Ahhh, the creative dream. No, I’m never going to “grow up and get a real job” and neither will my friends.
Are you the kind of person who sees life for its mundane reality, or do you look past the screaming baby, the broken garbage disposal, and the unpaid bills with visions of sugarplums dancing in your head?
There’s something inside the dreamer that makes her different from the rest of the population. Why is it that she can live on a penance, operate on a mere six hours of sleep, shut herself out from virtually all human company, and still be blissfully happy?
How does this dreamer persona factor into the creative realm? To find out, I interviewed two musicians, two writers, and two visual artists.
Defining the creative spirit
I began my interview by asking: what makes a creative person different from others? Curiosity, hard work, focus, courage, empathy, and a different kind of outlook were cited as essential.
Science Fiction and Comic Book writer, Mike Luoma described the creative individual as a walking contradiction: “We’re stubborn enough to believe that what we have to say or sing or do is worth doing. Arrogant enough that we believe other people should pay attention to it. And we need some validation from others too.”
It would seem that artists are born rather than made. Everyone with whom I spoke had been performing their chosen arts since childhood. Jeff Asbed, the guitarist for a cover band called More Cow Bell, believes that the artistic inclination may be inherited through one’s blood line. “Just about everyone in my family is a musician of sorts,” he says, going on to delineate a long list of relatives including parents, cousins, aunts, and offspring.
Sacrifice as part of the deal
Many the creative dreamer is born with a pen, paint brush, or maraca in her hand. Creating is as natural as breathing and as necessary. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t sacrifices. We’ve all had to give up some of the trappings of a normal life to pursue our extraordinary visions of how life can and should be—the pursuit of leisure activities, financial security, and harmonious relationships with others are the most commonly cited.
“Career, money, comfort, sleep and peace of mind,” says novelist Marc Nash, “it’s worth all of them too.”
Still when asked if there was anything that could happen that would make them give up their creative talents, my interviewees answered with a resounding no. A couple were willing to cite death and severe disability as possible roadblocks to their creative lifestyles while others simply said “nothing, never.” One subject was so horrified by this art-free vision of the future that he refused to even think about a possible answer to the question.
To take this further, I offered a hypothetical choice to my creative friends: would you rather become a millionaire by performing bureaucratic work (but you’d have to give up your art), or would you prefer to make a modest living through the pursuit of your creative talents?
“Creative pauper every time,” says Nash, “It is who I am. My soul.”
Others agreed. “Money can’t buy happiness,” says designer and art teacher Heather Holloman.
“If a modest living meant that I could eat and have somewhere to live, I would choose a career in music, hands down,” says Kate Pote, the lead singer and songwriter for indie folk band This is Deer Country.
Asbed, who is also a father, says he would prefer the creative lifestyle, but that he also would need to think of the needs in his family, and hopefully, he would never have to make that choice.
Getting a “real job”
Are you reading this all the while rolling your eyes? Maybe you’re thinking, yeah right, throw a real bundle of cash at these artistic folk, and they’d readily leave their art.
Be honest now. Have you ever told your struggling writer friend to lay down his pen? Have you told your nameless musician friend to just give up, that he’s never going to be the next Bon Jovi? What about the visual artists in your life—have you told them, wow, that painting sure is nice, but it’s just not a marketable skill?
Maybe you’ve gone so far as to actually say those dreaded words, the words that are like fingernails screeching down our tortured chalkboard hearts: grow up and get a real job.
“I’m sorry that you are so closed-minded,” says Holloman in response to your misdirected advice.
“Ha, ha. Make me. You’re not the boss of me,” says Absed in a whiny voice while sticking his forefingers in his ears and waggling his hands at you.
“How many people do you know who are genuinely fulfilled by what they do?” asks Nash, refusing to accept that your job as any more real than his.
Freelance illustrator Antonia Maurici admits that she gets this question all the time. She used to argue with her assayers but now realizes that it’s just not worth it. In fact, she feels that she has more security in her career as a freelance artist than she would have had with a corporate gig.
Sticking to it
It is the humble opinion of this writer that “creative” and “dream” are as inseparable as peanut butter and jelly. These two ideas stick to each other. The nuttiness of the creative enhances the sweetness of the dream.
Part of being a writer, I often say, is dreaming big even when you know you’re being unrealistic. How many would-be novelists are there to every JK Rowling, Stephen King, and Ken Follett? Oh, probably a million, and I don’t think that I’m exaggerating on that number.
Does this mean that those of us, who clack the keyboard until our fingers bleed despite knowing that we’ll probably never amount to anything, are simply idiots? No, it decidedly does not. Most of us know that the odds of achieving this kind of success is unlikely, but still we keep trying. We’ve even learned how to split success into shades—most of us would be happy with a muted gray. We pursue our art for ourselves.
If others can find joy, inspiration, or entertainment from the byproducts of our efforts too, then that’s more than we ever could have asked for.
*This article was originally published on A2politico.com when yours truly served the role as “Culture Vulture” columnist.