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Are artists selfish? / Are women more likely to give up on their dreams?

(32 Posts)
mmebovarycestmoi Mon 25-Jul-11 09:29:06

Someone posted here a while ago about her DH who was a "failed artist" who didn't earn very much and lots of posters said that artists are selfish (because they want to do what they love, instead of getting a job they hate to pay the bills).

Well, I identified with the DH, as right now I decided to give a try at art to see if I have any talent. I'm on my thirties and have always wanted to do that, but never had the courage. Now with small DC I can't get a job anyway (childcare costs more than I earn, so there's no point), so DH and I decided I shall try.

But at the same time I'm excited, there is a voice in my head saying: "Most people have to endure day after day in an office doing something they hate to bring money home, why do you think you are special? Why would it be fair that you spend the day doing what you love when your DH (and most of the world) is putting up with a stressful job?"

But some artists do exactly that, don't they? They do what they love and are paid for that. Some very well paid, some not so much.

Having said that, I started to think that this "guilty trip" is more frequent in women. I have a feeling more women give up their dreams because of pressures from family, friends, etc. Or maybe they just make it more clear than men? (I mean, the men who give up their dreams hide it better?)

The point is I didn't go very far in my career until now because I need some passion to do my job. Without passion I jujst do a rusbbish or mediocre job. Is this selfish? Immature? Or is it just the way some people are wired?

Now that I finally have a chance to try to do what I love, I have to make peace with this voice in my head, otherwise I won't get too far. Does it make any sense? I think I'm just asking for some points of view here, to try and understand things, and understand myself on the way.

<waits for the trolls to say I'm a spoilt selfish brat, I should stop moaning and get a job, yadda yadda yadda...>

Anniegetyourgun Mon 25-Jul-11 09:40:17

But you just said you couldn't get a job, or it would be impractical to do so. What, then, would you be depriving your family of by pursuing this dream? Of course you have to put your children first while they're dependent, but putting them first doesn't mean putting your entire life on hold for the next 18 years (unless in extreme circumstances). So, who's paying for this dream of yours, how much are they paying, and is the cost acceptable to all? If the answer to the third question is "yes", go for it with a clear conscience. There's no point pursuing your dream if you're going to feel so guilty you won't enjoy it.

mmebovarycestmoi Mon 25-Jul-11 10:21:00

Annie, thanks for that. I guess I need some reassurance.

We agreed that the cost is acceptable, and of course DC is the priority. Maybe DH believes in me more than I do, and maybe I'm looking for reasons to bring myself down and feel guilty... God, why do I have to be so complicated? I should just take the opportunity, go for it and be happy! But maybe I'm not used to be peaceful and happy smile

(complicated people are annoying, aren't we?)

HappyWoman Mon 25-Jul-11 10:24:34

Cant see how you are being selfish tbh.
You are not 'giving up' your duty of looking after your DC just to follow your dream.
I too think it is important to have passion for your job (whatever that may be) as then you will be able to do it to the best of your abllity.

And just because you judge a routine job as boring and mundane does not mean the person doing it feels like that.
I once did a filing job which i thought would be the most boring mind numbing job ever but i discovered that i could do the job and let my mind wander and have thinking time - and i was actually getting paid for that!!

You sound as though if money were needed you would find a way to do some paid work too.

Good luck with your art - hope you do make some money from it too. Stop feeling guilty and feel grateful that your h is happy to support you.

LadyClariceCannockMonty Mon 25-Jul-11 10:34:37

Yes, I think more women do tend to give up their dreams than men, partly because our culture encourages women to feel more responsible for the happiness and security of their families and children. But of course that's not how it should be. You and your DH have obviously discussed and agreed on this, and are clear about how you're going to support yourselves and your family, so there is no problem. It's not just artists who can have fulfilling jobs, either; a lot of successful people, in whatever field, love what they do. You deserve fulfilling work that makes you happy just as much as they do! Have you read The Artist's Way? If not, you may find it useful both for creativity and for thoughts about what you 'deserve' and so on.

Very good luck and enjoy both your art and your family!

howabout Mon 25-Jul-11 10:35:16

I gave up my career because it was too difficult to combine with motherhood and I didn't want to do either halfheartedly.

