“Being An Artist is Alright. Some Other Jobs Are Alrighter”

On Q CBC Radio tonight, radio host Gill Deacon, talks to Darren O’Donnell, a Canadian novelist and performer and all around artist,  about this Facebook post and forum about the reality of being an artist. Here’s his Facebook post that started it all:

Wanted: strategies to convince young people that being an artist is actually not that interesting and that, when you’re 39, you’ll look at your friends who went into most other fields and be shocked that they’re actually doing really creative and meaningful stuff while you’re spending most of your time drunk at openings and launches within a small circle of other drunk people who only socialize at openings and launches.

O’Donnell has some interesting points about creativity in the real world, but I also love how Deacon pushes back and questions his motives: “Part of what you describe sounds like you being at a point in your career when you say,

‘I’m kind of fed up’…Everyone gets to a point in their career when they look around and all the other jobs look like they have more of what they wanted.”

Is O’Donnell experiencing career envy or is most every artist really just sending email?

I’ve definitely have experienced career envy.  Right now, after reading Rambunctioius Garden by Emma Marris, I wish had studied biology or ecology in college. In the world of plants and animals and how they all work and relate…there is still so much to discover. I’ll admit I’ve been in a bit of writing funk, and partly because I’m lacking faith in the empty page (and in myself) to discover. And for me, writing needs to be the act of discovery.


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.

post-MFA Despair

brevitylogo435A friend just brought this article at Brevity to my attention about Post MFA despair. In it, five authors give some good advice including Robin Black saying:

don’t assume that the only way through a bad patch is to be banging away at the keyboard, diligently, every day—as so many advise. Sometimes what’s needed is a break. Do some gardening. Take a walk.

I know I don’t write every day. To do so seems near impossible–with work, dishes and all the things to wonder about. Do you write every day? Do you feel guilty when you don’t? I’ve just started not to feel guilty for not writing everyday.

I tried to Start a Twitter Revolution

Before Christmas, I heard this story on WBEZ, the local NPR station in Chicago. The images of pain and injustice haunted me over the holidays; I couldn’t believe something so outrageous and inhumane could happen so near to me. {I advise listening to the story, but here’s a brief summary: A temporary worker (who worked at Raani Corp for 10 years) was terribly burned by chemicals, denied immediate help by his supervisor, and a month later died of his wounds.}

In January, I heard a follow-up news piece saying that Raani Corp denied any wrongdoing and blamed the temporary worker. A righteous fire lit up inside of me. I wanted to make sure I didn’t buy any products made by Raani Corp so I looked up their website http://www.raani.com/ . In the story of the growing business I learned about the CEO Rashid Chaudary. I learned that K-mart and Jet Magazine and Ebony Magazine, among other companies that are not named, have hair and/or other self care products made at this factory located just outside of Chicago’s southside.

I learned the name and email addresses of some of the officers of the company.

Dr. Eugene Frank 
Sr. Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Denise Swiecicki
General Administrative/Customer Service Manager
Pervaiz Jafri
Director, Quality Assurance



I found a picture of the CEO’s 12-bedroom house. And I tweeted it, and I tweeted all of my other findings. I tweeted all of my outrage. I tweeted @KMart, I tweeted @EbonyMagazine and @JetMag. I tweeted and I tweeted, and no one seemed to noticed. No replies, no re-tweets.


So I wanted to think about what I did wrong with my twitter revolution. Here are some ideas:

  • Perhaps, I tweeted too late at night. I was tweeting between 8-10 pm. However, according to this study that is the best time to tweet. However, many of my followers are in different time zones? 
  • Perhaps my tweets weren’t catchy or strongly worded enough: I wanted to be accurate and my tweets got lengthy. Perhaps, I needed to rely on a hook and link my fellow tweeters to the accurate information.
  • Maybe its harder to start a twitter revolution than I thought. I need to get @NickKristoff to follow me and re-tweet me.

Do you have any advice on how to start a twitter revolution?  I hope you will listen to the WBEZ story and share my outrage with me.