Thursday, December 3, 2009

When you love your job, is it still work?

Working as an artist can feel socially weird, sort of in the same way as being a stay-at-home parent. That said, it was with great enthusiasm that I finally switched from saying "I'm a stay at home mom," to saying, "I'm an Artist," when asked. Still, that statement is usually met with a skeptical expression. People usually ask, "What do you paint?" I give a quick explanation of my work, then change the subject.

I'd say about one out of every 10 strangers I talk to responds with a slightly bitter, "How nice for you." And, it is very nice that I have been able to generate work for myself doing something creative and fulfilling. It is very nice that I am in a relationship with someone who can support us while I take this chance, and who believes that it is the best option for all of us. Several times a year, I ask, "Should I get a real job?" We have looked at the pros and cons, and the fact is, all of our lives would be negatively affected if I went to work for an employer. We might be able to buy new sheets or winter coats when we need them, sure, and it wouldn't be such a crazy idea for us to take a 10-day trip to Spain this winter. But, I would have to switch Anouk to the larger school so that she could catch the bus each morning, and she would have to go to daycare every afternoon, and much of my income would be paying for that. We would have to greatly reduce the amount of food we grow, sell the goats, and rely more on electric heat because I couldn't keep up with our wood supply. When Anouk is sick, I can keep her home without risk to my job security, and I spend a portion of each day just taking care of our home. So, as long as we can get by on Mike's income and what little I make, it just works out best for all of us.

I do sometimes feel like I am not considered to be "working". I'm not sure how much of this is my own complex, and how much comes from other people's attitudes. It is often seen as me having a fun hobby that earns me a little side money. Yes, I do enjoy my work most of the time, but man, it can be grueling! I stand on cement all day in a cold, studio. My hands get sore and stiff from repetitive motion and gripping. I often have to wear a wrist brace because my tendons become strained. My fingers are always covered in small cuts and stained from adhesives. During a large installation, I often work long hours in uncomfortable circumstances. For the past two days, for instance, I've been working in near-freezing temperatures with numb fingers and toes.

But that Pediatric Clinic has been transformed by a simple glass mosaic vine climbing the pillars that frame the entryway. I step back at the end of it all to get the full effect, and it is just lovely. Without my work, it would be a plain, stuccoed building like every other medical building on that street. Now, it stands apart and welcomes patients with a promise of a fun, cheerful interior. I love that feeling. I love when the doctors pop down to see my progress and they are SO happy!

My work makes people happy and I do love doing it. But it feels like work.

At a "Business of Art" workshop (by Pam Corwin - look into it if you are doing this kind of work) I asked the panel of wholesale artists if it is difficult to make the same item over and over, sometimes hundreds of times, and does it then feel less like fun and more like work? They all said, in different ways, that they can either use their innate talents to fill wholesale orders, sometimes working late into the night to meet a deadline - or they can go get a job, maybe in an office or waiting tables, on someone else's schedule and according to someone else's rules. It can be even harder work to labor tirelessly on art that you feel passionately about, that is part of you, and that is your only source of income, than to clock in at a job that you don't care so much about and that you can walk away from at the end of a day. Ultimately, it just depends on how you want to spend your time and how much risk you are willing and able to take.

Now, off to my other job; being a mom.

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