The artistry of the day-job artist

Aspiring journalist Serena Renner put the plight of a day-job artist in pretty succinct terms earlier this week. Below is an excerpt from that blog entry.

    In the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about work — working to live as we all do to sustain ourselves but also the concept of working to work. By this I mean the creative pursuit so many artists undergo: to work just enough to meet one’s basic needs but also reserving enough free time to realize one’s true ambitions. In a perfect world, we’d all get paid a living to do what we love, but in case you haven’t noticed, this is not a perfect world and many fields — especially those artistic in nature — require talent and notoriety, which fruit from years of practice and climbing the ranks.

    Journalism is not unique in this regard, although we like to victimize ourselves, particularly amid the current economic climate and media transformation. But actors, fine artists, designers, musicians, as well as creative writers and the like all have to start at the bottom, working random jobs or unpaid internships — living on couches or in closet-sized apartments — until they build up their skills and portfolio enough to get noticed . . .

    The bottom line is working just enough to pay the rent but not too much to lose sight of what you really want to do. Maybe that means working a pretty well paying part time job and writing on the side, or working full time for a while to save money for an upcoming hiatus . . . Whatever the case, produce, produce, produce and have faith in yourself that your passion will eventually pay off some day, some how.

This isn’t news, to me or to most readers of this blog, but it’s worth restating because I know a lot of people do not understand (in the remotest sense) the tension many of us creative types feel in the context of our culture. And because Renner did a good job presenting it in her article.

I can’t really speak to the inherent aspirations of accountants or CEOs, but I know first hand the hard-wired nature of an artist. Most of us are not lazy — far from it despite the stereotypes. We just don’t fit into the more common and socially accepted workplace model, and for that we are judged.

Friends and family and even casual bystanders find it strange when we forgo the pursuit of a [supposedly] comfortable life — reliable, better paying jobs, the suburbs etc — in favor of a lifestyle less familiar to them. Creativity, for us, is more than just a hobby.

It has to be more than just a hobby, or we go stir crazy.

And, more than that, our local and national cultures would be in sad shape without artists earnestly pursuing their crafts. As Kathleen Norris rightly pointed out in her book Dakota, broad swaths of a culture are lost to history without writers and painters and sculptors working out of that culture.

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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