Artist Life: making a living, living a making

ashley-papersLike the vast majority of artists, for me, living a life making art involves a grand hustle to make a living. In 2015, for example, I juggled five jobs to get by: adjunct professor, business consultant, Biofield Tuning practitioner, AirBnB host, and Uber driver. Why five, when any one of those might theoretically make a living? The short answer: the jobs that most support my arts practice don’t amount to a living.

IMG_0369Teaching feeds my arts practice, for a variety of reasons, but it can’t come close to supporting the critters and me. I made more than twice as much per hour driving for Uber as I did teaching college courses. Adjunct teaching in the U.S. currently yields an hourly rate around the existing minimum wage whereas Uber driving will land you at the proposed “living minimum wage.” Unfortunately, I hate driving, and the stress associated with doing it for drunk and unruly strangers on SEC Game Days was enough to steal my creative fire for the entire week following.

AirBnB’s day rate hit somewhere between teaching and driving, and I met some cool people, but the impact to my literal and figurative space challenged both my artistic focus and the regular inhabitants of my cottage-studio.

btBiofield Tuning nets a reasonable hourly rate, and I feel great about using sound to facilitate health and wellbeing, but since I pioneered the practice in the Southeast, and energy work is taxing, booking a feasible schedule means booking a sub-living income.

As for business consulting, it’s clearly the option with the greatest bread-winning potential, but to guarantee a good living as a consultant, I must commit more or less fully to being one, and well, I left that life behind to commit fully to being an artist.

So, I juggle and hope that ends meet. It’s a daily performance, and it’s messy. A constant exercise in self-starting, keeping things in perspective, remembering my priorities, and keeping fear and overwhelm at bay.

In many ways, I’m lucky. My options for making a living are atypical for artists. I have a prior career, a wide-range of skills and experience, an entrepreneurial bent, and global networks. In other ways, however, these options get in the way. It can be infuriating and head-spinning to contemplate the relative values of my time–ranging from roughly zero to make art, to roughly minimum wage to teach college, and, if I devote myself to consulting for corporate clients, to the option of joining the 1%.

Performing Warsaw
Performing Warsaw

Instead, I devote myself to an aesthetics of social justice, which though most valuable to me, does not pay the bills. So, to make this life–an Artist Life–possible, I shape-shift through professional worlds, with the knowledge that I’m not fully inhabiting any of them, and that I’d love to fully inhabit the art one. Costume changes, persona changes, vocabulary changes, deliverable changes, value changes. A most reluctant performance. The most necessary one. And, to wrap my head around it and make it palatable, I call it art. Art every day. Everyday art. The art of being a U.S. artist in a 21st century world. The art of living.