We have this romantic notion of the “starving artist.” As though somehow it’s noble to lose everything in pursuit of an art. In fact, an artist that makes money is often labeled as a sellout. Do we ever call a doctor a sellout for working in a private practice instead of traveling with Doctors Without Borders? Do we ever expect an accountant to give his services for free until he’s established himself with a CPA firm? No. But every day actors, musicians and visual artists are asked to work for free, or looked down on for “selling out” and doing a commercial or signing with a major label or even teaching.
But artists need the same creature comforts and securities everyone else does. How do we reconcile our need and drive to create with our basic needs of food, shelter, healthcare and retirement plans? And how do we maintain our sense of artistic self in the toxic money-making machine of the arts industries? Even when we’re working & selling our art, it’s a struggle. A friend of mine was in an audition waiting room with a very famous older actress, and as she went into the room, she turned to him and said, “60 fucking years in this industry & I’m still auditioning; I’m sick of this shit.” There is no level of security.
I, as an artist, have conflicting views towards money. I vary between denying that it’s important (“I can live frugally and just be a nomad selling art and doing theatre – I don’t need stuff – money is made to be spent!”) and freaking out when I realize it IS important (“Oh my God what do you mean I have to pay $800 to fix my car??! And rent is, ahem, HOW much!!??”).
I’m a nester. I’m a Taurus. I need a home space and some level of comfort and stability to balance my adventurous streak. In other words, when my tour around Europe (hee hee we’re talking dreams now) ends, I need a lovely little home waiting for me with down pillows and my things. I need walls on which to hang the pictures I took on my world trip.
I don’t want money to rule my life. I see so many people my parents age (and recently, a lot my age too – scary) who feel trapped in jobs they hate because they’ve over-mortgaged their lives. They choose the big house and nice car over a career they love or a life they actually get out and live. I’m not judging, those are their choices, but they’re not the choices I want to make. Unfortunately, I think sometimes I’m so afraid of ending up that way that I shut myself off to a lot of options.
And then there’s the lure of Hollywood money… Let me just tell you, the movie I was just in paid as much in 2 days as I used to make in one month at my full-time day job. And I was a dirt cheap hire. But the gap between those that work steadily at that rate or more, and those that have to empty their purses for the chance to book one of those jobs a year is the size of the Grand Canyon.
All this said, though, I actually am pretty good with my finances. I never used a credit card until after college, and I really only use it when I’m traveling or for emergencies (which has actually proved to be a BAD thing because our society’s backwards in that if you have no debt, no one will loan you money). I am queen of bargain shopping; I even buy my groceries at the 99cent store (don’t knock it til you try it!). I always have a savings account which, though it doesn’t have much in it normally, is easily forgotten and therefore left alone to it’s direct deposits and interest accrual. And somehow, in 2009 on a net income of somewhere around $20,000, I managed to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, travel to Grand Cayman, fly cross country twice, and travel through Australia for 4 months. Don’t ask me how. I might be magic.
I guess, ultimately, I’d like a job that is creative (not passively creative like, “I have to think outside the box so solve problems” but actively, imaginatively creative) that is always changing so I don’t get bored, and which provides me with the financial security to be a crazy, stuff-shunning nomad and then come back to my home like a little nesting bird. I respect money’s importance in our society, but I don’t like it. I want to love my job, but I want to work to LIVE.