Work is Good: UPDATED
Not everyone is cut out to be a professional creator. If you don’t make money at art, that does not mean you are not an artist.
A professional creator has a specialized skill set in addition to making pictures and writing words: the ability to meet the demands of others, work under pressure, entrepreneurial skills. A professional creator makes at least half a living wage from art.
A career as a creator is difficult, and relatively rare. Less than 1 in 300 people in America work in the creative arts, and of that number, many are producers, editors, performers, and technical workers. Very few are cartoonists. Of them, only a fraction make a full-time living in the arts.
EDIT: This direct link to the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a chart with about 1% of Americans working in the arts (1.8 million out of a 160,000,000 work force.) However, the BOL considers sports, news, public relations, and other peripherally related occupations to be “arts and entertainment” inclusive. The actual numbers -and income averages – for fine artists, graphic designers, writers, animators, and craftsmen are quite different. Full-time employed creators in each area number in the few thousands. Click the links provided for a closer look. Estimates do not include the self employed.
Some creators are embarrassed by their inability to have the kind of success in their field they would prefer. Sometimes they conflate their income and credits, or hide the fact that they have other jobs to support their art. A number of writers and artists of my acquaintance claim that any show of weakness scares off potential clients. They feel they have to appear to be more successful than they are to attract more work.
I don’t respect this position. In addition to being dishonest, it can give potential clients a false impression of the commercial potential of your work. Surely there is a way to convince a client you are the right person for the job without lying about your sales and income potential.
There is no shame in not being able to work full time at what you love. Most people can’t do it. The markets change. Public tastes change. Technology changes. Model makers find their jobs replaced by CGI. Colorists can’t get work unless they buy expensive equipment and spend a year learning a new skill. Writers are out at newspapers.
Aspiring creators dream of the day when they will get their big break, only to be confronted by the reality that wanting a thing is sometimes not as attractive as having a thing.
Here is a letter I received from someone in the publishing industry who wishes to remain anonymous. This letter is reprinted with permission. Personal details were redacted.
I enjoyed your post on artists and of course, agree with you 100%. Personally, I’m a writer. I can doodle, but I can’t draw on any kind of professional level. I made a choice in high school. Writing would be the focus. I figured I could always partner with someone to get something going.
Now obviously, during my — days, I dealt with a lot of creative people with various levels of business savvy. So I’d like to think I’m not naïve. Once I (left — ) I also went back to the writing. I’m currently revising my Young Adult novel and talked with an agent who might be interested. But at the same time, I love comics and would love to write them.
So I’ve talked to a couple of hungry artists about collaborating and sharing ownership on some of my ideas, because I know how much creation the visual side takes. And because I know I can’t get anywhere without a decent artist. So I have pitched various ideas to various guys, they get excited, really want to work on something, really want to get it going. And then they have to do designs or whatever and it just goes quiet. And I prod and they are polite, but still make no time to do this work.
These guys who swear this stuff is a passion with them, who swear they are interested, just can’t get anything going. And this is why they will never get anywhere in this business. Because they don’t want to do the hard part. They just want something great handed to them.
I’m just venting, but I knew you would understand what I am talking about. I’m glad not all artists are like this.
A professional artist rightly expects material reward for our work. It is how we make a living.
A non-professional has the advantage of working only at their pleasure, and the disadvantage of having to work at something else all day in order to earn the leisure time to make the art.
The professional artist has the advantage of being able to make art all day for a living, and the distinct disadvantage of finding that some of their art may not be very commercial, that it has to be produced or sold in sufficient quantity to pay all living expenses, and has to be produced in line with the expectations of others, even when those expectations are not necessarily very attractive to you, the artist.
Once upon a time, you wanted to make art.
One day, you had to make art.
And then it wasn’t as much fun anymore.
A professional artist risks losing the love of their art when they are expected to produce it when they don’t feel like it. The non-professional only has to produce when they feel like it. The non-professional may (or may not) enjoy a sense of leisure when they make art. The professional may also enjoy making art, but the art is also work that brings food to the table and puts a roof over the head.
Not every artist can take that kind of pressure. Almost every amateur artist cracks very early on.
It’s one thing to see a professional artist getting hammered by criticism on the net. Quite another thing when it happens to you. It’s one thing to imagine the millions of dollars Todd McFarlane makes drawing comics. Quite another thing when you get in the business and realize just how rare that is…and how hard it is to keep those millions. It’s one thing to make a popular comic once. Quite another thing to do it year in and year out for the next 40 years.
A professional produces on demand, on time, regularly. A non-professional never has to.
Some people want the acclaim of having been a professional artist without actually having to put forth the effort to be one.
There is no material reward without work. There is no material reward without risking the sting of public criticism. There is no material reward without facing rejection. There is no material reward without investment.
And sometimes, after all of that, there is no material reward.
That is what being a professional artist is like.
For the non-professional, the career in art is as mythical and romantic, and unattainable as Shangri-La. Get too close and it’s the sight of an orchid blooming in a dump.