Artists try so very hard to be recognized for their work. Despite years of effort, they continue to struggle in a world that values bridges, profitability, and quality medical care over an abstract painting of my sister that looks like I accidentally spilled black tar on a pile of hay. Perhaps it’s time to follow these three simple rules, accept defeat, and leave the world with fewer artists.
1. Stop listening to your parents.
Whoever said, “failure is not an option,” was an imbecile. The problem is our parents left out important details when they were encouraging us to follow our dreams. They were right when they said we could be anything we want. But they failed to mention being anything we want might entail either hard work, doing things we don’t want to do, or both. Despite mom and dad proving themselves unreliable—if not loving and supportive—we continue to listen to them.
Here we are working 40 hours a week on our “craft,” only to shuffle off to a real, full-time job with a name tag, logo and company motto. At what point does saying, “Would you like to add a shot of hazelnut to your cappuccino?” start feeling like a bad career choice? When our parents said we could be painters, they didn’t mention anything about living with clothes that smell perpetually of roasted coffee beans.
One might wonder whether it is wise to stay on this train for a couple more years with the hope of being recognized as the artist that changed a generation. After all, we are barely 20 or 30 percent through our lives—if you are older or planning on dying soon, these percentages may not be accurate—we may still be able to sell that manuscript. For Pete’s sake, no, it is not wise to remain aboard a train heading for a Back to the Future, Part III plunge into Clayton Ravine—renamed Eastwood Ravine after Marty returns to the present. Grow up, stop listening to your parents, and accept defeat before it’s too late to convert years of sculpture into kitschy lawn ornaments.
2. Embrace consumerism.
As pimply-faced teenagers, a carefree attitude was expected. Nobody minded if you didnt’ make enough money to buy a cheeseburger from Tommy’s—home of the best chili cheeseburger on the planet—so long as you could borrow the money from your mom. College wasn’t much different, except now some of us had part-time jobs and could afford chili cheese fries with our Tommy burger after a long night of Boones Farm and Milwaukee’s Best. But eventually we graduated, mom stopped loaning us money, and dad suggested getting serious.
Some people parlayed their education into moderately good paying jobs; most artists did not. We believed society owed us a living for our contribution to culture. After all, money was the yoke burdening those poor slobs working 9-to-5 jobs for the man. Money was not a priority for the 6:00 P.M. to 2:00 A.M. shift that allowed you time to write your memoirs—all 24 years worth, from birth to the present.
Eventually it became clear it might be time for a change. As the yoke-burdened are getting married, having children and buying houses, the idealists are struggling to write Chapter 2 of the Great American Novel, having an average of 14 written words per day for the past three years. It’s not too late to don that yoke and embrace consumerism.
We artists need to embrace consumerism. People want and need cool stuff, other people make cool stuff, still more people sell cool stuff, and the people that wanted stuff get what they want. It is a vicious and convoluted cycle, yes. But once we understand that it takes money to get the things we want, it becomes clear a change in how we think about work—and perhaps a bit of retooling—is in order.
Don’t take my word for it, look to the sciences. An English physicist, James Prescott Joule, formulated Joule’s laws. The Joule is a measurement of work. Some people buy rings and other jewels when they get engaged, married, and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Joule is a measure of work and it takes work to buy jewels. Coincidence?—Unlikely.
Accept defeat, give consumerism a big wet kiss, and let someone else starve for their craft.
3. Accept Work and Forget about job satisfaction.
The list of synonyms for the word ‘work’ on Thesaurus.com includes: effort, job, struggle, task, trial, drudgery, grind, obligation, pains, servitude, slogging, and sweat. None of which appear in the list of synonyms for the word ‘fun.’ Work is not fun, it’s work. Our grandparents understood this concept. They went to the office each morning, toiled away building roads, skyscrapers, and hospitals, then trudged home each evening. They recognized something we’ve forgotten: work, with all its pains, slogging, sweat, and drudgery, makes us appreciate even more the times we are not at work.
Job satisfaction is highly overrated. First of all, being satisfied at work means being stagnant. Happiness may be achievable—even in an environment designed to challenge our patience and grind on our very last nerve—but satisfaction is simply a measure of our diminished will. It serves as an indicator of our inability to change our circumstance; a giant white flag waving our surrender.
Second, satisfaction is an unnatural state for humans. Henry George, an American economist in the mid to late 1800s said, “Man is the only animal whose desires increase as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied.” Millions of years of evolution conspire to make us ill-equipped for satisfaction—our bodies will reject it as quickly as cold lentils from an Indian street vendor. Seeking satisfaction at the site of struggle, obligation, and servitude—in other words, at work—is an unhealthy pursuit.
This is the challenge artists face. We are rarely satisfied with our writing, our last painting, or the our recent off-Broadway performance—and by off-Broadway, I mean the community playhouse in Boise. Why would we consider satisfaction in the search for a career?
Rather than seeking job satisfaction, we should be looking for a job that allows us to enjoy life; one that pays enough to take that long anticipated vacation to Wisconsin Dells, or the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The search for meaning has no place in career decisions. Meaning comes from perception—as well as prescription, if you have a good doctor.
We need to put down that brush, step away from the keyboard, take off that costume, and realize the world does not want anymore artists.
Fret not fellow artisans, defeat is not the end. It is a beginning—a chance to rediscover ourselves, realize our mistakes, and make changes. It’s not too late to become a productive member of society, a producer of goods and services valued by the billions of consumers already ignoring our work. Accept defeat and accept change.
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All photos and drawings are those of the author. Copyright can be found here.