People often confuse low waged careers and jobs with unemployed or being lazy, but it couldn’t be further from the truth, particularly for artists.
Creating takes time, energy, commitment and fortitude. Writing a book, a script, auditioning for roles and parts in film, television plays and cartoons, maintaining social media, reading, keeping up- all the chores one must do in order to stay in an arts career which requires time, money, hard work, imagination and desire.
Being an actor means photographs must be updated, union fees paid, IMDB accounts and other online casting sources must also be paid. Clothing must be bought for auditions, make-up, readers for hire and studios must be rented for self tapes and other work- all out of pocket for the artist. I haven’t even discussed the time it takes to read scripts, prepare ones interpretation of a character and memorize lines to be ready for the audition/job interview which can take anywhere from hours to days or even weeks depending on roles, callbacks, travel and more- the work that must be done in order to maintain a working actors career. I’m not talking about stardom or fame, I’m talking about craft and maintenance, about careers.
When people wonder what artists do with our days, we are busy. We are doing all that I mentioned in the previous paragraph and more. If one is also a writer (which I am), it requires creative time, thinking, writing, rewriting, organizing, writing letters, queries, trying to build platforms, reaching out to industry people, attending events and spending more money. Supplies must be purchased, technology and computers must be functional, updated and maintained. The work we do is necessary in order to complete a piece that can be presented to the public for purchase or hiring and sometimes that work never makes it to the public, but it does not mean that the work, time and effort was not made.
“Go get a job or a real job” is simply insulting to people who have had long standing careers in the arts and while many do take part time work or additional jobs to pay bills while we write, audition, take courses and create, it does not mean that we are not hard working people with possibly decades of experience and professional careers. You may not recognize our labour as work or as a career but it is, and every bit as hard earned as any other.
Next time you meet an artist, particularly someone who is above the age of forty, be kind, expand your mind. Think outside of the narrow confines and boxes our culture has created in the corporate world or the 9 to 5. The world is filled with unique individuals who are hard working, even when we have little to no money, it does not make our lifes work any less valuable or meaningful than those who have steady 9-5 jobs in the corporate world. Our work, in fact, is the stuff that lifts a culture, usually in times when people need escape, entertainment, or reflections of themselves with respect to gender, race, LGBT life, stories that reflect our own lives and make us all feel, think and sometimes help change the world through a documentary, a poem, song, story, book or film, a photograph that inspires or jogs a memory that allows us to cry or laugh, relate, play, cherish, love, grieve, heal and feel inspired.
Our lives have meaning and our jobs include unseen labour that often has little pay. Sometimes we make a lot of money and sometimes we do not. It is the nature of the work and life of an artist. So be mindful. Support the artist. Don’t patronize, belittle or shame someone for not living inside the narrow boxes expected. Buy a painting, a book, go to a play, ask questions about the work, become informed, recognize the person, passion and output. There is much value in recognizing each others paths and lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. Story telling matters in all forms. I would even argue that story telling is one of the most important gifts we have because it is in the telling of stories that we learn about history, people, animals, justice, cultures, equity and so much more.
I won’t even bother discussing the life of an activist, ha, talk about output without pay!
I am personally drawn to all of it, art, activism, writing, acting, speaking, creating, being part of change. It’s a gift. I see my own gifts and I see yours too.
And a small plug, my memoir is being published in the fall. Please pick up a copy when Walking Through Glass hits the shelves in Sept. 2016. It took a lot of time, heart and belief to do what felt like the impossible.
Thank you for reading this post.