I’ve always been an artist with other jobs. I’ve had fewer of them in the last few years; it’s been a gradual process of reclaiming more of my own time for art, and I seem to find myself at a point where I need to cut back on even the last, part-time seasonal job.
This is a funny thing. Realizing that my best financial prospects lie in the studio is encouraging. On the other hand, this may say more about my employment choices than any raging success as an artist. I’ve always chosen jobs that are seasonal or are easy to walk away from, exchanging freedom for modest wages.
When I was in college, I worked at a preschool, a sandwich shop, and a Quaker school. I spent two more years working at the school while taking more art classes and saving money for grad school. I worked at Arby’s in Austin, Texas (low point.) In grad school, pre-TA fellowship, I worked at a catering company, and after grad school in addition to adjunct teaching I worked in the fascinating huge kitchens of the Cornhusker Hotel. I worked with people who I really liked who I had absolutely nothing in common with (like jail) and learned to go along to get along with those I didn’t like. Summers working in Denali Park at Camp Denali paid for grad school and several winters of residency and studio time that followed.
My best job, ever, was the two winters I spent working at the Park Avenue Bakery in Helena, Montana, and I think I barely broke $8 an hour. I thought seriously for a while about bolstering up my non-art credentials with culinary school. I drove a small bus up the Dalton Highway with tourists for two summers. I spent a season as the baker at the South Pole. While there, I ran into an artist on their residency program who put me down so thoroughly for working in food service that I think I’ve spent the last twelve years proving her wrong. I taught adjunct at UAF and realized that although I love teaching, academia is not for me.
With Robin Solfisburg, revving up for the South Pole kitchen night shift.
I spent a summer working for my friend Laura in the early days of her wildly successful restaurant near Denali Park. I took care of seniors with dementia and other health concerns in their homes. I’ve cleaned the toilets at the Senior Center. I’ve worked spring seasons at a wonderful greenhouse and summers on friends’ vegetable farms.
I’ve always wanted to not work outside of art. It’s a big dream, and it’s not one that is secure enough for me to allow myself to think much further ahead than “RIGHT NOW I don’t need another job.” I won’t feel discouraged if I find myself back in the kitchen again, either. It’s good to have real world skills that can be pulled out if the proverbial fan gets hit. I also think that there is great value in learning how to manage your studio time around other jobs.
This is certainly only one way to skin the cat. I’ve had conversations with artists who feel like any time spent out of art or teaching art is degrading, and people who got so discouraged by the balancing act that they gave up the art. I’m not sure why I stuck with it, other than that I’m curious about all sorts of other things, and I never have felt like there is work that I’m too good for. If you are an artist who is trying to balance it all out, I hope this is encouraging. It can work.