I am not happy about it. It is the source of a feeling of daily defeat and frustration for me. I have yet to reconcile myself to a less creative and more economically driven life. But I had no choice. I gave it all that I had for many years, but I was getting older. I was reaching a point of no return. I had to make a choice. I chose to go back to graduate school and become a “professional.” Is there anything more antithetical to being an artist than being a professional? I don’t think so. It is the ultimate insult to a creative life.
But this is what America does to people. It turns them into professionals of one sort or another. America forces a person to specialize in order to make a legitimate income. Most people go willingly. They prefer to specialize and live a more comfortable life. Life certainly is easier this way. Get a degree, a license, and start a business of some sort and you are on your American way. With enough commitment, anyone can get there because this is the American way. There is nothing more normal in America than a degree, a license and a business. It is just what the vast majority of people do.
But in one way or another, the artist resists this kind of normalization. This is why they have chosen to be an artist in most cases. They want to live a different kind of life. They want to live a life not defined by degrees, licenses and business transactions. Artists are searching for a different, less specialized, more creative way to live a life. But America does not like this. America wants everyone to do what it believes is culturally and economically correct. America wants everyone to conform and for those who don’t- they will be punished. They will be punished by having to work marginalizing jobs, live in undesirable conditions, experience disappointment from family members, receive no government or family support, constant public shaming/disregard and a chronic feeling of failure that often will not leave the artist alone. To be an artist in America requires an immense inner strength, conviction and courage that most Americans have squeezed out of them by the time they are handed their college diplomas.
I still make art. I hope I will always make art. But I no longer make art in the way a person needs to make art in order to earn the title of being an artist. An artist is not someone who makes art on the weekends or when they can. An artist is committed to art. This is what they do. They make art all the time. 9am until late in the evenings. Almost every day. I cannot think of any other profession or line of work that requires more time and self-discipline (with as little economic and societal reward) as being an artist does. Being an artist is a remarkable thing but it is also brutal. When you are in the process of making the art there is nothing else in the world that feels more meaningful and rewarding. You are doing exactly what you feel you should be doing with your life. But when you step out of the creative process, life can feel pretty bleak. You need to figure out how you are going to pay that bill or you need to bundle up because the room that you are renting or the apartment in the ghetto is freezing cold. Make no mistake about it- being an artist in America absolutely sucks.
Look at who the vast majority of Americans admire. It’s men in suits, hard working professionals slaving away at their jobs. People in the military or government jobs. Bureaucrats and athletes, doctors and lawyers. When have you ever heard a newscaster or a politician say the word “artist” outside of when a bunch of them tragically perish in a terrible fire? Most Americans think that these American Idol winners or high grossing actors are artists. These pop stars and Hollywood actors have colonized the word artist but they could not be any further from what an artist is. Instead, they are just cut out figurines posing as artists. They just end up making life even more punishing for the real artists at work in America.
An artist in America is usually a poor person who works day after day at their art with little or no recognition in return. An artist is someone who is doing what they are doing not for the money but because they love the creative process. If they make money from the creative process, great. If not, great. Either way they are committed to the creative process in a way that makes most other people’s level of commit to their work look flakey in comparison. But to be a professional in America you do not have to be that committed. You just need to show up and do your work with a smile, no matter how painful it feels. You need to be able to fake your commitment really well but when you go home at night you can enjoy the comforts of a warm home and talk lots of trash about how much you hate your job. An artist never does this. They are in love with their work, even to the extent that their work has forced them to live in the freezing cold.
Fuck America for doing this to its artists. This country should be ashamed of itself. We are all slaves to the mighty dollar and anyone who is not- we punish. I could no longer hang with the punishment, so I quit. I called it a day. I threw my brushes out. I couldn’t take being demeaned in my bartending job anymore. I couldn’t take the feeling that I was a failure every time I sat down to a family meal. I could not take not having enough money to support myself. I could not take other people’s disappointment in me. I couldn’t take knowing that I was possibly going to still be broke at the age of fifty five. I couldn’t take the immense amount of silence that I received when I tried to get my art out into the world. I could not take the feeling that being an artist in America really had no point (unless you are willing to completely sell out and become a professional artist).
I now have a warm house. I have some money in the bank. I don’t have to ask my parents for cash (thank god). I have several dogs and a few cars. I run my own business and have a profession. I have the respect of some others and my family seems proud. I am grateful for all of this but I am no longer an artist. This is a source of a lot of pain for me and I cannot seem to make this pain go away, no matter how much I meditate and do yoga. I am just one more victim of the out of control, anti-creative, American money obsessed machine. Ultimately I have no one else to blame but myself. I jumped ship. I allowed other people’s concern to get the best of me. I chose to go back to graduate school. I am the one who after years of resistance and conviction, became afraid and gave up. The American punishment worked on me. There is no person who I respect more than an artist over the age of 40 in America. The fact that they are over the age of 40 and still fully committed to the process of being an artist is truly a remarkable thing. In my eyes, they are heroes. Despite the harsh conditions and public disdain, these people have managed to continue to stay the creative course and remain artists in a country that resents them for it.