Most artists—and by that I mean, most creative people—choose a career outside of art. They work 9-5 in an office, on a construction site, in a classroom, whatever it takes to pay the bills while simply letting art be their hobby.
On the other hand, some of us want jobs that will not only pay us a decent wage but also allow us to express our creativity and really thrive during those hours between 9 and 5. We won’t settle until we’re getting paid to do what we love.
But how do artists get to that point? Where do you find a job that fits the artist in you? What if you leave one job only to find that your next job isn’t any better—but worse?
Well, a long time ago when I was working in a job that I didn’t really enjoy (landscaping and building maintenance) I came up with a little mental exercise to help me accurately visualize how good of a job I had. I decided that there were three “things” that came with every job—I’ll cover those in a second—and I visualized each “thing” as a sliding point on a line, like this one:
Hopefully this method will help you analyze your own situation, whether you’re a young artist thinking about possible career choices or a long-time amateur artist looking to make a living from art alone.
All right, so the first and most obvious thing that comes with a job is money. Using a sliding scale from zero to ten, think about how much (or how little) you get paid. The actual amount isn’t really necessary, what’s important is to just visualize the slider where you feel you’re at.
The second thing people get from their work is some level of fulfillment. Do you love what you do, or do you hate it? Most likely you’re somewhere between the two.
And the third thing that comes along with every job is a certain amount of power, or control. Are you powerless at your job—at the bottom of the pecking order—or are you the boss? Or somewhere in between?
In a perfect world, we’d all have jobs with the sliders on the far right. We’d make a lot of money being creative and artistic with nobody else looking over our shoulder in the meantime. Heck, we’d even tell our assistants to clean our brushes and run to the store when we’re out of supplies.
In the real world, there are usually trade-offs, however. Take my landscaping & maintenance job as an example. That was during my years in college when I simply needed to work and that was all there was to it. I didn’t feel a whole lot of enjoyment from that job, but I was making money and I did have a little control over my day-to-day tasks—so really, it could’ve been a lot worse. Here’s what my sliders would have looked like for that job:
And yet, as I continued to work there, it wasn’t enough for me just to stay at those levels. Ever since that job I’ve always felt that my sliders (for ANY job I have, whether self-employed or not) should always be moving slowly to the right
Sure, each year that I kept shoveling dirt, mowing grass, and raking gravel for my landscaping job, I got a raise. I was even put in charge of a few other workers by the time I’d been around longer than everybody else. So two out of three sliders were moving, but what about fulfillment?
Right. Still over on the left. Not a zero, exactly, but not getting any better, either.
That’s finally what made me realize that I needed to move on. After trying a few other things, eventually I took the plunge into full-time art. You can probably guess what my sliders looked like when I did that.
But at least I had control over my own situation, and that was almost worth it right there. I was also doing more art and design work which made me happier too, and with both of those things going for me I was willing to take a hit in the pocketbook.
Obviously I don’t have to tell you that everyone has different circumstances, both in what we want from our jobs and in what we actually need. Some artists can switch from a secure, safe job to no employment at all and barely bat an eye. Others don’t have that luxury. But maybe you’ve been sitting in a job for just a little too long, and those sliders aren’t moving anymore. Perhaps you’re doing great, and those sliders are slowly and steadily moving towards the right.
Or worst of all, maybe they’re drifting to the left. If that’s the case, sometimes the thing to do in that situation is simply set a time limit. Give yourself 6 months or a year to figure out where you’d rather be, and then go out and make it happen.
Ultimately, I think half the battle is just seeing the truth that’s in front of you, whether it’s good OR bad. After that, the choice is usually a lot easier to make.
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