However I have used the freedom of being a SAHM to reconnect with my passion for music and the arts and the bonus is that my DC get to see their Mum doing something creative and fulfilling rather than just having a wage slave as a role model and access to free music tuition from me. Yours will probably be much better at make and do than mine though!

My DH also has more freedom to pursue his hobbies as I am managing the home and the DCs while he is busy keeping the finances afloat.

I also have the time and energy contribute to my community

So I don't feel guilty and I don't think you should either.

barbiegrows Mon 25-Jul-11 10:37:37

Most artists end up taking other jobs and doing their art on the side as it were. It's not selfish to be an artist unless it takes a lot away from the people around you. Even then it can be justified if those people are supporting you and want you to do well. Where would we be without art? Remember the benefit it gives to others, it's not just an empty selfish thing to do. Just do the very best you can and your conscience will be clear.

Cattleprod Mon 25-Jul-11 10:50:57

I think if people want to be artists that's great, but if they want to do it as a career rather than a hobby, they need to think and be sensible about it, which is where a lot of the so called 'failed' artists go wrong.

For example, you need to think about the type of art you are creating - is it something that people would be prepared to buy? So a beautiful landscape painting would be much easier to sell than a piece of 'concept art' involving broken glass and a pile of bricks. How much time are you spending creating your pieces - if you spend 2 hours on something and sell it for £100 then that's a good profit, spend 3 months creating something and you'll have to find somebody prepared to pay thousands for it, and that's much harder.

If more artists approached their work with more practical, and less wishy-washy, head in the clouds thinking, they would be much more successful. Commercial art doesn't mean bad art.

LadyClariceCannockMonty Mon 25-Jul-11 10:55:37

Cattle, I think the most important thing is integrity rather than aiming solely to be 'successful'. If someone wants to paint landscapes and that's their passion and their skill, great. But other types of art do sell as well.

barbiegrows Mon 25-Jul-11 11:03:24

Ladyc - integrity - that's the word I was looking for.

Apocalypto Mon 25-Jul-11 11:04:05

I read that thread too and what I think people were criticising that particular DH for was failure to provide properly for his family. I know someone like that - attractive woman hooked up with a total fucking layabout who's never worked, so she works seven days a week, borrows endlessly off her parents, and is up to her arse in debt to spare his useless arse the indignity of labour. All apparently in pursuit of keeping up appearances.

I'm sure lots of people might want to spend all day doing cross stitch, or painting porcelain figurines, and selling the results on eBay. But if you have tiny children and someone else is doing the full time caring, then you owe it to them to get a job and do the other stuff in your spare time.

In your case it sounds like you are the full time carer and you are proposing to do this around that. If anything you earned from working would be swallowed up by the costs of childcare, then I can't see there's any financial hit being imposed on the family and so it seems OK.

The catch will come when they are old enough to be at school all day, at which point you could quite realistically get a job without the child care cost eating it up. So maybe you agree that if by then you're earning more from this than you could by going back to work, you carry on; and if not then you go back to work.

mmebovarycestmoi Mon 25-Jul-11 12:47:58

Thanks for all your comments, you've made me feel better seeing I'm probably not being irresponsible.

Happywoman and Ladyclarice, thanks for reminding that some people are really, sincerely happy with their "normal" jobs. I tend to think everybody is like me sometimes... I've heard of the Artist's way, will try to read it.

Barbiegrows and cattle, I don't want to do it as a hobby. I spent the last 10 years thinking I could do that, but it didn't work. That's why I'm feeling a bit guilty, because I want it to be my career.

However, I want to do it in a commercially viable way. I mean, of course I have to do it with integrity, otherwise my art will be only a pastiche of what is successful at the moment and probably won't be successful. I believe (some people think it's naive) that you have to say what you want to say, and not what the gatekeepers (or the public) want to hear. There's a middle ground between doing it for myself and doing it for the others, and that's what I'm aiming for.

Apocalypto, you say: "I'm sure lots of people might want to spend all day doing cross stitch, or painting porcelain figurines, and selling the results on eBay. " - that's precisely the type of thinking that makes me feel guilty. I heard my mum say things like that when I was growing up, and that's precisely what made me think that being an artist was selfish and wrong (she believes art shouldn't be a career, but a hobby).

