If you're an american adult, you've undoubtedly asked a new acquaintance 'what do you do?'. The question actually means 'what do you do for work?' . This ubiquitous question shows how completely we equate occupation with identity. If you are interested in art, but don't make it your career, you might find yourself struggling to find an answer to this question. In this week's post I'm going to explore the idea of art as a hobby - and what it might mean for your sense of identity.
Some jobs have high prestige like Doctor, Lawyer, and Musician - while other, more common, jobs have lower prestige. Whether or not these jobs deserve such high prestige is a different topic, but it's hard to argue that all jobs are seen as 'equally impressive'. So if you're working in retail or food service, is there shame in only perusing art as a hobby? No. Absolutely not. It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that your art is less important when not overlapping your career - but this is not a good way to look at it. There are a variety of reasons that art is equally awesome when pursued as a hobby, so let's take a look at some of them:
When art is your job, you're going to do a lot of it. Whether or not you're having a 'good drawing day', you'll be expected to produce for eight or more hours each work day. Over years of this pace, commercial artists can begin to get burnt out. Any activity, when done for long enough, can begin to lose its charm. Is burnout a guarantee? No. Does it happen? Yes. I don't have exact statistics to back up this claim, but the average tenure of video game artists is surprisingly low - in the neighborhood of 5 years. Even though the industry is relatively new, that's an extremely low number. I've spoken with tons of video game artists, and a number of VX artists, and burnout is be a very real factor.
2) Creative Control
When it's your job to produce art, you rarely have the ability to call the shots. Other than gallery art, getting paid to create generally means strict guidelines. Some artists thrive with tight limitations, but others find it stifling. I've heard numerous stories of animators leaving the studio environment to create independent graphic novels. As fun as the animation work was at first, eventually the lack of creative control outweighed their financial security. Indie graphic novels and web comics reverse this formula - offering total creative control with significant financial risk.
3) Other Interests
We all hear stories of artists painting with monk-like devotion. Though these artists exist, most actually have other interests and pursuits. There's no shame in deciding that you are passionate about art, but also passionate about another field such as science or law. If this is the case, electing to work as a scientist and create art as a hobby might make a lot of sense. It's tempting to think of art as a very black and white activity: you're either a master or a nobody. In my opinion this is an unhealthy frame of mind - it's a total gradation. Choosing a different profession doesn't mean you're giving up on art, or that you're any less entitled to the label 'artist'.
Sense of Self
My wife and I often talk about the intersection of art and identity. When I'm having a bad drawing day, it can throw me into a negative mood. Likewise, a great drawing can empower me and create an emotional high. On a larger scale art can become a sense of identity - I think of myself as an artist, even though I have a variety of interests. All of this comes dangerously close to the question 'what do you do?'. I'm not going to claim to have an answer to this issue. It's something that I, and other artists, struggle with it all the time. So if you're having trouble separating the two concepts know that you're not alone. The best advice I can give is to de-emphasize the importance of career labels. There's nothing wrong with identifying as an artist - in fact, I encourage it - but don't get hung up on the distinction between 'artist' and 'professional artist'.
What do You Do?
This article offers more questions than answers. For this reason, let's open up this conversation in the comments. I'd love to hear personal experiences dealing with art, identity, and career mindset. These are big questions, so let's start a conversation!