand that it's not going to get better. if you go for a 'serious' job you'll be spending All of your time there. no life.

And that's not healthy unless you're in love with what you're doing.

INDIGENE said...

Andrea, great post! I resonated with teaching and it zapping every ounce o creative juice out, so I couldn't go home and create at the end of the day.
Finding a balance between "day gigs" and creating has and is a daunting task...at least for me it is. I try to find day gigs that will enhance my business knowledge in selling my art, e.g., learning new software, which will benefit my art's marketability. Generally after (2) years on any day gig, I have to be intellectually challenged to stay there! :)
Thanks for food for thought for my Sunday!

andrea said...

Hayden: Throw in the raising of a family and the waters are muddied further!

Indigene: I once read something about how creative types usually end up teaching as a way to pay the bills, but that teaching requires the same sort of creative-thinking, intense engagement that painting or writing or whatever requires, and that it's impossible to do both properly and also get any sleep. :) There are other jobs/professions that are also like that (as I'm guessing that you've discovered!). The higher the interest/engagement factor, the better the job but also the harder to balance with any serious creative endeavour.

Gwenn said...

I think it's fascinating that Murr doesn't like the idea of making a living with her work but then admits that she needs a deadline in order to make art.

Rent and bills and supporting yourself are the ULTIMATE deadlines! They make art-making into a living and vital thing!!!

What's more, making a living as an artist requires so many of the same skills as making a painting...

studio lolo said...

I came here under the strict orders of my dear friend KJ :)

I've enjoyed browsing around and I can clearly see why I had to come. The raven/crow connection!

I also loved the video of Murr. Very inspiring and oh so true! I've always felt (and learned the hard way) that once something you love becomes your work, it changes it forever.

Still I struggle to make my living as an artist, but these days it's because I've made half-hearted efforts to find work since we moved cross-country.

My hope are that things will fall into place sooner rather than much later.

I love your work and your wit!


andrea said...

Lolo: Thank you for visiting, and I hope things fall into place for you sooner, too!

Hayden said...

andrea, I'm currently enamored of the 2010 book: "A Different Kind of Luxury" - shows the lives of a number of people who made the choice to have a life instead of a career. It seems so clear when I write it that way, but of course it isn't. It's a lovely book, filled with inspiration. It's posed as 'Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance' but I see nothing particularly 'Japanese" about it beyond the individuals chosen to develop the theme. Instead, it's universal - and helps us comprehend the freedom to dream more openly, find different answers.

while I'm not making the same choices these people did, it's encouraging me to reach further in that direction.

andrea said...

Hayden: I'm flattered that you revisited these posts. Thank you! As for having a life or a career, I know that if I weren't tied to the responsibilities of raising my kids right now I would make some drastic changes to simplify -- and drag my skeptical spouse along with me! :) I really have a strong vision of how we could live the kind of life that would suit us both. I have very little tie to material things (except my camera of course :) and it wouldn't be a huge wrench to get rid of most and focus on the work I love and the kind of maintenance and leisure activities that align with my philosophies and passions. Maybe, in about 5 years, I can actually make those changes I want so much to do right now. I will google the book now and then see if it's in the library.