So we’ve looked at two ways it might work out for you: making and selling a ton of your work, or becoming financially successful through teaching and writing and doing videos and, and, and.
What if both of those possibilities make you cringe, though? What if you reallyreallyreally want to make art, and that’s what’s primary for you? But—and it’s a biggie—you need to make money.
The most common solution to this one is to take a day job. You may cringe, but it’s the way people have been doing this forever. Most writers don’t sit in front of their computer all day. They work in libraries and bookstores, teach freshman comp or high school English (generally a bad idea, as teaching and grading papers are notoriously draining and time-intensive, but still). Or, even more common, they have a low-stress job making just enough to get by and leave them with enough energy to go home at the end of their shift and work on their novel. Same with artists: maybe they do graphic design during the day or paint murals on nursery walls or teach art classes, or maybe they work at the bank or a warehouse, something that doesn’t involve art of any kind so they can go into the studio every evening with fresh eyes.
There’s another solution, though, and it’s the one I’ve embraced: you lower your expectations about what “making a living” means. Most of us are brought up with expectations about what it means to live a good life. Vacations, travel, a vehicle with heated and cooled seats and a moon roof. We want to be able to eat out with our friends, go to concerts, entertain. We want to buy the things our kids’ friends’ parents buy for them, and we want others to acknowledge our success: we want the appearance of success, too.
For many years, I hustled. I thought if I worked long enough and hard enough and put in the effort and the hours, I could push this writing career into something more lucrative, something that would, you know, allow me to be a fully-contributing member of the family. I incorporated making into the writing, doing how-to articles, writing books. I made stuff and sold it, I taught at art retreats, I did on-line classes. Because I worked at home, I worked all the time, sometimes in the middle of the night on someone else’s schedule. Then a couple years ago I had a revelation. I noticed a glitch in something online and attempted to contact someone to let them know. I didn’t hear back from them, and then I realized: it was Christmas Day, and no one else was working. I mean, I knew it was Christmas; I just hadn’t thought about the tiny little fact that I was working way longer and more obsessively than people who were paid a lot more. It made me stop and reassess what I do.
I love what I do. I love writing, and I love making stuff, and I love combining those to inspire other people. I want to do both for as long as I can. What I don’t want to do is hustle doing a bunch of other stuff—tutorials, workshops, samples—that has nothing to do with what I love to do. For me, the solution was to readjust my expectations, and for me, that means simplifying my life and changing how I think of success. This has been easier than it sounds because I’ve never been a keeping-up-with-the-neighbors person, but it’s been tough, too. I’ve looked hard at what I need vs. what I want, at how I want to spend my time vs. how others expect you to fill your time. I got rid of my website (time + money) and drastically reduced the amount of stuff I own (time + the stress of being surrounded by Stuff). I’m cutting way, way back on the stuff I buy: I realized that most of it was stuff I didn’t need and seldom used. There’s nothing like getting rid of a bunch of stuff to make you think about why you ever had it in the first place.
It won’t work for everyone. If you’re trying to help put a child through school or buy a decent car, you’re probably going to have to choose one of the other paths. But if simplifying is a possibility for you, I highly recommend it. Being able to do the things you love without constantly trying to figure out how to turn them into cash cows is more freeing than anything I could have imagined.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
For more about making room for making art, check out Ricë’s book, Creative Time and Space.
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