There is an idea that artists who maintain day jobs are somehow deficient. If they were really any good, they would quit their day jobs and make their living from their art. Or would they? Consider this list of accomplished artists who had day jobs: Henry Fielding, Charlotte Brontë, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Anton Chekhov, Philip Larkin, and there are many more.
Everybody knows stories of actors or musicians or dancers who wait tables between gigs, but the occupations that artists have when not pursuing their creative work are as varied as the artists themselves.
Here are just a few: receptionist, frame designer, medical professional, legal associate, diesel mechanic, web developer, farmer, gallery owner, graphic designer, office manager, editor, store manager, art therapist, home stylist, structural engineer, case manager, marketing director, audiologist, media assistant, library director, coffee bar manager, nuclear analyst, mom, real estate development, language consultant, personal trainer, teacher, personnel manager, nonprofit director, art handler, children’s writer, dance instructor.
Why would artists who sell their work, particularly those who are highly regarded, want a second job, one that takes away time and energy from the work they really want to do? Michelle Goodman in an article for ABC News entitled Memo to Artists: Keep Your Day Job cites six reasons:
1. Peace of Mind, Stability. This is the reason T.S. Eliot kept his day jobs. He had a sick wife to care for, and discovered that both he and she were healthier if he had more income. This is true of almost every artist. The starving artist is likely not to do his/her best work. And, as most of us know, making art is not inexpensive. Having an income allows you to actually make some art.
2. Scheduled Human Contact. A lot of artistic work is done in seclusion, a situation in which not everyone thrives. Most of us need to have more contact than one is likely to get in a restaurant or coffee bar. Having a job that allows or requires you to have some human interaction can make you more balanced and perhaps healthier. That it’s scheduled helps with discipline.
3. Creative Discipline. Almost everyone has time management problems. Many artists, myself included, find it necessary to schedule creative work just as we have to schedule other duties. Because most day jobs require set hours or specific responsibilities, creative work has to be scheduled around them; that structure is desirable for some, and necessary for others. Julia Cameron in Letters to a Young Artist said, “I have seen more artists damaged by unlimited time than limited time.”
4. A Source of Material. The people and situations at your day job can provide a wealth of material. Regardless of the media in which you work, the workplace can provide an ongoing stream of ideas which can be adapted, adopted, and recombined for your own creative purposes.
5. Instant Patrons. In most cases, you will find that the people with whom you work are very supportive of the creative work that you do in your “off time.” Some will purchase your work or put you into contact with others who might be interested. It can be the beginning of a tribe.
6. A Day Job is the Artist’s Way. Many artists have and have had day jobs. The reason is simple economics. Except for a tiny minority, art does not pay enough to let artists live the way we might like to. According to Alia Yunis, critically acclaimed novelist, “Almost every artist lives this way — even quote-unquote successful artists.“
Being an artist is not about how you make your living; it’s about how you live. As Julia Cameron said, “I don’t know where we got the idea that being a full-time artist meant no day job. Being an artist is a matter of consciousness.”