I know an artist who makes a living from his artwork, his digital marketing and graphic design abilities, and occasional other freelance gigs.
The geometric abstractionist Piet Mondrian painted conventional still lifes for money, while pursuing his vision on the side, the one that brought him to museums around the world.
Says The Art Story:
A theorist and writer, Mondrian believed that art reflected the underlying spirituality of nature. He simplified the subjects of his paintings down to the most basic elements, in order to reveal the essence of the mystical energy in the balance of forces that governed nature and the universe.
(He painted in a three-piece suit.)
Director Quentin Tarantino famously worked at a video store for five years. From Wikipedia:
“[Tarantino] was such a movie buff. He had so much knowledge of films that he would try to get people to watch really cool movies.”
Let your day job/night job inform your dream job!
Had George Orwell not paid keen attention during his drab workingman years, we’d never been given the gift of Down And Out In Paris And London . . .
When actress Shirley MacLaine landed her first big paycheck from a movie she purchased a small apartment building. It may have been only 4 or 5 units, but it was large enough to house her and kindle some rent income should her acting, singing and dancing career fall on hard times. Later she branched out further, penning a series of successful books on her spirited spiritual experiences.
(To this day I think of an evening bath as a spiritual practice. Thank you, Shirley!)
“Thriving artists just don’t live off their art. Like good investors they keep diverse portfolios, relying on multiple income streams to make a living.”
~ Jeff Goings
Real Artists Don’t Starve
Here’s a novel interpretation of your day job (for those who’d rather be doing something else). Jeff Goins, from Real Artists Don’t Starve:
MONEY IS THE MEANS TO MAKING ART, BUT IT MUST NEVER BE THE MASTER.
The second economy is what Lewis Hyde calls the gift exchange economy, which he argues is the place where creativity tends to thrive.
“The essential commerce of the creative spirit is a gift exchange economy,” he said.
Art, he argues, is a gift, not a commodity. It is not a good you create and hope to get paid for — that’s not how it has worked for most of human history, anyway. For thousands of years, the primary model for art-making was a gift exchange one. Only recently did we start thinking art was something we could charge money for.
In 1983, Lewis Hyde published a book called The Gift, which has since become a modern classic and underground bestseller among creatives. The book explains why many modern artists struggle to make a living off their work: art is a gift, and since we now live in a market economy, there is going to be a disconnect. In the market, people don’t pay for gifts; they pay for commodities. So you must find a way to get paid for the art.
There are three ways to do this.
First is that path of the commercial artist in which you sell your art directly to the market. “It’s a wonderful day when an artist can do their work and make money off of it,” Hyde told me. This is not impossible, but it is far from the norm.
Second is the traditional patronage model where a wealthy benefactor is willing to pay for your livelihood as you do your work. Again, this is a rare occasion and not something to count on.
Third is the path of self-patronage in which you find a way to support the work yourself. “The most common solution to the disconnect between art and commerce,” Hyde explained, “is to get a second job.”
(Bold highlights are mine.)
An apt statement to this effect is Your day job enables your dream job. It seems like an Austin Kleon dictum (see this on keeping your day job, for example) . . . but I haven’t been able to find the exact quote. Someone somewhere was pithy on this point, about your day job ultimately begetting your dream job. If I’m able to find the source I’ll come back and note it here.
I love how Jeff Goins puts it above: Self patronage.
When we think of it this way, any job we have that keeps us in avocado toast and shelter while we tackle our art at the margins is a dream enabler.
Someone: What work do you do?
You: Dream enabling.
Someone: I thought you moved furniture.
You: Well, that too.
Office and toilet cleaner, paper boy, yard guy, tire changer, valet, ranch hand, dishwasher, busboy, waiter, proofreader, graphic designer, manager, art gallery owner . . . they all were stepping stones into my creative career.
It makes it more worthwhile, doesn’t it, to frame it that way: To work so you can act as your own patron for your dream career.
In today’s world, every creator who doesn’t have a Theo — as Vincent van Gogh did — can engage in self patronage. In fact, you must.
Check out this book:
Real Artists Don’t Starve:
Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age