I recently read an article in the New York Times’ Style Section (I know, how bougie) concerning the way in which the outward impression of artists (in the US, especially) has changed, especially in the last 50 years.
It is no small secret that in the last few years and decades, in America, vocation-based schooling leading to vocation-based jobs has transitioned towards something towards which many people condescend.
In a world dominated by capitalistic ideals about getting rich as quickly as possible and staying rich as long as possible and flaunting being rich as often as possible, the concept of working a simple job seems antiquated.
Artists are now expected to be tortured in their attics, slaving away at all hours and only reappearing into the world as disheveled disasters waiting to wreak havoc on the ordinary people they run into.
I worked as a personal trainer for several years after my military service ended in 2012, but the entire time I worked as a trainer, I had in my mind that I was using it only as a vocation to get me towards my ultimate goal of composing.
There was an occasion where a friend and fellow trainer of mine and I were talking about the future and I asked her, “So, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” very strongly implying that this, training, was not it.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I mean, I think I’m doing it.” Naturally, I was completely flabbergasted by this idea.
How could anyone be satisfied with simply doing this one thing. Turning your hours in to dollars and your dollars into food (or beer ... or bills too, I guess).
There has seemed to become a much-romanticized view of what being an artist really is… or perhaps more accurately, what it isn’t.
I’d like to blame this on social media, and the ways in which we publicize our lives as being constantly whatever we’d like people to think that it is. I can’t be certain that that is accurate, however.
When I think of my favorite artists, I don’t think of them as the people they were, I think of them as the artists that created the art I love.
William Carlos Williams was a doctor to 80% of the people he met in his day-to-day life. T.S. Eliot was a banker. Charles Ives was an insurance salesman. Philip Glass worked as a plumber.
These people created fantastic works of art, simply by staying balanced.
William Carlos Wiliams wrote in his biography in 1967, “They are two parts of a whole. It is not two jobs at all … one rests the man when the other fatigues him.”
I wonder why this idea of living a life that has two distinct parts to it has gone the way of the dodo.
Why can’t an artist also rebuild cars? Why can’t a dancer also work as an electrician?
Why, when we decide we have an unmotivated love for one thing, why must we become only that one thing?
I see resistance to this in many places, as well. I mean, Robin Williams was given a rough go of it for trying to play a serious role in the film One Hour Photo. THE Robin Williams.
Once you put yourself before the world in one certain way, that then becomes the framework within which you must work; until world is tired of paying attention to you, in which case you can do whatever you’d like because nobody is looking anyway.
But my contention is also this: how is it any less important, as a creative person, that you understand how other parts of the world then work?
By all means, we should be specialized in our own fields, because only with technical facility can we clearly state the things we feel need to be said.
But by the same token, to completely dissociate from life in the pursuit of the things we think are more important will inevitably dissociate life from us as well.
I have a very strange-looking resume.
As a homeschooled student throughout my highschool years, I had the opportunity to pursue areas of study that interested me directly. My transcript upon graduation reads a bit like a grab-bag of subjects that all lasted a semester or two, save music theory and composition which stayed present throughout the last 5 years of my grade school.
I then spent 8 years in the US Marines, performing tasks as far ranging as raking sand in the desert (literally, and any Marines who have served in any desert will know what I mean), to instructing Marines in hand-to-hand combat, to arranging and composing music for various ceremonies and performances that I then performed on French horn.
My fitness industry career began directly after that, first as a need-based job, but also quickly took over my focus as I pursued several different certifications and absorbed as much understanding of both sales techniques and the human body as possible.
And all the while, nursing a history habit that I still haven’t been able to kick.
Eventually, I managed to get back to composing, but not until about 10 years had transpired between grade-school- and university-level study.
I say all of this not to toot my own proverbial (or literal) horn. But when I introduce myself to people in non-musical settings and tell them that I am a composer, I often get the reaction that I “don’t look like a composer.”
I’m not entirely certain what that means, and similarly I can’t tell to whom exactly it is insulting.
But it does, to me, demonstrate that there is still this overarching view of artists as being a specific sort of way.
What, exactly, SHOULD we look like? As artists, I mean. And why can’t an artist also look like two different artists at the same time.
I have been guilty of presuming judgement upon other artists’ second professions as well.
When some composers attempt to write their own libretto, I can barely restrain my eyes from rolling.
Just hire someone else who actually knows what their doing.
Stay in your lane.
Obviously, this is horrifically unhelpful feedback. Because, often, it seems that simply adding that second vocation is exactly what an artist needs to stay balanced in the first.
The exhaustion of one is the rejuvenation of the other.
And anyone who creates, knows that sometimes it takes a jump into another lane, or situation, or environment just to kickstart the process again.
And the ability to land on your feet when you do? That’s balance.