Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How To Make Ends Meet—Art as Livelihood or Life

A recent New York Times article contemplates the effect a day job might have on the work of an artist. Is it beneficial? Is it necessary? Fact is, very few artists throughout the centuries have been able to support themselves by art alone. It may have been the fantasy many of us creative types grew up on in the 20th century, but in reality, many more spend most of their adult lives juggling art, work, and love, with varying degrees of success. Consider the Pulitzers.

An amusing little volume I may still have kicking around studies the alcoholic careers of far too many Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, including of course Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Their literary output may or may not have been adversely affected by booze, but their personal lives certainly were. Papa wore out several wives, and even himself in the end it seems, illness aside. Scott’s great love was institutionalized for the last twenty years of their marriage. He ended his days in Hollywood, doctoring film scripts and living in a shabby flat. Would day jobs have saved either of these artists? Would their lives have been more livable, but their work impeded?

When it became clear that Plan A, teaching for most of the year with summers off to write Great American Novels, was not going to come to pass, Plan B went into effect. Plan B is a mix of paying back student loans (accomplished after ten years at Cosmodemonic Communications), making a home where I could breathe easy (accomplished in 2001, about a month before 9/11 knocked the wind out of all of us), and maintaining a relationship created in passion and sustained in love and partnership (started in 2002, still a work in progress). Amazingly, I have continued to write the whole time, poetry at least. I don’t think my fictional prose is very good after all.

The arts are the roses in my life’s garden, but would I sacrifice any one of the above elements to achieve greater literary notoriety? Not now. I enjoy my medium-fish-in-a-beautiful-pond status. Without love, home and financial solvency, no art would happen for me. I was unemployed for almost two years just before I started my most recent gig, in the registration department of a seasonal retreat center. During that time, although I suddenly had many hours a day to write, I did not. I was far more concerned with keeping body and soul together. Maybe some others can do it, but I still possess a few too many screws to chuck it all for the sake of art.

Excuse? I don’t think so. Sour grapes? If someone can master that juggling act, more power to them. I cannot. And I’m fine with that. I can still smell the roses, and the thorns are mostly out of range.

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