I got an email this morning from a woman who says she wants to build a creative life; to build creativity into her life. Can I help her?
I like the question. It seems so basic. Something that should be simple. Like, I want to learn to feed myself.
Should be simple. But it never is.
I spend the rest of the morning asking around.
I start with my girlfriend, who was a traveling musician when we met but soon gave it up to build her other career as an acupuncturist. “One has to make money,” she explains now. “When I was really prioritizing my creativity, I wasn’t making money and I didn’t care about that. But now I have responsibilities, a family, dogs to walk. So it’s time and money.”
Time and money.
But my artist friends who have trust funds don’t always fare much differently than my work-a-day friends. “Having money doesn’t help,” one writer tells me. “Because then you don’t have that fire under your ass. When I first got access to my money, I figured I’d just take a year off to relax. But it’s been a lot longer than a year. I can’t get motivated. And, you know, on some level, why should I?”
I know creative women who have married bread-winning men in part because they believed they’d be able to focus on their art with that “security.” But the drama of dependence can take a toll. And the undertow of tradition can easily suck us in. Maybe we have kids. And pretty soon our creative energy is focused on Play Dough crafts we don’t really get lost in.
Why is it so difficult to build a creative life? To build creativity into our lives?
One of my writing students says it’s hard because “I wonder, am I ever going to get paid for this? Is anyone out there? Will people get what I say?”
So it’s money. But it’s also the fear of not being heard, of being misunderstood. “Getting paid” is about more than making money–it’s about knowing that what we do is valued by the community. That there is some place for us in this world.
The worst thing for an artist is to be ignored, the performing writer Erika Lopez once told me. But is being ignored worse than not creating anything for people to ignore?
Fear of failure.
Fear of success.
“The creative life is difficult to build because at almost every turn we are challenged by the patriarchy,” my writer friend Moe Bowstern tells me. “We have in our society places for business people, for numbers people, for healers, for teachers, administrators, tradespeople. But the creative person must frequently invent a place for herself. In my experience this has meant doing my own creative work at a financial loss and finding other ways to make money. For others around me I see that they turn to teaching or working with children, as this is a place where our society feels good about funding creation.”
All these difficulties ring true. Time seems such a finite and fluttering thing these days. I have kids to feed, tuitions to pay. Sometimes I get paid for creative work. Ah, this is really the ticket, I think. But then comes the devil: The temptation to write for the market.
Then again, writing things that people will read isn’t always about selling out–it’s about the part of creativity that seeks community. Writing not just because “I am an ARTISTE” but because I choose to be in conversation with other people seeking to build creative lives, other people seeking to be honest with themselves. To write for people, then, not for markets.
Moe says: “People around the artist may not understand that art that is unmade, or art that is distorted to fit into a box that can be sold or traded, that this art sows the seeds of madness and poor mental health. This may take the form of depression, denial, alcoholism, mania, obsessive behavior or any number of things that we can now take a pill to mediate. Our society, sadly, would rather drug us than allow us to make our art. I believe that artists and creative persons can save the world from the deathmongers, if we can just keep making our art and using it to awaken people and join them together. Encouraging people therefore to follow a creative path is highly subversive behavior. So, yeah. We have to swim upstream.” That’s what Moe says.
What do you think?