“You’re not a real artist. If you were, you would be working at a cafe, living in Brooklyn, and living off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
This inane comment was thrown my way by a barista at my favorite coffee shop a few years ago. In his opinion, if I were truly dedicated to my art I would quit my day job. I would experience more struggle and suffering as I tried to live off my art.
There were so many things wrong with his statement that I almost don’t know where to begin. So let’s start with the obvious:
- No one knows what anyone else goes through. We all have our own lives, we all make our own choices, and we all have our own stuff to deal with.
That could be the beginning and end of it. To make an assumption of what does or doesn’t validate who I am based off of where I get my paycheck is utter crap. But for fun, let’s dig deeper and see what else was wrong with his statement:
- I’m assuming he thought I should quit my day job and work at a cafe so I’d have more time for my art. Here’s the thing: I was working a job that was a steady 9-6, Monday-Friday. That gave me plenty of evening and weekend hours to write. Time wasn’t an issue at all.
- He thought my choice to live in Manhattan was an attempt to have a nice lifestyle – as if living in Brooklyn would save me enough money to allow me to quit my day job. NOPE. I had 4 roommates (read: I paid less rent than anyone I knew in New York) and living in Manhattan gave me a short commute from work (read: more time for writing).
- He thought that I generally needed to decrease my lifestyle so that, again, I could quit my job for my art. What he didn’t know was that I was already living off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, even with my day job. It’s called having student loans.
I know I’m not the only person who’s been dealt a blow like this. What is it about being an artist or a creative that makes people feel like they can have so many loud opinions about how we live our lives?
And while it can come from friends who don’t identify as artists or creatives, sometimes the worst of it comes from other artists.
It’s time to stop.
There’s No Right or Wrong Way to Be an Artist
Let’s get straight to the point: there’s no right or wrong way to be an artist. It doesn’t matter if you have a day job. It doesn’t even matter if your day job is the furthest thing from creativity there is.
The way you pay your bills does not validate or invalidate your status as an artist.
Where you live does not validate or invalidate your status as an artist.
The type of art you create does not validate or invalidate your status as an artist.
If anyone tries to tell you that your art isn’t “art” enough or that your job is not the right type of job for an artist to have, well, you know where to tell them to go.
There’s only one thing that can validate your status as an artist: doing your art.
To Be An Artist, Do Your Art
It’s been five years since that conversation and it’s pretty obvious that it still bothers me.
But it doesn’t bother me anymore because I feel invalidated, it bothers me because it sucks.
There is no reason to judge the way another person chooses to pursue their art or to live their life. And to think we understand one another’s decisions just by looking at the surface is downright wrong.
Shouldn’t we be lifting each other up, not pushing each other down? I think so – and I’m lucky enough to now know many other people who feel that way too.
I feel for the girl I used to be. I always thought I couldn’t call myself a writer until someone paid me to write. Never mind the fact that I wrote before and after work every day and all day every weekend. I didn’t think it “counted.”
Now that I’m older and have more confidence in myself, I know how incredibly wrong I was to think that. Doing the work of my art is what made me an artist.
Who cares if I had to work a day job to pay the bills? I chose a day job because I knew my writing would be best served by a predictable schedule and a predictable salary. I knew I would do better work if I focused on fulfilling my basic needs first.
I should have given myself credit for having so much self awareness about my needs and what would work best for my art. But instead, I let that comment get to me.
I didn’t need help from anyone else to invalidate me. I was doing that enough myself. What I really needed was someone to encourage and support me (and to tell me that getting paid to write isn’t the only way I can call myself a writer).
If anyone tries to judge you for the way you do your art, understand that it’s coming from a place of insecurity. We only pass judgement when we need our way of thinking to be validated. When we feel secure in our way of thinking, we’re able to be open to new ideas and even ideas that challenge that.
No matter what anyone says, be true to your art by doing the work of your art. That’s all that matters. That’s what makes you an artist.