You may be right, but saying that is not helpful. But you made my own thoughts clearer.

Maybe the useless guy you're talking about could not be successful in a normal job. Maybe he's not cut for that. Of course, from what you say he could get a job and be mediocre in that and at least bring home some money to spare his wife, but maybe some people can only be happy and successful if they are pursuing their dreams. So in this case it's a matter of balancing all the needs (and doing art is a valid need). The way you put it makes it seems that doing art is just a caprice, but for some people it's a necessity.

Well, having said that, I say I agree with what you said about DC in school. That's why I say my window of opportunity is now. Because when they're at school I'll have to make a decision. And hopefully I'll be making some money from art by then.

HengshanRoad Mon 25-Jul-11 13:30:32

"Most people have to endure day after day in an office doing something they hate to bring money home, why do you think you are special?"

You are special because you have a talent. If you can use it to avoid a tedious office life in a job you hate, do it!

suzikettles Mon 25-Jul-11 13:41:36

Tricky. All the artists I know (and actually, thinking about it I know quite a few) have day jobs - most work part time though, or freelance/sessional work. They need the day jobs to pay their rent & bills.

However, there is a perfectly long-standing and respectable tradition of artists financing their work through a patron who took care of the money so that the artist could concentrate on their art. The patron did this through love of the art (or the artist). Maybe your dh is your "patron" at the moment.

Anyway, go for it I say. You'll never know unless you try.

dragontattoo Mon 25-Jul-11 14:13:13

I am in my thirties as well and I am doing a Fine Art degree. There are quite a few mature students on my course as it has a p/t option. There are far, far more female students than males (yet there are far more successful male artists than female).

It's true that almost all the students/grads I know have day jobs as well. I know a few who are doing well enough to work f/t as an artist, but even then, it involves a lot of networking and admin work - you certainly can't spend all of your time doing the interesting stuff.

I am in quite an unexpected position with my finances which means that I'm able to focus completely on my art at the moment without having to do paid work. I do feel quite self-conscious about that, especially as most of my fellow students work long hours. But there probably is an element of selfishness about my art and it consumes me enough to shake off any guilt.

My art isn't particularly commercial either and I would find it hard to feign interest in a project that was purely financially motivated. I am sure that many people would criticise my choices but for me, that's not enough to influence my choices. Sometimes you just have to follow what drives you, regardless of the opinions of others.

Apocalypto Mon 25-Jul-11 14:37:33

@ mmebovary

What you're doing sounds fine to me because you're not doing something self-indulgent instead of providing for the family. Your OH does that and you are doing something in which you could establish yourself now and put more regular hours in later. Or go back to conventional work if that pays more reliably.

In the case of the waster mentioned above, the pretext for not working is always this project and that project that he's always working on, or this grant or that grant he could eligible for. It's one stupid get rich quick scheme after another, they all cost money, they all fail. And when he's failed, everyone tiptoes around him and doesn't mention it and then he's off with some other stupid wheeze.

And of course he is getting away with it. No job, sits at home all day long, kids take themselves to school, and meanwhile the wife earns, the grandparents pay the school fees, give the kids pocket money and fund the car, there is no childcare to be done and he's still on his idle arse while they're up to their ears in debt. He could drive a bus for £20k a year, FFS.

Fundamentally different to your situation - you have something specific in mind and you can't anyway work normally now. Give yourself permission to try to get this off the ground and if it doesn't work, then do something that pays while you reevaluate.

Cattleprod Mon 25-Jul-11 15:38:40

It's possible to keep artistic integrity and be successful though. They aren't mutually exclusive, you just need to put some thought into what you make.

The more successful artists aren't necessarily the most talented though - to have a career in art you need to be good at all sorts of things, many of which have little to do with the 'art' itself. If you have the ability to publicise yourself and your work, put on exhibitions, sell at art fairs, identify the best places for your work to be seen, access funding where needed, look after your customers well, build up contacts from anywhere and everywhere etc., then you are much more likely to be able to do the work that you want to do and keep your artistic integrity and still be successful. If you lock yourself in a garret doing things to please yourself, without a thought for the practical side of things, nobody wins. Nobody will see your work, or appreciate it, or want it in their lives, you won't be able to share your artistic message and you will have to find alternative sources of income eventually, no matter how incredible your talent might be.

