You don’t have to be a working artist in order to live a creative life—the drive to explore and create is wired into us. As far as I’m concerned, it’s what makes us human.
Whether you’re called to paint, write, act, sing, knit, garden, cook, write elegant computer code, or anything else, when you don’t feed your creative hungers, things start to get haywire. This is true whether you define yourself as a financial analyst or a painter.
But what about being a responsible breadwinner? How do you reconcile your desire to play with your need to feed your family? Does it have to be an either-or proposition?
Believe it or not, even professional artists struggle with this one. I got this email the other day, and knew I had to answer it here (with his permission, of course).
I recently viewed your interview with Jennifer Louden. It struck a chord. Thank You.
I am an Artist (Visual) that has not been able to face the studio since my Dad passed away a year ago. I cannot paint the landscapes that made me steady money for years.
You mentioned being burned out after doing the art that was expected of you. That resonated the most.
I want to go to the studio and just throw paint glue down garbage, paint with my eyes closed etc, I want to give myself permission to fail. But as a Dad and breadwinner that seems irresponsible. I need to Change.
I hear you. That’s a tough place to be in. I’m so very sorry about losing your Dad.
One thing that helped me SO MUCH was giving myself the gift of Creative Sandbox time, where I get to try ANYTHING, fail all over the place, and just have fun.
Even fifteen minutes a day of playing in the Creative Sandbox helped me be able to face the business I had been so burned out on.
Does working in that business make me giddy with joy? No, but it’s tolerable now, even enjoyable sometimes. And meanwhile, my entire life is going better.
I’ve heard similar stories over and over from other people.
My friend, Elaine, works a 9-to-5 job that she’s good at and enjoys, but it doesn’t make her toes tingle and her eyes light up. Singing is her real passion. For a long time, though, her music languished on the back burner.
She had a wonderful husband and child, and life was rich in many ways, but it wasn’t until she joined a klezmer band a few years ago that things really began to blossom.
Her band performs only a couple of times a month, but the difference between her life before and after joining the band is like that iconic moment in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy steps out of the black and white of Kansas into the brilliant Technicolor of Oz.
Feeding her creative hungers helped her find the joy in the rest of her life.
If your landscapes are a great source of income, you may wish to keep that avenue open, at least for awhile. Giving yourself Creative Sandbox time could make the landscapes tolerable again—you won’t know until you try.
If playing in the sandbox does allow you to face painting landscapes again, even if you ultimately want to give them up entirely, that would help ease your transition. You’d effectively be running one business, while growing a new one around your current passions at the same time, like I’ve been doing.
Whatever you decide about painting landscapes, I am a firm believer that the Universe wants us to create. The hunger you feel to mess around in your studio is there for a reason, just like hunger for food.
Think about it: if we didn’t listen to our body’s cries to get us to eat, we’d starve to death! If there were no sexual desire, the human race would die out!
You were born to create. It’s what you’re on this planet to do.
And part of that creative process is allowing yourself to grow and evolve, to follow the whispers that call to you, even when they take you down a totally different path from the one you’re on!
This is our job as creators. If the work you were doing before feels stale to you, or if you’re burned out on it, believe me, other people can feel that, too. It is your responsibility to follow your muse and find your passion on its new path. (Click to tweet this!)
This is one of the biggest challenges of being an artist!
If our work becomes popular, people want more of the same. If we become bored with that sameness and start moving in new directions, our audience may complain, and we may lose customers.
This is scary!
But remember: people are always attracted to passion. (Click to tweet this!)
The customers who bought your landscapes may not be interested in whatever new experiments emerge from your studio, but there are people who will be.
I believe the most responsible thing we can do is put our own oxygen mask on first. (Click to tweet this!)
For me (and I suspect for you, given what you shared), my art is my oxygen mask. Yes, most of us (almost everyone, in fact) have to spend time at things that don’t light our fires, in order to put food on the table. So we need to find other ways to fuel our fires.
If we’re lucky, sometimes there’s some overlap there, but almost never is it 100%.
Sending you strength. I hope you’re able to give yourself that permission to fail. It doesn’t have to take over your entire art practice… yet! And you may be surprised by what happens when you do just throw paint around.
As I said, people are drawn to passion. They can sense burnout. You’re evolving. You’ll figure it out.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
This post is a beautiful response. When I lost my son’s father it impacted me and my work and gentle creative play and movement helped me get it back. Thank you <3
Melissa Dinwiddie says
My deepest condolences for your loss, Tanya. I’m glad that gentle creative play and movement helped you get back to your creative work. 🙂
I was burned out after making jewelry for decades and could not go in my playroom. For years I traveled doing craft shows and my body said no more. I was so tired.
I had a sale of my existing jewelry and told my customers I needed a break. Lots of them were mad at me. It was like I was their drug supplier, lol.
But soon after taking a break, I got a grant to learn bookmaking. That was what I needed – to learn something completely different. I’m now into fiber art and back into the jewelry.
My customers are happy again.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Ah, I love this story, Shimoda! I love that you were able to realize that you needed a break, and to take one — even though your customers were mad at you! And I love that you figured out that what you needed was to learn something different (I SO resonate with that!), and that you went on to do that! Woot! 🙂
Thanks Melissa I needed to read this today. “I don’t want to be irresponsible!” I’m at crossroads in my life right now! Art Is my oxygen. Up until now I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been in a comfortable position being able to balance my work (primary school teaching on a casual basis), pursuing my art and being a single mother. But now the writing is on the wall. I’m being told I need to go back to full time work. I know that going back to a full time teaching position I will not have the energy I have now into putting into my art. And I can’t imagine that life!! So I have a big, big decision to make. It is either or in my case. I have a house and am seriously contemplating selling it and going back to renting while I lease out a studio,offer art classes and pursue my passion. At this stage I can’t see another option. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Melissa.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
That’s a challenging place to be in, Fi. I know what it’s like to feel really trapped by financial circumstances. Sometimes it can push us to take a leap we never thought we’d be ready for. It’s always scary.
I wish you all the best in figuring this out. I know you will. xoxo
Thanks Melissa xX I’m sure I’ll work it out! 🙂
I think I was meant to land on your site for the first time today. I am another single mom teacher who only really cares about art work but can’t afford to be “irresponsible”. I just started a job teaching English online and I thought it would give me time to work in my studio, but so far it’s not working out that way–and the teaching job doesn’t even pay much at all!
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Welcome, Mary! It sounds like you’re in a very frustrating situation right now. I hear you. We all need to put bread on the table, and finding the “formula” that allows us to do that, while also allowing us to make our art, can take a LOT of trial and error.