Is Your Art a Beast of Burden?


Do you think you might be asking too much of your creative pursuits? Are you expecting your art to fulfill all your fantasies of being a brilliant-accomplished-mortgage-paying-where-are-my-adoring-fans vocation? Many artists make their art into a beast of burden and suffer under it.

Several years back, I was chatting with my friend Kimberly. She's a fine arts painter but we actually had other important topics to discuss. Kimberly needed some shoes. She was currently on an epic search for the Perfect Pair of shoes: A pair so fashionable and versitile that she could dress them up when it was required, but could also be great every-day comfy togs that went with all her casual clothes. She wasn't finding these shoes easily. She even raised the price she was willing to pay for these awesome shoes but even after many hours at department stores and discount stores, they were not to be revealed to her. After a few weeks of this fruitless search, Kimberly realized the problem: "You know," she told me, "I think I'm asking too much of a single pair of shoes. How can I expect one pair of shoes to do the job of a year's worth of fashion and comfort?" Too right. When I catch myself expecting too much from one thing, I remind myself, "Is this too much for one pair of shoes?"

Why do I tell you a shopping story when you are a creative person? Because I think that's what we sometimes try to require of our art-as-a-business. Now, it's very possible to make a decent and even a good living from your creative inclinations and skills. I've seen it happen many times and in many different creative fields. But sometimes, some of us need to ease off on our expectations that our art has to be the magic shoes; a never-ending stream of accomplished brilliance, glorious inspiration and a big cash cow too.

More recently, I was having a chat with Mark, an accomplished musician and songwriter. Mark has been working in the music industry literally all his life. He's been with music labels, been without the labels, he's managed his PR and tour scheduling on his own. He's cobbled together music albums on shoestring budgets because he hasn't had the money to invest into the full scale recordings with paid musicians. He played gigs that weren't paying enough and turned down required, rigorous touring because it took him away from his kids too long and drained his resources even more. He was tired of not having enough time, money, and suppport to get where he really wanted to be and after 30 plus years of this, he was friggin' tired.

He was exhausted just enough that he decided maybe it was time to try something new. The "something new" he was considering had absolutely nothing to do with music. He was recommended to participate in a training program for a job that used his remarkable personal skills and called upon his intuitive ability to connect with people to *gasp* get a REAL, REGULAR, PAYING JOB.

I imagine Mark had a little freak-out when he considered moving to a highly structured life after living the I-make-my-own-schedule creative life, but he was surprisingly optimistic. Maybe it will be fun to get a regular paycheck and know when his next obligation was. Maybe releasing his expectation that his music make his mortgage payments would be nice.

To his credit, Mark didn't think of this new move as a rejection of his musical life. He saw that this was going to actually set his musical life free. "I think I'm going to be able to write with more joy now that I'm not trying to make money from every song," he confided to me with a smile. "I'm looking forward to a few fantastic gigs a year instead of all the underpaid and underappreciated ones." He let only one part of his creative burden go, and in doing so found some peace of mind.

I had a simlilar experience. I've spent years (all my career) wondering where the big bucks were. I've made what I'd call decent money, but I was somehow expecting more to show up in my bank account. (Side note, whenever the "expectation" word comes up, there's trouble.) After a while, I had a little "come to Jesus" (not real religious connotation here, no offense to Jesus) talk with myself: If I was going to make more money, I was going to have to work more hours and with more high paying (read: corporate) clients. When I was honest with myself, I realized that I really didn't want to work more hours. I wanted to balance my time with my creative pursuits and time with my growing and active family. The reality with that is that it doesn't add up to more cash in my pocket. I realized that I was putting a burden on my creative career that it wasn't able to bear, and most of all, I was wasting a lot of energy being despondent. So I had a second "come to Jesus" talk with my husband. We rearranged our household budget and the burden of my expectations was lifted. I felt so free after too many years of frustration and disappointment.

I know that not everyone has the second income support, and only you can decide if you are ready to trade your creativity for a day job. But if you're feeling stuck and angry with your creative career, maybe find a way to relieve your burden and see what flows out from under it.

Now, I have been singing this song since I started writing. If you haven't already been singing it, I will now unload my burden and leave you with this little ditty from The Rolling Stones:

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