Making a living vs. making art

In this article, cropped-mg_0080-version-32.jpgthe writer claims that as newspapers die so do writers’ opportunities to work, write, and get paid, while improving their craft. The MFA is no replacement as many force aspiring writers to take out loans, digging themselves into ditches that they will never be able to get themselves out of based on the skills gained in the MFA. He laments the loss patrons and the artists who created magnificent works with their financial support.

I agree with some points made here, but not all of them. I agree that the MFA is not worth going into debt, but not all writers/artists want to write/make art for a living. In an interview Cate Marvin said: “One cannot have ‘success’ in poetry. As a poet-friend of mine once said, ‘If I wanted to be successful, I’d have become a lawyer.'” And precisely because poetry has no monetary value, no aspirations for success, it is free to fend for itself, to dig out a space for itself that is not shaped by market demand.

Whereas art forms that do have potential to shower their creators with money are actually more dangerous. My sister and I are both artists. I am poet and Sonnet, my sister, is a singer and songwriter. Because I have never believed poetry will gain me a viable income, I’ve been forced to define success on my own terms and not on how people pay me, and I’ve built up my resume in other areas. My sister, on the other hand, has had success defined for her by a rabid dog, the music industry. She has been getting by on singing and big promises that have yet to fully pan out. I admire my sister for her stalwart pursuit of her craft as her primary income. No one I know is more dedicated to her art than Sonnet. But even with successful commercial campaigns, a fantastic first EP, gigs around LA, and a making it to the top 12 of the reality TV show Rising Star, it has certainly been the much harder road. She is living the dream, pursuing her dream, but it comes with high costs of inconsistency and never knowing what’s around the next corner.

William Carlos William points out not all artists need to be paid for their art or embrace the starving-artist model. I’m interested in finding this sustainable solution–the middle ground between crying about the loss of appreciation for the arts, and complaining about work that I don’t want to do, and starving for my art.

I think the worst part of this search for middle ground is that it will never be the same for every artist. There is no model I can follow, I have to find it for myself. William Carlos Williams found being a doctor as equally fulfilling (and inspiring) as writing. I am 100% sure being a doctor would not be a sustainable career for me. As the 5-9 interview series has highlighted, what works for one artist will not work for another. And even what has worked for me one year may not work the next.

At dinner with other writers and artist not long ago, one artist who was a new father asked the group if we would wish for our children to have the desire to be artists/writers when they grew up. The responses were mixed, but the majority said No! Life would be so much simpler, and perhaps even happier, if our unquenchable desire to create did not demand so much of our time/money/space. The desire to make art is a gift, a joy, a purpose, a calling and–at the risk of sounding overdramatic–it is a burden.

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