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Work Versus Making Art: The Dimes Define The Difference

Can creatives benefit from the nine to five schedule?

Key points

  • Creatives often begin a project with no clear deadline, but the due date would likely be upheld if that painting were for a specific client.
  • Employees know what tasks they must complete. Makers would benefit from knowing the steps first and knowing when they can break the rules.
  • According to Ira Glass, creatives/makers/artists become discouraged when they measure their early work with the yardstick of the masters.

In my constant search for strategies to be more productive, I stumbled on CreativeLive and Hanna Brooks Olsen's blog post "Art As A Job: Why You’re Not Too Creative To Be A Professional" (2015). Olsen cited Brandon Rike's CreativeLive class Simple Methods for Custom Lettering, where he stated, "Art is work. . . . And if you want to get ahead, you have to treat it that way.”

For many, making art is the job. For others, making art is a future dream, a pastime, a diversion from the daily job.

Is the difference between work and everything else getting paid? Living in this world, the paycheck allows us certain privileges and freedoms. But the differences go much deeper than a paycheck.

Jobs have a routine.

Most jobs… and their managers or bosses… prefer that their employees stick to an established schedule.

For so many of us, nine to five, five days a week, is the norm. It's comfortable. It's reasonable. It allows for several hours each evening to do other things. Meet with friends. Help the kids with homework. Watch TV. Practice a hobby. (More on that later.)

For others, the routine varies each day, each week, and each month, but there's still a framework.

Work requires employees to follow directions.

We earn the right to keep our job because we know how to follow the directives. Ring up sales. Take that dinner order. Type up that memo and distribute it to a list.

Some jobs are so routine that the complete business model runs on automatic. McDonald's is a great example of that. Even though humans stand at the register and put your quarter-pounder in a bag, another human can easily step in to fill that positive. The lunch rush is served without a hitch. No stressed cooks, waitstaff, or dishwashers. No hungry customers. Everyone is happy.

Curiously, the fewer directives a worker has, the higher their commensurate salary.

Freedom of thought garners a higher hourly rate of pay. Or maybe even no established pay scale at all. Maybe the worker earns bonuses or commissions based on their ingenuity and success.

And that leads to the third difference between work and play- we are compensated for one, and often we have to pay to do the other.

But what of artists? And creatives?

Their challenge lies in freedom from a schedule.

  • No one cares if the wannabe novelist finishes that chapter.
  • No one cares if the subway busker practices for an hour or ten minutes.
  • No one cares if those tubes of paint gather dust next to the blank canvas propped on the easel.

Artists often lack directives because of their process.

Staring at a blank canvas with no idea of what to do with it paralyzes the artist. The same is true for the writer staring at the empty white page.

It would be easier to sit at your desk in your cubicle and write that report. Or design that package or ad campaign for the new widget.

Both writer and artist are basically doing the same task. The actual difference is the directive.

The creative, the artist, must also endure a period of proof.

Before they are rewarded for their art with money, they must first demonstrate their craft.

Herein lies the conundrum of the chicken and the egg—the artist and their art.

The artist (the chicken) needs time to make their art (the egg), but without kudos and compensation (cracked corn from the farmer), the artist may be unwilling and unable to continue to make their art.

Artists feed on praise and accolades. And early on, their work may indeed not measure up. Ira Glass articulates it best when he talks about the creative newbie who knows what they want to achieve but hasn't gained the skills necessary to make the art they envision. They give up before they even get started.

And then there are all the critics eager to offer their perceptions of the artist's work.

  • Not quite there.
  • Shows potential.
  • Something's not quite right.

But critics rarely bash the creator. Rather, they critique the product, the art.

Artists often attach to their art akin to a parent and their newborn baby. "You don't like my art. You've got to deal with me, too."

Workers work. They produce. They make products and provide services.

For creatives, I might suggest employing (see what I did there?) some work strategies in your artistic practices.

  1. Establish your routine. Stick to it. Give yourself a schedule. Clock in, record your time, clock out.
  2. Establish your directives. Be specific. Decide what and how much you need to do. Then do it.
  3. Establish your pay rate. Think creatively. Reward yourself with a five-minute break if you've worked for twenty minutes. Give yourself a tasty treat. A cup of tea, a piece of candy. Mark your calendar with daily progress—for example, a word count. Hours spent practicing etudes or pirouettes. Square feet of garden hoed. The number of pots thrown and glazed.

Try a visual reward system.

I have two little dishes on my desk. Each day, I determine ten tasks that I can do in about twenty minutes each. I move a colored bead from the to-do dish to the done dish for each task completed.

It's a method of payment that provides a little rush of dopamine when I see the beads filling up the done dish. And it's a reminder that there is always something to be done. But I can relish having worked on the job.

Whatever art form you choose, don't think of it as a job. Think of it as the work of creation.

Creativity isn't playing. Your art is a job that you are uniquely suited for. You've been hired, and you're needed. Show up.

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