We have all heard the conventional wisdom when it comes to a career in the arts. Declare yourself an artist and identify yourself that way first. Make sure you have a second passion or strong side job to pay the bills. Don’t let rejections deter you from continuing in your art career. These all sound like the right thing to say, and they usually work out. Then there are those things “everyone” swears will hurt your career in the arts….but might actually help.
Getting random, non-arts related side jobs.
This is often advised against out of fear it will take time away from your art, but it can provide fuel for your projects.
Taking temporary jobs, getting side jobs on the side of your day job, and performing other money making tasks can generate ideas for your art work. You may decide to fictionalize a restaurant or store and use it as a setting in your next piece. Maybe that rude, frightening, or just plain odd customer will say something you can use for your next villain. You may overhear a conversation that sparks a new song, or see something you feel called to paint or draw.
You also get to keep the money from random jobs, so they provide some extra income as well. Having a little more money helps to reduce financial worries, and frees up even more energy for your creative work.
Getting a job that allows you to practice your art, but also provides a steady salary or wage.
People typically warn against this out of fear that your art work will be taken over by someone else. You’ll sell out. You’ll become a corporate drone. This could happen in some cases, but if you keep your focus on your overall goals as an artist, and make sure you’re doing something you believe in, it can enhance your art career.
My own career in the arts has three parts. I teach writing skills to adults online, write novels, and write and run Artist Cafe Utica, designed as both a resource/online space for other artists in Utica and a portfolio for me. The teaching job is what pays my basic expenses. I am on the faculty of a university and I earn a salary. Most of my teaching is done through creative writing. I wrote, and continue to revise and update, a short story about a character named “Ellie” and her classmates at a fictional university. When I first got the idea to try this, I hesitated. I was afraid I’d spend all my time on the Ellie story, and neglect the rest of my writing. I feared the students would find it ridiculous. As of the writing of this article, “Ellie” has provided plot ideas for two novels, and I’ve been nominated for a teaching award four times. A solid ninety percent of the compliments I receive from students are for Ellie, not for me….but…..that’s okay.
Having non-art interests and hobbies
If you’re an artist, much of your activity naturally centers around your art. This is true for anyone in any type of career.
It is also not uncommon for an artist’s hobbies and interests to be other forms of art. My second passion, along with creative writing, is music. My favorite hobby has always been singing. I also enjoy watching films, theater, and seeing and learning about paintings and sculptures.
Languages also fascinate me. While language is a building block of many forms of art, it is also a separate field. One can be an expert in linguistics, or speak multiple languages without being an artist.
Like taking on non-arts related side work, studying languages often generates ideas for my art work. It helps me understand the sounds and patterns of language better overall.
These three activities may have helped my arts career when I expected them to be detrimental, but there are a few other guidelines I no longer follow, because they resulted in a drain on time, energy, and money to devote to my art.
Taking any work that allows you to do anything even remotely related to your art.
Most of the time, I encourage everyone to take any opportunity they can to practice their art, but if the situation is unsafe, or if you are spending so much time and energy on one event or job that you’re neglecting other aspects of your career, there’s nothing wrong with turning something down or walking away from an opportunity.
Conventional wisdom dictates that a writer should take any writing job. If you’re really a poet, but someone wants you to write an email drip campaign for window cleaner, do it. Work as a reporter even though you have no interest in journalism and you’re a screeenwriter. Take that job writing ad copy, even though what you really want to do is write about rock bands for a magazine.
This remains solid advice if you are new to writing, but after earning a graduate degree in writing and working as a professional independent writer for more than a decade, I no longer accept any writing assignments that are not linked directly to the arts. It gives the wrong impression. Potential clients think I’m new to writing, or that I’m making a career change from the arts to their field.
Working only in a dedicated workspace
Those fortunate enough to have a studio, or an office in their home should absolutely take advantage of it. Setting aside a space as your workspace in a smaller home can be helpful too. Just don’t take it so far that you begin to think of that as the only place you can work.
“Set up an office, it will help you take yourself and your work seriously,” is great advice, but it is not completely necessary. As long as nothing in the environment distracts you continuously, you should be able to get work done in a variety of places.
Sometimes, a change of scene helps rather than hinders creativity. Getting out and working at your favorite coffeehouse, or working at a diner or in the library (once it is safe to do so again) can give you the jolt you need to come up with a new idea.
Working all hours
When we picture someone doing work they love, we think of them working around the clock, stopping only for things like meals, showers, and other obligations when they absolutely have to. We often think that a “true” artist wants to sing, write, dance, act, paint, or work on their act all the time, and feel guilty or neglectful when we get tired or temporarily bored with our work.
In reality, nobody is enthralled with their work every moment of every day. Everyone, artist or not, has tasks they don’t care for, or days when they just want to get done and go sprawl in front of a t.v. show marathon with a big helping of their favorite snack.
Rest is necessary. We all need that time to just relax, and we all need sleep.