On Working to Support Your Art

Image by Garrhet Sampson.

I just read a wonderful and inspiring blog post about Philip Glass supporting himself with other jobs throughout his artistic career.

The relationship between artists and money-making endeavours is generally... strained, and it's nice to see at least one person who didn't care even the slightest about ditching their day job.

The main story I heard growing up (and still now) is that you should probably feel like a failure (or like your success is pending) if you aren't making an entire living off your art. If you MUST have a day job, make sure you don't really like it and denigrate it as much as possible to prove that you are dedicated to your art.

From this perspective, I am not and will never be a "real" artist, because I will probably never stop doing something that qualifies as a "day job" --or worse, I will continue to pursue actual, career-like work on top of my artistic endeavours.

Lucky for me, there is Philip Glass. He ran a moving company, became a plumber, and was a taxi driver. All while he was performing with the Metropolitan Opera.

I had an ensemble at the time. I would go out and play for three weeks. We would come back from the tour, and we usually had lost money so I had to make money immediately. I put an ad in the paper. My cousin and I ran the company, and I moved furniture for about three or four or five weeks. Then I went on tour again. Again, we lost money.

That went on for years. I thought it was going to go on for the rest of my life, actually. It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living, really, from writing music. That happened kind of by accident.

I find it so incredibly refreshing to see an internationally revered artist who not only had day jobs, but took them seriously. The work he did to support himself wasn't an annoyance or a trap, but something to be respected.

Entrepreneurs, who face similar challenges to artists in that they have a dream and need to pursue it before it starts making money without knowing if it will make any at all, are now getting the (research-supported) advice to improve the success of their business by keeping their day job.

Why? Because you are more likely to take a risk in your business if your entire existence doesn't rely on making money from it. Because your mental health and physical well-being will be better if you aren't constantly stressed about your business feeding you. Because you can take the time to test things out, shape your business, and find out what has legs before committing whole hog. Because then you have the resources to take a class or workshop and learn more things.

Artists! How much should we bet that the same realities apply to our work? How do we start respecting our day jobs, and ourselves while we work them, more?

I will leave you with a poorly-paraphrased quote from a forgotten source to summarize this post: "Having a day job is saying that you love your art enough to feed it and give it a home."

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