Art Making vs. Money Making

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Art Making vs. Money Making

  • Briar DeHaven

    Briar DeHaven is a poet, writer, and tech head who hails from the South Dakotan prairie. She is Digital Marketing Executive for the Asheville Citizen-Times, assistant editor for...

My greatest struggle comes down to a singular concept: balancing the modern need to succeed with the ancient call to create. Uff da, amahright? That's the epic challenge right there—earning a living while trying to examine that life. Problem is, nothing saps creativity more unequivocally than the drudgery of adulthood. Ay, there's the rub.

“My life is the poem I would have writ, but I could not both live and utter it.”
Henry David Thoreau

I've been an artist for as long as I can remember—crafting tiny pantsuits for my trolls, painting rock families, directing plays with my dolls—but the pressures of growing up have thrown my creative expression into a tailspin. Paying bills, preparing for the future, setting a budget and sticking to it, upgrading cars, obtaining all manner of insurance, copays, teeth cleaning, etc. etc. Ah!
My creativity just shuddered and hid.
And there's that one deadly phrase that stops all creative inspiration right in its woefully wistful tracks: how in the world do you plan to make money?
::facepalm::
For years I committed myself entirely to my art, taking whatever odd jobs could be squeezed into the off hours outside of rehearsal. I lived off of rice and beans, the generosity of neighbors, and the goodwill of my landlords who understood and accepted late rent. This life could only be sustained for so long. I grew tired of poverty, which stifles creativity in its own way.
Today, I work in a corporate office at a traditional 9-5, something I said I'd never do. I'm paying bills on time and even saving money. For cryin' out loud, I have a 401k and an HSA. I'm living large...or whatever. But I write erratically and inconsistently and find myself, more and more, merely recovering from work. Rarely does the strum of creation burl into me as it once did. The less creative I am in my day-to-day, the less often that lightning bolt of creativity strikes.
So where is the balance? How can I earn a living and also examine that life through art?
That's the 10 million dollar question.
I believe in what my dad said on the matter: Write every day. No matter how hard. It's going to be hard. Write every damn day. Keep striving like a Chinese miner...someday...someday.
I think what dad knew was that the key to creative stimulation is to put in the unsexy work of working at it, despite lack of motivation and inspiration. Kind of like the drudgery of working out. Even if you'd rather sit on the couch and shut down your brain after a day of task and time management, you must challenge yourself to put in the work. Creativity once a day, no matter for how little time, will generate more creativity.
My poetry mentor, Keith Flynn, said what separates the players from the posers is the work. The players put the work in no matter the external circumstances. The posers just say they're doing the work.

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“Don't be a writer; be writing.”
William Faulkner

So in other words, I'm advocating to just suck it up, ya little baby, and make your art! So much easier said than done. But I think there is some stark wisdom in this stance — what is worth more to you: your sleep or your artistic dreams? Catching up on your favorite TV show or plodding away at your craft? Vegging out or tuning in? The former is easier; the latter infinitely harder...and more rewarding...and more life affirming...and more important. We must do the hard, important thing.
Here a few tips to maximize creativity in a sometimes rote, unfeeling world:

  1. Use Your Lunch Hour (or lunch break or break or what-have-you)
    Hole up in your favorite haunt and read Rimbaud for your lunch hour. Stow away under a tree and scribble out your thoughts, look them over later, save what still makes sense. Take your 15 and sketch your big toe—why the hell not? Do one eensy weensy creative thing.
  2. Write Down Your Thoughts Immediately Post-Wake
    Make use of that semi-lucid dream state! Write down anything that barrels in. Edit nothing. Let it flow, man.
  3. Read Before Bed
    Unplug entirely for the hour before bed and read. Reading realigns your creative self (and makes you a way more interesting date too).
  4. Take Long Walks Post-Work
    Walking is squeezing out the wet rag of your tired mind, ridding you of stress, impurities, and fog to make room for impulse, inspiration, and sensation.
  5. Eat Cleanly
    A clean body is a clean mind is a creative mind.

If at times it seems there are no two pursuits more antithetical to one another than making money and making art, remember all struggle spurs growth, a vital tonic for creation.