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Balance: Chief Cook, Bottle Washer, Caretaker ... and Artist

The demands of making a living as an artist and having a life

I lived in New Zealand in my teens. What began as a big adventure became a confusing cultural experience - as if being a teenager in high school was not enough. (There's many stories I could tell you about adapting to a new culture, but that's for another time.)

As I was about to prepare for my final exams, my mother became seriously ill. I am the oldest daughter in a family of five. My first born brother had already left home, so it fell to me to take over what my mother had handled seamlessly to keep our family life running smoothly.

Until then, my only responsibility had been to do well in school, take care of my room and belongings, and help out with household chores.

Suddenly I was chief cook, bottle washer and caretaker. I had a whole new appreciation of my mother's tireless and invisible role.

I cooked and cleaned and evenings I did my homework. I wish I had more arms, more energy and more hours in the day. I knew I couldn't come close to my mother's standards of cleanliness and order, but I couldn't even reach my own.

That's when I learned to delegate.

I gave each of my younger siblings a household task and taught them how to do it. We were all worried about my mother, so we did the best we could. I even taught my father how to iron his own shirts, and I can still see him doing so before he went to work.

I was relieved when my mother's health rebounded and I could return full time to finish the school year and prepare for university.

Life Interrupts Art

For many of my clients, there is no such resolution for the unexpected turns that life often takes. And sometimes temporary setbacks become permanent fixtures in an already crowded life.

More and more, I've been hearing from artists who can barely juggle making art, let alone do more art marketing or get better results in their art business. And then there's the rest of life calling ...

For a while, they do as I did - add the extra duties and worries to a plate that is already overflowing. Determination and denial become close friends as these valiant artists realize that they can't go on this way forever.

At some point, they realize that it's time to address the situation, define the new "normal" and figure out how to live there.

Please Adjust Your Set

Here's a pop quiz to see if you are at that point. Answer yes or no to each question.

  1. Are you finding it hard to fit in even an hour or two each week to make art? 
  2. Is it a tight squeeze to fit in free time with your family or friends? 
  3. Are you hoping that your website brings you enough buyers for your art and representation in galleries, without doing any other outreach? 
  4. Is your head aching every morning from multiple To-Do lists for all the parts of your life?   
  5. Are you up at night fretting and counting the things you didn't get done, instead of counting sheep?
  6. Are you missing deadlines, making mistakes or forgetting appointments more than once a month?
  7. Did you scramble to find receipts, bank statements and credit card records to file and pay your taxes?
  8. When you connect with your closest friends, do you find yourself talking most about feeling overwhelmed, over-worked and underpaid and only rarely about how wonderful life is? 
  9. Are you thinking that you may have give up on your dream of making a living from making art so you can have a life?

What was your score? Are you okay with that?

Yes, you are probably strong enough to keep on doing what you've been doing. You didn't come this far to give up now. And nor should you.

No, I'm not saying you have to give your future dreams, or abandon the goals that you've set for the next little while.

But I am advocating for a more whole person approach to your life as an artist.

    You deserve to have a life while you are making a living.
    Your art, career and your life do not have to compete.
    You can have it all, but not all at once.

Interrupt Your Day

So, you may not be able to change the life you have just yet but consider how you could make some space to "be" in the midst of all your "doing."

Want to give that a bit of a try?

If you are willing, here's what to do for the next 15 minutes:

  1. In the first 3 to 5 minutes, take 10 deep breaths where you focus on the air coming in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  2. In the next 3 minutes, read my blog post: "Balance: You have a right to a life while you make a living."  
  3. Do nothing for the remaining time. Notice where your mind goes.

Of course, this 15-minute break didn't make a dent in your workload. But the world did not fall apart and you got a brief respite.

You can take charge of your life as the competent creative artist and member of the human race that you are.

And maybe get a few hours more sleep or whatever else recharges your batteries.

Stay tuned this month and I'll fill you in on "Balancing Art, Life and Marketing" a brand new coaching program I've created to help you make a better living making art - and still have a life.

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Reader Comments (1)

I once had an 8 year long break between artworks. I've also had stretches of sporadic art production, grinding out stuff as I've been able to cram it into spare time, doing maybe a dozen measly, incoherent pieces in a year; year after year.

But that really is life...we're not art making machines, we're people; and we make art. Sometimes there are more important things than doing our artwork. We are multi-faceted beings, and our artwork is only one facet. Our other aspects must develop.

And then we return to our work with a deeper experience to draw from; a greater awareness of love, responsibility, and commitment; and making amazing, deep, beautiful and touching artworks.

Have a little faith, gird up your loins, and believe. This is going in a dynamic and profound direction for you. You will do great and powerful things. It will work. You will not fail if you do not quit. Having responsibilities is not quitting, it is being admirably strong.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thatcher

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