The Balancing Act


[Photo: Flickr user Philip Bitnar; App photo: Flickr user Chiara Cremaschi]


Life is a chain of events linked by a series of choices. Survival is at the core of the vast sphere of our personal worlds of experience. Surrounding that core are layers and layers of needs, desires and dreams. Like our own planet, the weight of the layers determines where they lie in the sphere as a whole. As a dream becomes an active desire or a desire becomes a need, its weight brings it closer to the core. Needs are our solid ground and while basic survival is virtually always the core, other needs differ between individuals and within each of us over time. Keeping the weight of our needs at the center of ourselves and not neglected by more pressing matters of mundane life is an extremely complicated balancing act made sometimes impossibly difficult by the demands of simply living.

We are working harder, longer and for less result than ever before. The Saan (also known as the Bushmen), one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer people on Earth,  work for their lives and sustenance just as anyone else. They have homes, food, clothes, families, relationships, spirituality, art, a rich culture and one of the most unusual languages on Earth. All of this is obtained in an average of 3 hours of effort a day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans work 8.9 hours a day. That’s effectively three times as much as the average Saan person works. It’s not just the number of hours of work, it’s also what we’re doing for work. The employee economy has resulted in enormous changes to the way most of us live.  We don’t work together as families. We leave to spend most of our daily lives outside of our homes. We don’t work for ourselves. Many of our jobs involve processes, reports, meetings and paperwork. We follow action points, leverage best practices, find goal oriented solutions and drill down. Whatever any of that means.

The village butcher, baker and candlestick maker had self-propelled enterprises which were also creative outlets built into their work. As did cobblers, tailors, jewelers, milliners, carpenters, toy makers, weavers and cottage industrialists of every sort. In addition, before photography (and cell phones) became ubiquitous to 75% of the world’s population, portrait photographers and before them portrait artists were in high demand.  As were scenic and religious subject artists. You couldn’t just print a copy of a painting on your printer and hang it on your wall. Every bit of art on Earth was original-or a handmade copy. Prior to the invention of the printing press, thousands of monks dedicated their lives to copying and illuminating books. Art and the skillful creation thereof was once universally respected and valued as necessary to both human civilization and to the daily lives of everyone. You can’t exactly drill down a charcoal drawing or leverage best practices with conté crayons. The argument that satisfactory creative outlet can be achieved in the towering glass temples of modern work is weak. All people have some creativity. People driven by creativity cannot feed their souls with PowerPoint Presentations. Believe me. I tried it for twelve years.  Along with every other creative stuck in a glass tower, I had to find other ways of finding room for art in my life. Because art is a need. It’s not a dream. It’s not just a desire. It’s a soul quenching need.

That need of the artist to make art is one of the most difficult to balance. The act of creation feels less important than getting out of debt, advancing careers, caring for family or maintaining social relationships. For many artists, the quagmire of mundanities crowds out time for making art. In the modern world dedicated full-time artists are rare – and not made by desire, need, hard work, passion or talent alone. Luck and support are nearly always a factor.

In my own life, years have been lost to running out of energy beyond basic survival. If I’m honest, I could have found ways of being more dedicated and impassioned about making art central to my life during those dry years, but as a complicated being, other factors outweighed art, such as mental health. Like many other young people, I spent my early adulthood with very little self worth. I didn’t really know or care for myself and was deeply insecure about existing independently or even just being alone for long stretches of time. So I forgive myself for those lost years. And so should we all. Including you! The time which has passed is gone and the experiences and adventures we lived are part of our world-spheres now.

So we come back to this moment, here and now. How does an artist find space for art?

Some people demand it for themselves by making space every evening after work or on weekends or perhaps just when they are able to get time off. Some people forego furthering their careers in order to retain time and energy to work on art. Some reduce their social obligations in order to find more time for themselves and for art. I tried some of those things and frankly, I failed. I always had excuses for why I wasn’t getting to art. Finally, three years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to leave the glass tower for good and, with the support of my partner, concentrate on being a creative full-time.

For a time, I felt spoiled,  ridiculously privileged, even embarrassed at my luck. Sometimes I felt isolated. Then, I began to realize something wonderful. I’m not alone. Not by a long shot. More and more people are choosing not to work 48+ hours a week drilling down and synergizing. The pressure of conformity to a lifestyle for which only a small percentage of the population is inclined combined with growing corporate greed, shrinking wages and crippling debt has led to more people out of work for long periods of time. Families choosing to have a stay-at-home partner rather than spend nearly all of one income on child care. And so on. Younger people have learned the vast difference between “basic survival” and “keeping up with the Joneses” through sheer necessity. Cottage industry is making a comeback. Craft fairs and art walks are soaring in popularity. Online marketplaces for handmade items, such as Etsy, have millions of shop owners. Even Amazon is getting on board.

Owning an online shop or vending at live events doesn’t need to be a full-time job. Leaving the glass tower can be frightening and certainly not everyone has the support of a partner, family, or the personal resources to walk away. Joining a creative cooperative can help get creations in front of potential buyers without needing to dedicate every weekend to vending. Online shops can be controlled; they can be turned on and off, prices raised and lowered – whatever is needed to balance available creative time with creative output. The resulting income, even if it’s only a little bit, can help ease pressures in other areas, such as paying someone to clean your home  so you can spend that time creating.

Even those of us who create full-time can fall into traps of what we “should” be doing rather than feeding our souls. I recently fell into depression and realized it was because I’d been working so hard on NerdBound, my clothing shop on Etsy, I hadn’t been making art. I hadn’t even been sketching or taking photos. My studio had become so dominated by my sewing enterprise that my art spaces had become occluded. I have spent this week rearranging my studio to more effectively allow for simultaneous work on fashion, digital and ‘analog’ art media. The depression has melted away! Just knowing I CAN do art again has begun refilling the well of creativity which surround that core of basic survival. My world-sphere is coming back in balance.

Every once in a while, check in with yourself. If you need to create more, make the effort to find time to do it. Even 15 minutes a day of tablet sketching can lead to great things. With a little luck, you might just find yourself filling your soul with art to your heart’s content and your table will still be full. It’s a balancing act, but it’s worth it.

Happy arting. 🙂


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