Value The Cake [on Two Artists Tuesday]

available copy

When you choose an artist’s path the odds are you will always be looking for work. In the United States it is the rare artist that makes their living through their artistry. Staying afloat requires a layer-cake-strategy: the bottom layer is the job you take to make money (waiting tables). The second layer is the job you take that somehow relates or comes close to the artistry (teaching). The top layer, the holy grail layer, is the art itself. Few artists resent or resist this reality. They are called to it. It’s more a question of who they are than what they choose to do. It’s also true that few artists survive the hardship beyond the age of 30.

In my life I have dug ditches, cleaned chicken coups, delivered bread, unloaded mattresses from semis, waited tables and been licensed as a massage therapist (to name only a few). I’ve been credentialed twice, been an adjunct professor a few times, founded an experiential learning program, been a general manager and managing director of theatre companies, and an artistic director twice. I’ve had a consulting practice, an international coaching practice, run around in the world of entrepreneurs, drawn cartoons and children’s books. I’ve painted all my life. I’ve directed plays and written plays. I have seven book outlines in my files, none of which will make it to a final form. I’ve performed with symphonies, written and told stories at conferences. At this point, I have a very hard time answering the dinner party question, “So, what do you do?”

What do I do? My friends in Seattle used to tell me that I was the most successful unsuccessful person that they knew. Yes. I am an artist.

If I answer the dinner-party-question with the truth, I am an artist, the inevitable follow-up question,”Do you make a living doing that?” used to make me cringe and feel as though I needed to hide or make excuses for my life. Or lie. “Well, I have this layer cake…” Last year my dear friend, Dwight, popped back into my life for an evening. He asked the question and I started the old tap-dance. I thought if I talked long enough I might find credibility in the eyes of my friend. And, then I remembered that the life lesson is not to find credibility in my friend’s eye, but in my own. I stopped the dance and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” We laughed.

I do know this: I am an artist. I chose this path and it chose me. Sometimes I make money through my work. Mostly I do not. I’ve tried putting that piece of myself on the shelf in the closet and I failed. I can’t do it. Artistry, for me, is about much more than making paintings or plays. It is not something I do. It is something I am. It’s a path, a way of fully living this life.

I am in the job hunt cycle again. Writing resumes feels akin to answering the dinner-party-question. How can I make you see that I have value when the only value you recognize is monetary? I can’t. How can I make potential employers see value in my rich diverse set of experiences and, therefore, skills, when the bot weeds me out because I am not singular? I can’t. What the HR-world sees as unfocused is, in actuality, a hyper focus. How can I make the HR-world see the rich value of an artist when they only understand the word as an ego-uplift-phrase for hard working sandwich makers? I can’t.

I just read this question: what are the limits you have set for your life? Many years ago I worked with a man. He owned a tent and party supply business. He worked very, very hard. He drank too much. He bought the business on the day he forever stopped playing his trumpet for a living. I asked if he ever missed playing. He looked away and said, “I can’t think about it.”

I think about it everyday. And, luckily for me, I know beyond doubt that my artistry is central, essential. It is who I am, not what I do. It is not a word I’d pair with “sandwich.” It is what calls me beyond limits. It serves as a constant threshold. It stirs me, challenges me, causes me to listen deeply and feel keenly. It requires me to take chances. It asks me to open my eyes and see beyond what I think. Is there value in that?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS (sandwich and otherwise)

 

donnieandmarie uke website box copy

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: