Just Because I’m An Artist Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Work Pretty Damn Hard

“Passion over paycheck.”

It’s a catchy phrase, right?

You'd hear this phrase at a trendy art gallery where everyone who considers themselves remotely artistic can appreciate the fellow starving artist who made this comforting, relatable piece of typography.

“Yes, you get me, sir. The freedom to create comes at no price. Financial security is so pre-grad. What about your soul? Passion over paycheck forever.”

It's the Millennials' slogan, their Instagram bio, their inadvertently pretentious way of painting themselves as these altruistic, noble expressionists, no matter what society thinks.

But, the meaning behind the phrase makes me cringe, and so does the fact that we embrace it without thinking twice.

Passion over paycheck?

It creates this dichotomy by labeling the two as mutually exclusive, one or the other.

Business or pleasure? Soup or salad?

Pick one!

It makes all artists seem pleasure-seeking at all costs, namely, a financial one.

In actuality, there are a lot of people breaking their backs working as a “creative.”

But, “passion over paycheck” tells me that doing what you love comes at a sacrifice.

“Oh, you're a designer? A dancer? Those are not real jobs.”

I can't stand the connotation that being “a creative” means you relinquish any sort of responsibility as an actual contributor to society.

But, it's such a generationally nuanced idea that it would be impossible to challenge without examining its implications.

I'm determined to advocate for a better understanding of modern creatives because it's a topic that hits so close to home, and I tend to get very defensive. 

So, let's break it down.

The Dated View Of Only Respecting Work If It's Fundamentally Absent Of Fulfillment

In layman's terms, why does work have to suck, anyway? 

There are so many articles about how spoiled Generation-Y is because Millennials want to find jobs we love.

Well, I think it's ridiculous to think that we shouldn't.

That’s not me being “entitled.” I’m just saying I don't want to hate what I do so that my money can feel “earned.”

In the olden days, if you wanted to provide for your family, you worked on a farm or coal mine, and then you came home exhausted and smelling like cow sh*t.

That's the traditional way of viewing “work.”

Most people believe it’s supposed to suck and be hard. 

Now, people are starting to realize that it is possible to find joy in your career.

Yet, because a part of us holds on to that tradition, people who search for intrinsic value in their work are seen as unrealistic or spoiled.

But isn't one of the points of an advancing society for human beings to have a better standard of living?

Isn't the whole reason we're here to progress?

So, why is it such a shock that we'd prefer to find work we enjoy?

What's so wrong about expecting our jobs to not conflict with the level of happiness we're capable of achieving?

There is a silent, screaming desperation in all the workers who are unhappy with what they do.

Donuts in the break room and Casual Fridays are not going to make you love your job.

When I worked at my last job, I'd hate my life for eight hours a day and spend my entire paycheck online shopping to alleviate some of that misery.

I felt stuck there, caught in this cycle of being the office bitch by day and an excessive consumer by night.

What's crazier (or sadder) is that I thought this was normal.

I thought everyone cried during his or her lunch breaks.

I thought it was understood that your paycheck came at the cost of your mental health.

But it's not.

You don't ever have to degrade yourself for anything, and you especially don’t have to for an outdated tradition and destructive view on what “work” should be.

Money earned through struggle is not the only legitimate way money is earned.

The Idea That Human Beings Are Exclusively Left- Or Right-Brained

We've become a society that's reflexively trained to judge people based on their occupations, and we’re obsessed with labels for arbitrary personality traits.

The first point needs little explanation.

The first question you hear at any party post-college is, “So what do you do?”

The second point is about our affinity for attaching ourselves to certain labels.

“I'm an introvert!”

“I’m a vegan!”

“I’m a Delta Kappa!” 

“I'm left- or right-brained!”

We take pride in being something.

“I'm left or right brained!”

So combine those two social habits, and what do we get?

The idea that your job can sufficiently describe if you are either right- or left-brained.

I'm not saying your personality has nothing to do with what you pursue. Of course it does.

But, your job is not the entirety of your identity.

So, when people view accountants as boring, or they dismiss creatives as blubbering hippie idiots, I need to interject.

Yeah, you may be more predominantly left- or right-brained, but guess what?

We all have whole brains.

And what does this mean?

We are all whole people.

I have friends who have to highlight their analytical, “left brain” side at work, but they are some of the biggest goofballs ever.

There are mathematicians who paint, and lawyers who dance.

On the flip side, there are tremendously talented, creative “right-brained” friends who are rational, verbal and organized as well.

It's unfair to see a part and assume it is the whole.

You cannot prematurely and erroneously take someone's job description and pigeonhole that person to fit a category.

Do creatives have left brains? Yeah, we have 'em, too.

Don't you worry.

The Idea That Creative Work Is Purely Creative

This is directly related to previous concept.

Creative workers, no matter what avenue their area of creative expertise may be, are for damn sure doing more than what you see.

I'll use an exaggerated example to highlight my point. 

Beyoncé is a singer. But physically, actually “singing” probably doesn't even make up half of her day.

She's an entrepreneur, a business tycoon, a cultural influencer, a PR specialist and a damn professional.

Along the same lines, I'm a writer. I love writing.

But, there are a million tasks on my to-do list that have little or nothing to do with writing.

I manage calendars. I edit.

I deal with clients, contracts, invoices and Excel sheets for days.

I had to learn coding, and I generally do a lot of things that are not writing.

I'm a writer in the sense that my main job is to tell stories, expose influence or share.

I put the words together that could hold some power to an individual or group of people.

But, telling a story requires more than me typing for eight hours a day.

For freelance creative workers especially, not only are they working to hone their crafts, but they’re their own agents.

You're forced to be a business person, a negotiator and a professional corresponder.

That's a lot.

Artists don’t just create art out of nothing.

We grind outside of it to create it.

The Level Of Difficulty And Amount Of Sacrifice Inherent To Creative Work

One thing we forget when looking at works of art is that it takes talent, time, effort and vulnerability to have created it.

We appreciate the product, but overlook the process.

The reality is, artists train, study and obsess over their craft. And it's hard.

You can't quantify such different fields, but I want to argue that researching your art is just as demanding as med school or law school, which are ventures that would never be societally dismissed as “easy.”

But, artists are not seen as hardworking as doctors or lawyers.

Why is art taken as a joke so often? Why is our creative process so overlooked?

For me, I'm cool with the “school” part of it. I’m always reading (that's the writer's form of training).

Reading is, if anything, the enjoyable part of the work.

But, creative work often calls for vulnerability and sacrifice.

This is true for any human being. Self-expression is not a walk in the park.

Putting yourself out there is nerve-wracking as hell because you're exposing your interpretation of something.

This can pertain to a person, a concept, an object or an event.

Honesty is f*cking terrifying.

But, creative workers are fearlessly exposing themselves, day after day, after day.

It's our jobs to follow our curiosities, so trust in them.

Yes, it's lovely, but they can take a toll.

The best artists are the most adept at communicating.

My favorite writers can help the reader relate to and understand an idea, challenge them, reach into some core feeling that they had and use their talents to bring it out.

I always say I don't strive to be a beautiful writer.

I strive to be an honest writer.

I want to leave people thinking, “How did she know that about me?”

It’s a response that only comes when I put myself way, way out there. 

No one looks good in his or her darkest hours.

But those hours are what people need to know exists in others, too.

If I have ever made anyone feel less alone through my words, I have done my job.

The difficulty in “exposing” pales in comparison to the rewards. 

But, let's talk sacrifice.

I tied my success as a writer so intimately with my self-worth as a person.

My work was my reality, and it was my identity.

Because of this, I held such a high standard for everything I produced.

This is a good trait, but this type of perfectionism can be dangerous to anyone's psyche.

I devote myself to words.

So, it feels like a personal insult when my work is not well-received, or worse, ignored.

For everyone who thinks that everything artists do is enjoyable, know that it's not. 

There's a lot of bitch work, and the parts that are indeed art can become dangerous for us.

Creative work is not only difficult in its process, but it also demands a lot of personal sacrifice and a never-ending emotional quest.

The Fear Your Parents Will Not Support Your Dreams To Be An Artist

This is such a general modern script: Boy enrolls in school and discovers he wants to pursue art, but his parents are against it

He is torn: passion or paycheck?

Wanting to pursue art doesn't just come with sneers from society. It comes directly from the closest people in our lives.

Not only do we have to deal with stigmas, but we also have to rationalize to our parents why we don't want to be pharmacy technicians.

Maybe I'm fortunate to have grown up with more liberal-minded parents, but my parents have always stressed the importance of my well-being and happiness over money. 

Yes, our parents push us, and it seems they often believe being rich equals being successful.

But that's not true.

Through struggle and tradition, they've grown conditioned to believe that money is happiness.

Realistically, financial stability is a huge factor in both well-being and happiness.

The trick is being able to attain both, and challenge the older generations' view on art as an impossible source of income.

My mom knows that I don't thrive on materialistic goods.

There were times when I was being spoiled rotten by family, boyfriends and my well-paying job.

But, not one of those gifts made me as happy as the freedom to express myself.

She knows how much I adore writing.

Once I started to show her my published works, she was over the moon.

I thrive on ideas, expression and connection.

Yes, money is important, but they're not going to buy me my kind of happiness.

Once our parents see our successes, how can they possibly not support our dreams?

I'm not asking everyone to start giving mad respect to all artists everywhere.

Support them, try to understand them and pay respect for the work and sacrifice they're making, just as you would any other occupation.

Being an artist is, after all, a real job.

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Jessica Ma