One of the most difficult decisions I had to make as an artist is what kind of job would pay the bills. I am not independently wealthy, nor am I one of those lucky few who are naturally amazing at networking and monetizing everything they touch. I tried some non-arts jobs, where I was bored, annoyed, frustrated, under-utilized, overworked, underpaid, and endured endless banal sports ball and family issues monologues from co-workers who could not relate to my other life. I have had and currently have an arts job, which is fucking with my sense of who I am as an artist in weird ways. Some jobs did this to a lesser degree. When I made videos for a living, or worked as a graphic designer, I just felt creatively burned out and fried. That work ultimately eclipsed my personal practice, fulfilling a need to be creative on a daily basis, but left me empty handed, since that work technically kinda belonged to someone else.
When I began to work as a photographer commercially, it changed my relationship to the camera in ways I still don’t understand. It locked up my creativity, it forced it into specific and narrow channels, and it made weirdness, something I value highly in art, something to fear. It’s scary to be weird in front of clients. It’s scary to propose an idea to paying clients in a photo session. It might not work, and people are paying to see results. I have hang ups around money, which means being in business for myself as a photographer has an extra layer of scariness, besides people blankly staring at you from in front of the camera, while you try and figure out how to get them to smile and look happy, when they clearly aren’t.
I used to experiment a lot more. I know I should get back to experimenting but I can’t seem to help shutting down that experimental impulse automatically. It’s how I survived as an artist, although my survival has also become my downfall as an artist, and it’s why I’m now on a mission to reclaim my artistic identity.
Ownership is a big part of this mental crisis. When someone’s paying you, even if you are executing on your own vision for them, it’s still someone else’s a little bit. This is not inherently a bad thing, but it is a compromise to the ultimate fulfillment of that creative impulse. A dilution. Some things are good diluted, like cordial. Some things, like good mezcal, are not. Creative fulfillment is like good mezcal and dilution just makes you feel kinda trashed and also really shitty, at the end of the day.
Something that makes me a good artist and also very shitty at real life is my inability to compartmentalize. In art, this makes for happy marriages of meaning through unexpected symbols, imagery, and words. In real life, it means I can’t separate all the different colors of life-taffy back into their own colored sections like other people can. Part of that sorting process IS art. Art is the primary tool of compartmentalizing in a way I can deal with, where everything is mixed together, but still separate. It means everything is separated more by meaning, and not by time, or person or however else people compartmentalize things. Unfortunately, this is a chicken and egg type dilemma which I must resolve by stopping overthinking, and just getting on with it.