As research for a book I’m writing, I’m interviewing lots of artists. Some have been creating art for years; others are just beginning to experiment. Some make a living from their art; others never will (and not all of them even want to). But this question of making a living from art came up in a recent interview with a guy from New York.
For most of his adult life, this guy has been a businessman. His resume includes titles such as “founder” and “CEO,” which might explain his point of view with respect to what it means to be a “real” artist: A real artist makes a living from his or her art.
This definition of sorts came up in conversation in a way that demonstrated his modesty – that he was not a real artist (as are several of his relatives). Instead, he was just experimenting. He was looking for a creative outlet. He wanted to engage in some act of self-expression. But I had to ask: Isn’t that what real artists do?
But, as eager as I was to point that out to him, I find myself sometimes projecting the same money-oriented value on my writing. I remember very clearly how, upon getting my first paid gig as a writer, I declared that I was finally a “real” writer! I would sometimes correct myself and substitute “professional” for “real,” but I was surprised at how difficult that substitution was.
I think that equating “professional” and “real” leads to some of the confusion around the subject – that and the fact that in our society, we use money as a surrogate for value. Though the cost of something actually is determined by a great many things, in the end things that cost a lot are generally considered valuable, and those that are inexpensive (or free)… well, not so much. And yet, there is no way to assign a monetary value to the things that many of us value most in life – friends, love, health, truth, freedom.