Priorities by William Dolan


Steve Jobs said, “love what you do…because work will consume most of your life.” The idea being that when you go to work in the morning, you should work at your passion, because time is limited. Unfortunately this does not often work for an artist. A successful artist must often juggle many things.

1. The Work
An artist must devote much of his or her time toward creating work. This is a career in itself and should be approached as a full-time job. I’m not including the act of observing, experiencing, etc. where an artist gets his or her inspiration. This is sort of an ongoing thing that creative people should be doing anyway. I’m talking about actually going in the studio and making things.

If you’re like me, you also need a little time to mentally prepare each day. This can vary from situation to situation. For me, it depends on how much non-art stuff I’m dealing with at the moment. This amounts to a lot of mental clutter that I must somehow distance myself from in order to get into my work. Sometimes I need a drink or two to shut out the outside voices, though this can be a slippery slope to getting nothing done.

2. The Support Career
Unfortunately, being an artist usually means no immediate financial rewards. For most of us, that means a second job. Now you add on another full-time job to support your primary career. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to get by on a part-time gig that allows you more time for the studio. Usually, though, it’s more of a second career as not only do you have to support yourself, but also fund your art practice.

Ideally, the goal of a support job should be to wean oneself from it as one’s success as an artist grows. Either by doing less work in the same job or by getting lesser jobs.

In reality, it becomes more of a primary career. It takes up most of one’s productive hours. If it’s more of a white-collar position, it can be mentally exhausting. Over time, responsibilities grow as your “support” career grows. If it’s a blue collar job, it can be physically demanding. Over time, in this case, it takes a toll on one as one gets older. In either case, art is relegated to a side project, squeezing a little in here and a little there.

3. Marketing
Art is personal expression; an artist’s story; interpretation of the world, society, etc. In any case, it’s a very personal thing. Only the artists themselves and maybe close friends and relatives really give a shit about the actual art work.

However, in order to be successful, not only does the artist have to make people care, but the artist also has to create desire for their own work. This means a hell of a lot of marketing. Not only is this a full-time job, but there are a lot of long hours. It can include networking, which is a very inefficient, but perhaps necessary.

It is a lot different from marketing a commerical product or service. Since no one really cares or needs an artist’s work, an artist is often starting out in a hole. It’s such a daunting task, it is often put on a back-burner with the flame off.

4. Relationship(s)
Just as many things in nature come in pairs, we humans need to pair up. Ideally we find relationships that are true partnerships and both partners grow in ways that they couldn’t alone. When this happens it can be helpful to an art career.

Another part of many relationships is to start and raise a family. While this is not a bad thing, often times it happens at a point where the art career is fledgling at best. Not only is it another full-time job, but it also requires funding. Therefore, if an artist starts a family before the art career gets off the ground, there is more dependence on that support career. The work can really get pushed aside here.

There are also situations where the relationship is more of one person fulfilling the role that another has set up. An artist whose career is at the starting gate is in a weaker position here and the art career can be pushed aside.

5. The Rest
This is a mixed bag of everything else that demands attention from artists. It includes friendships, hobbies, causes, chores, exercise, etc. All this stuff takes time and adds to the mental clutter I mentioned earlier. Most of it is a distraction. Some is welcomed as even artists need a break from their passion from time to time. Some is not as it shoves art into the corner. Friends that don’t get “it” can be less than encouraging. Hobbies can be satisfying in a creative sense, thereby dulling one’s passion for art. Chores are, well, chores.

Anyway, an art career is different from most mid-level career paths that a lot of people seek. For non-artists, a second career is not needed. The relationship, even a bad one, has less negative effect on an early career. The marketing is not a full-time job, but more of an ongoing function of one’s job. It’s one that is demanding , but can be rewarding. Did you ever hear of an artist retiring?