“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” or “Why I Don’t Have a Job”
“Shouldn’t the long term goal of any society be complete unemployment?” – Doug Stanhope, American stand-up comedian
I’ve come to realize that I never really wanted to work for anybody. However, the difference between somebody that’s unemployed and myself is that I have talent and a set of skills where I create things I can sell to people.
When I was younger I had dreams of getting involved in industries like comics or videogames. In college I thought I could go into graphic design and the advertising business. Then my tastes changed or things didn’t work out and I fell onto the path I’m on. As I look back at what my options could be, I see that I really wouldn’t be doing what I wanted to. Yes, I would be doing art for a living, but I would be part of a team that’s creating a product.
What I really wanted to do with my life as an independent artist is not a “real job”. It puts me and others like me on the fringes of society (not to mention it makes family members wonder when we’re going to grow up and get real jobs). By fringes I mean we’re not part of the traditional pattern of: attend college, earn a degree, and get a job with a company. We’re the rebels that get to sleep in, stay out late, work when inspiration strikes, and don’t have to answer to anybody but ourselves (except maybe somebody else’s lawyer occasionally).
While being an independent artist offers the freedom of not being a slave to someone, it comes with the frightening possibility of not having steady income.
In an ideal society people would live their lives as they wished. Any skills and talents they possess could be shared with others because it’s what they’re passionate about. A doctor would still help the sick and an engineer would still design machinery. A writer would still write and a dancer would still perform. We don’t live in a utopia though and we have to deal with the reality that we need money to live. To get money we need jobs. I’m sure a doctor and an engineer have very good chances of getting jobs they were trained for. They offer desirable skills that benefit society and are deemed important. I doubt a writer and a dancer are thought of the same way. Their chances of getting a job that pays regularly and also uses their talents aren’t as good.
Anyway, enough of that tangent. Let’s get back to me… (aren’t I vain?)
I might make sound like I’ve never had a job. That’s not true. After college I worked in non-profit arts administration for over seven years and did some freelancing on the side. Freelancing was often frustrating due to clients and arts administration is a different kind of animal than being an artist. Neither was as satisfying as doing the work I wanted to do. However, I didn’t go into this “job” without the security of having money saved up. The cliché of the starving artist is true and there isn’t a lot of money in art. Anybody who is crazy enough to be an artist without a day job knows this. Still, we are passionate about our work and want to play an enriching role in society. Sometimes the best way to do that is without any restraints.