The Artist and That Dreaded ‘Day Job’

CREAM MAGAZINE: November 18, 2016

Recently, a colleague at work made the decision to resign in order to return to university to complete a master’s degree. He’d been with the firm only a few months but had toyed with the idea for some time, confessing that despite the allure of a consistent income in a decent role, his dream was to secure a place at this particular campus and to complete the course.

It wasn’t a particularly far-out excuse for a resignation but what made the decision all the more interesting was the fact that this newly married, 30-something man had decided to go back to school to complete a master’s in Fine Art.

Our business is firmly within the art world; hence it is not unusual for artists and designers to be attracted to roles within the company in order to maintain some sort of connection to the industry whilst earning a decent and/or consistent income. But it is always fascinating to watch the process of precisely how they learn to manage handling the at-times soul crushing grind of the 9-to-5 life whilst staying true to themselves as creatives.

I have always found people who manage to live off their art (whatever it may be) interesting and I am forever captivated by the process of how they have gotten to that particular place in their lives. More often than not, and probably more increasingly now than ever, juvenile aspirations of becoming an actor, a singer, a designer or an artist in any field are met with polite nods from guardians and then the inevitable, ‘Yes, but what do you actually want to do, dear?’

Even after following said aspirations into our graduate careers, the world afterwards is rarely kind to those who dream of a life inside a studio or on a stage. So how do we stay true to the creator within whilst maintaining a lifestyle above the poverty line?

We work.

Ideally one’s creative urges would fall into one of a handful of vocational categories such as fashion or graphic design, resulting in a fairly sound work/life creativity balance. However what if the urge was to write, or say become a cabaret performer? How does someone who contains the necessary outrageous flamboyancy for cabaret shows, say, show up to work the next day, plonk themselves down at a desk and crunch through emails?

There are some really classic tales of some of the most successful artists in the world holding down absolutely ridiculous jobs prior to their success. Brad Pitt wore a chicken costume whilst working for El Pollo Loco. Kanye West folded shirts at The Gap. George Clooney was a shoe salesman and Bon Jovi was apparently a janitor. Luckily for them, they were able to have their creative aspirations supersede their day work and eventually come to comfortably live of their art.

There must come a point in the lives of people who have chosen to only moonlight as artists, to take the plunge and attempt to live wholly off their craft. Those pictures they took on the weekend, those songs they wrote on their lunch break, or those open mic nights they attended after their shift; when does all that go from being something they did in the shadows to the way they actually made a living?

In the end, what it appears to boil down to is this: how badly you actually want it. Along with the tales of the superstar guitarist working the counter at a newsagency comes also the story of him leaving home at 17, dropping out of school, living on a couch in a recording studio, and busking for food for the first few years of his career. Or the superstar fashion designer who interned for peanuts for however many years, getting coffee for the editor of the magazine that would eventually have her work featured on the front cover.

Fame and success can unfortunately at times come to some who appear to have not really worked for it, but often it is those who have sacrificed the most which we revere the highest and for the longest.

So if your creative urges are satisfied through dipping your big toe in and out of the pool from time to time then maintaining a respectfully stable job is obviously going to be incredibly manageable. But if your urges are only met by throwing your entire, fully-clothed body into the white water of the rapids, then there really is only one answer: go for broke.