GirlWithTheMouseyHair Mon 25-Jul-11 15:53:08

I'm a theatre director and had my first child at the very early stages of my career, so all the "money jobs" I'd done until then would no longer cover the cots of childcare. It allowed me to springboard myself as an artist but we have all had to make sacrifices as I'm still at the embryonic (and therefore 'investing') stage in my career.

When I'm an Assistant Director I normally earn enough to cover the childcare, which is the only cost incurred when I work as I cycle to work and make lunches for both DH and I. When I direct work with my own company it is unpaid so I need to rely on the help of friends, family and DH taking time off to allow me to work. DH is therefore the sole provider and gives me the opportunity to follow my career, in which is could be years (if ever) before I am ever making a proper living from it.

I'm sure many people would see this as selfish and to be honest it is a difficult career to sustain as a mother because it means being a SAHM a lot of the time, fitting in research and meetings around my son, then being away from home full time for 2-3months during rehearsals, then on and off at home while a show is on, it's undoubtedly not the most secure environment for my toddler. One of the main reasons he's so adaptable and social is because he's had to be, due to my career.

Thankfully DH a) LOVES his work as a software developer (so you see the mundane jobs aren't neccessarily mundane for those doing them, I couldn't imagine doing anything more boring!) b) earns enough for our family to live on and c) is incredibly supportive of me because he honestly believes I am good at what I do.

I could give it up and be a SAHM full time but I know it would drive me round the bend. I could retrain but there is nothing I am more passionate about, and there is the chance to make it financially viable, and although there are inevitable cons for my children (I'm pregnant again), the pros of them spending time around creative people, having a very close bond with my mum because she covers a lot of childcare, and their dad who often does the weekend childcare on his own and takes holiday to spend weeks at a time with his son (something I think lots of fathers don't have the opportunity to do) without me hovering around them, and seeing their mother striving in a typically mysoginistic indutry, doing something she loves, is passionate about and occasionally is worthy on top of that, I think (hope!) are worth it.

In my industry though it's not a big surprise that a lot of the male directors have families and many women have to take a big step back in their careers when they become mothers - it's not a family friendly industry for parents, and mothers less so. Certain brilliant female directors are slowly changing that though and my generation want to aim to have a family and their career and we know that we need the industry to change to make that happen.

So, in answer to your questions, nobody is completely unselfish in their choice of job, rather work as an artist and be happy than slave at a job I ahte and take it out on my family, and yes women do tend to have to give up on their artistic ambitions (or at least sideline them for a while) compared to me.

Quodlibet Mon 25-Jul-11 15:54:21

I think a lot of people over-romanticise what 'being an artist' actually is. Being a successful artist in my book includes being realistic about making work in a way that enhances rather than detracts from your overall life, which includes your economic position. There's a public perception of carefree artists throwing paint at the canvas or strumming ditties when the mood takes them, and not caring about the economic reality of their situation because it's irrelevant to the art. That's all bollocks, and anyone who subscribes to that ideal probably is a self-absorbed time-waster.

Being an artist as a profession rather than as a self-defined label requires as much hard work as any other job, some of which is very frustrating, boring, mundane. You have to be extremely persevering to make it work. Yes, as an artist you get paid to do the thing you love. But also, you probably get paid to do a lot of stuff which is in the same vein as the thing you love but actually a commission you're not excited by, and a lot of meetings, self-marketing, applications, pitches, preparations, workshops, etc. I reckon in my career (and I make a living from my art form) I probably do about 5% of the thing I love doing, and the other 95% supports that 5% in some way. I'd say the same applies to lots of the other 'successful' creatives I know, regardless of industry (music, video, painting, dance, etc). I'd also say that those successful artists I know are also naturally very diligent, hardworking people and would deliver a good job even if they weren't working in their 'dream' profession and were waiting tables or doing admin instead.

