The noise around making art your JOB

It’s placement season in my college, and I’m so torn. I am surrounded with full-time artists in my social circle who have made up their mind to pursue this road. I’m doing ‘good enough’ creatively as a photographer – for the very first time in my life, I am not chasing fame out of my photography – I used to, I am not doing it now. Since I started taking photos a few years back, I was always obsessed with getting better at my craft, getting some sort of recognition — it was an obsession. I never felt my work was of any good. And this creative dissatisfaction is common among all artists – our skills don’t grow as fast as our taste in art — my craving for recognition was growing at a much faster rate.

Then the curve suddenly crashed on the horizontal plane. Almost overnight, I stopped caring about whether my Instagram feed was color coordinated, whether my following was growing. I even stopped submitting any of my photos to magazines and competitions altogether.

© Sanchari Sen

I can not yet pinpoint the exact reason for why this happened — perhaps it was because I finally got the hang of the concept of ‘focusing on the process’. I was taking photos literally everyday — I had moved out to a new apartment all alone, and bought a new phone (with an incredible camera) in the span of just one week. All these new stimuli got my creative juices flowing like crazy. I was not focusing on any particular project when taking photos everyday, but very surprisingly this process actually helped me somewhat refine my personal visual style — another thing I have always obsessively chased, but could never grasp. I even made a pretty good series of photos (out of my archive) in just three days, combining my photography and my sketching skills. It still eludes me how I came across the idea and executed it all so fast.

However, coming back to where I originally started — like most creatives, I was hoping to make a living out of my craft. I was even doing some freelancing gigs. But then this stupid pandemic hit and I saw artists struggling to meet their ends meet. It scared me, and decided that perhaps doing a 9-to-5 corporate job to pay my bills (as I watched my parents do when growing up) is the right path for me.

I love (LOVE) the idea of a financially independent woman. This picture of my future comforts me. I neither have the nerves, nor the personality of creating a business from my art. It also scares me thinking that I may wake up someday and find myself out of work because of a global health crisis, and I may become financially dependent on my aging parents.

© Sanchari Sen

The full-time artists in my friend circle constantly tell me: “Sanchari, you won’t be able to face yourself in the mirror when you grow old thinking about the fact that you didn’t choose the that you love so much.” This always makes me feel somewhat angry (yes, I’m pretty sure it’s anger). It is not like I’m abandoning my passion, I am not trading my photography for financial stability. Hearing this from my peers makes me feel as if I am somewhat less valid as an artist, or that my body of work is less brilliant because I am not devoting the biggest chunk of time to my art.

This is a constant noise on social media platforms as well — quit your job. Almost all non-fiction books around creativity and art end with the same note: “Here’s how you can be a full-time artist. Market yourself in XYZ ways.” I am still as valid an artist as anyone else if I make my money from my day job, and invest it in my art. At the end of the day, if I’m really creating for myself, why is there so much noise to make a living out of doing it 24/7? “

I originally wrote this post for Austin Kaiser’s blog. Read the article here.