OP, if you've got the time and economic space to explore the potential of a creative career, definitely don't feel guilty and go for it. But be realistic too - you're unlikely to find that 'passion' will sustain you because a creative career isn't just riding some wave of 'passion' which flows out of the pleasure you get from the art. That's why for me alarm bells ring when you say 'without passion I just do a rubbish or mediocre job' - without challenging that belief you're setting yourself up for a fall I reckon.

howabout Mon 25-Jul-11 16:05:53

Perhaps you could cover Cattleprod's concerns regarding commerciality by joining an artists' collective of some sort.

I have several artist relations and they all supplement their income to a greater or lesser degree by teaching and making more commercial / commission driven works. Perhaps this would be a way to develop when you have fewer childcare responsibilities?

Lambskin Mon 25-Jul-11 16:36:56

I was in exactly your position a couple of years ago. I'd been to art school at 18 but due to constant nagging from my mum, left for a 'career'. I was crap at it, did an English degree and MA and got into teaching. Always at the back of my mind was art. I don't feel alive unless I have a painting/drawing/anything creative on the go. I know that probably sounds a bit wank!

Anyway I decided with dh's encouragement to go for it. I'd left work to be a SAHM with ds2 but he was coming up to school age and I knew I'd have to do something with my life. I did an art foundation course just to see if I still had 'it', and it turns out I really do. It's done wonders for my self esteem, feelings of self worth and my sense of place in the world. It is what I am.

I am also a mum, and just recently I've decided to Home Educate my youngest ds as a result of his SN. The art will take a back seat time wise but my time is now precious and condensed and as others have said most artists have to work too.

Go for it, you certainly don't have to be selfish to be an artist or successful, just committed and good at organising your time. Being a woman you are perfectly suited smile

PortBlacksandIsleOfDogs Mon 25-Jul-11 16:57:59

It warm my cockles to hear the women on this thread talking about art based work as careers. I get (possibly irrationally) wound up by the etsy / craft fair brigade who are happy to pootle and make a fiver here or there.... i want to shake them into thinking bigger.....

Allinabinbag Mon 25-Jul-11 17:08:43

I am not sure if I am selfish, but I certainly think trying to have a job which is fulfilling is a good life goal, and one I am pursuing. I don't want it to be at a high cost to others, and if something derailed it (e.g. I had a SN child or I needed to be a full-time carer), I hope I'd just go with that rather than being too single-minded, but I think it's a waste to have a talent and skills and have them be unused, especially now the children are at school. I am a terrible homemaker, hate cooking, and the children are quite easy-going (compared to some), so I just think 'why not me?' My husband also works in a job he really enjoys and pursues a hobby which takes time and energy, but I think is inspiring.

I have started to wonder if I am selfish though, as on MN people talk about sacrificing themselves/their goals. I don't give the whole of my attention to my children, if I'm honest, I like being with them, and doing my work too. I don't want to sacrifice anything, and for now, I don't need to. But, for me, that has meant accepting my house is messy, and that I work odd hours (e.g. evenings and weekends) grabbing time when I can rather than sitting down with a book. So, I do think to be really successful in a creative field (I am not an artist) you need to be a bit single-minded as with children, you don't get infinite time to paint/muse/write/sing, you might get one 2 hour slot in the day and need to grab it.

LadyClariceCannockMonty Mon 25-Jul-11 17:14:06

I think it's more selfish, in a way, to be unhappy. Surely it's better for children to have parents who are happy, and to learn by example how fulfilling it can be to have a career/interests that you can put heart and soul into?

garlicbutter Mon 25-Jul-11 17:46:34

I know a few artists - and inventors, who also look they're being 'selfish wasters' while getting to the right idea - who make a lot of money. None of them have compromised their integrity for commerce; in fact, doing that guarantees mediocrity.

What they have, without exception, is total confidence in their talent and ability. Of course, they also have the creative passion to put themselves out for the sake of a work. You have the passion, OP. While you ARE very lucky to have a partner who both wants to support you and can do, you would have found a way to pursue your art whatever the circumstances.

You seem to be lacking the confidence, though, so please explore all possible means to build it. Take some stuff round to dealers for the feedback. Do The Artist's Way (you don't 'read' it, you work it.) Join a collective or rent a shared studio, if company and mutual support will get your juices flowing. And never stop working; ideas sometimes need blank material to emerge.

Good luck and have fun!

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